The DC Universe’s “Clown Prince of Crime” is arguably the most iconic big bad in the comic-book world. And even though Joker — the cinematic character, has achieved cult status, little is known about where he comes from and where the insanity all began.
The comics have explored multiple origin stories through the years. But as is seen in The Dark Knight, his background is so hazy that it seems like a mystery even to the villain himself. And we haven’t really zeroed in on one story of the dawn of Joker’s menace. With the release of the upcoming Joker film, however, the mystery is likely to get solved.
While we’re sure about Joaquin Phoenix playing the titular Joker, not much else is known about the plot and storyline the film is choosing to adapt. So while we wait for the film with bated breath, here’s a primer into the various versions of the Joker’s origin that are likely to be adapted into the film.
1. The Red Hood
According to 1951’s Detective Comics #168, The Joker was formerly a petty criminal known as the Red Hood.
While trying to escape after one of his heists at a playing card company, the Red Hood drove into a pool of acidic chemicals. The chemicals ended up bleaching his face, permanently disfiguring him, and driving him insane.
Thus giving birth to the menacing evil clown.
2. The failed comedian
In 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke, he started out as an unnamed engineer who worked at a chemical plant. With ambitions of being a standup comic, he quit his job to follow his dream.
Unfortunately, his standup career never took off and he had to resort to aiding criminals to make a living and support his pregnant wife. After he was deep into the world of crime, he soon got under Batman’s radar.
In one of his criminal escapades with the Batman, Joker got chased into a vat of chemicals leading to skin burns and disfiguration. And around the same time, the engineer learned about his wife’s death in a freak accident at home. All this lead to the tragedy and insanity of the soon to become supervillain — the Joker.
3. Jack Napier
In the 1989 film Batman, Joker was a man named Jack Napier — a henchman to the crime lord, Carl Grissom. While Jack served loyally under his boss, he secretly had an affair with Carl’s girlfriend, Alicia Hunt.
On discovering the affair Carl orders his arrest by the GCPD and Jack soon gets chased by the police. During the chase, as in most versions, Jack ends up falling into a chemical vat changing his mental stability and physical appearance. In the same chase, he also took a bullet to his face which left him with a permanent scar that looked like perpetual a sinister grin adding weight to his moniker.
The film also alludes to Joker’s involvement in the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, making him the ultimate nemesis of the caped crusader.
4. Case Study
In Batman: Black and White, first published in 1996, Joker gets bored after a string of successful bank robberies. This drives him towards creating his ‘Red Hood’ persona to bring back the thrill in his crime.
He eventually gets caught and it is believed that he pretends to be insane and creates his ‘Joker’ alter-ego in order to escape the death penalty. While his mental state is documented in an official report, it is highly debatable as it was deduced by Dr Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quin.
5. The Dark Knight
The 2008 film, The Dark Knight explores several backstories which include being abused by an alcoholic father.
The abusive father was supposedly responsible for disfiguring his face and passing on the iconic catchphrase, “Why so serious?”
On another occasion, he narrates a story about his wife’s face being mutilated by criminals and him carving his jaw in her support. His wife, however, was sickened by this and ended up leaving him. This drove him to madness and pushed him into a life of crime.