DC Comics recently announced it would be making some big changes to Joker’s identity – specifically by giving him a canonical name and backstory for the first time. It’s a risky move, considering much of Joker’s appeal revolves around the mystery of his character. But to be fair, this has never stopped writers and artists from slipping Joker’s origins into his stories. Here are eight possible Joker backstories that might (but probably won’t) make their way into his official identity.
Can you think of Joker origin stories we missed? Share them in the comments!
Dectective Comics #27
Joker’s birth is arguably as old as Batman himself. In his debut 1939 comic book appearance, Batman faced Alfred Stryker, who was killing business partners to become sole owner of the Apex Chemical Corporation. During a struggle, Batman knocked Stryker through a railing and into a vat of acid, where he was seemingly killed. Of course, given how neatly acid fits into Joker’s backstory, he could easily have been Stryker all along.
The Red Hood
While there’s no consensus on Joker’s identity, most stories suggest he once had another supervillain name – The Red Hood. Detective Comics #168 introduced the Red Hood as a laboratory worker turned master criminal who jumped into acid before Batman could expose him. Variations on this Joker backstory have been used ever since, including the current New 52 timeline where a “Red Hood gang” terrorized Gotham when Batman first donned his costume.
The Killing Joke
The Killing Joke is the closest DC Comics ever came to an official Joker origin story, and even it’s somewhat vague. Tweaking the Red Hood tale, Killing Joke claims Joker was a chemical engineer who quit his job to pursue a stand-up comedian career. Desperate for money, he agrees to adopt the Red Hood persona to distract police from actual criminal masterminds. Batman’s arrival threw a snag into the plan, Red Hood fell into a vat of acid, and the Joker was born – although Joker himself admitted his memory of events is constantly changing.
Cesar Romero’s Joker
Joker never received an official backstory in the 1960s Adam West series, but Batman did imply he knew the villain’s true identity on occasion. Apparently this Joker (played by Cesar Romero) was a high school dropout and professional hypnotist who eventually turned to a life of crime. While it’s not exactly dramatic – or even includes the vat of acid – it’s the clearest official link to Joker’s past compared to most Batman stories. At least until 1989…
Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film was the first to present a definitive Joker origin story. Jack Napier was a high-ranking figure in Gotham’s mob, until his boss set him up to be murdered at an Axis Chemical raid. When Batman interfered, Napier fell into a chemical waste vat instead, bleaching his skin and breaking his mind. While not everything about this movie has aged well – like Joker’s Prince dance number – Jack Nicholson’s performance was certainly one of the best.
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series and Mark Hamill brought us the definitive animated version of Joker, and maintained his mysterious origin in the process. Joker took on multiple fake names in this series – including Jack Napier – but always presented himself as the Clown Prince of Crime. Despite his best efforts, two hints slipped about his orgins. Mask of the Phantasm revealed Joker was once a mob enforcer, while Mad Love showed him fall into the transformative chemicals.
Batman: Lovers & Madmen
Presented in the pages of Batman Confidential, Loves & Madmen was an attempt to combine Joker’s backstory with The Dark Knight‘s themes. This version gave us “Jack”, a genius master criminal bored with his craft until Batman’s arrival revitalizes him. After Jack escalates his crime sprees, Batman responds by cutting open those Dark Knight facial scars with a Batarang and turning him over to competing mobsters. This was a bad idea, since the crooks dispose of Jack through a vat of antidepressant chemicals which transforms him into Batman’s archnemesis.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight made the decision to keep Joker’s origin vague, leading to fantastic multiple answers on how he got those facial scars. But a tie-in book, The Dark Knight Manual, did propose one theory – Joker used to be a soldier. It certainly would explain his precision tactics and familiarity with military-grade weapons. Even his scars could’ve been caused by shrapnel wounds while he served overseas.
And the traditional chemical accident? Well, Gotham did suffer mass hallucinations and hysteria from Scarecrow’s gas in Batman Begins – right before Joker started leaving behind his calling card. It’s entirely possible Joker was a soldier recovering from war injuries, until the gas transformed his PTSD into something a little … funnier.
Either way, it’s like Killing Joke‘s Joker said: “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”