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The Joker is a fictional supervillain created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson who first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book Batman (April 25, 1940), published by DC Comics. Credit for the Joker’s creation is disputed; Kane and Robinson claimed responsibility for the Joker’s design, while acknowledging Finger’s writing contribution. Although the Joker was planned to be killed off during his initial appearance, he was spared by editorial intervention, allowing the character to endure as the archenemy of the superhero Batman.
In his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor, the character became a goofy prankster in the late 1950s in response to regulation by the Comics Code Authority, before returning to his darker roots during the early 1970s. As Batman’s nemesis, the Joker has been part of the superhero’s defining stories, including the murder of Jason Todd—the second Robin and Batman’s ward—and the paralysis of one of Batman’s allies, Barbara Gordon. The Joker has had various possible origin stories during his decades of appearances. The most common story involves him falling into a tank of chemical waste which bleaches his skin white, turns his hair green, and his lips bright red; the resulting disfigurement drives him insane. The antithesis of Batman in personality and appearance, the Joker is considered by critics to be his perfect adversary.
The Joker possesses no superhuman abilities, instead using his expertise in chemical engineering to develop poisonous or lethal concoctions, and thematic weaponry, including razor-tipped playing cards, deadly joy buzzers, and acid-spraying lapel flowers. The Joker sometimes works with other Gotham City supervillains such as the Penguin and Two-Face, and groups like the Injustice Gangand Injustice League, but these relationships often collapse due to the Joker’s desire for unbridled chaos. The 1990s introduced a romantic interest for the Joker in his former psychiatrist, Harley Quinn, who becomes his villainous sidekick. Although his primary obsession is Batman, the Joker has also fought other heroes including Superman and Wonder Woman.
One of the most iconic characters in popular culture, the Joker has been listed among the greatest comic book villains and fictional characters ever created. The character’s popularity has seen him appear on a variety of merchandise, such as clothing and collectable items, inspire real-world structures (such as theme park attractions), and be referenced in a number of media. The Joker has been adapted to serve as Batman’s adversary in live-action, animated, and video game incarnations, including the 1960s Batman television series (played by Cesar Romero) and in film by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989), Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight(2008), and Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016). Mark Hamill, Troy Baker, and others have provided the character’s voice.
he Joker has undergone many revisions since his 1940 debut. The most common interpretation of the character is that he is disguised as the criminal Red Hood, and pursued by Batman. The Joker falls into a vat of chemicals which bleaches his skin, colors his hair green and his lips red, and drives him insane. The reasons why the Joker was disguised as the Red Hood, and his identity before his transformation have changed over time.
The character was introduced in Batman #1 (1940), in which he announces that he will kill three of Gotham’s prominent citizens (including Mayor Henry Claridge). Although the police protect Claridge, the Joker had poisoned him before making his announcement and Claridge dies with a ghastly grin on his face; Batman eventually defeats him, sending him to prison. The Joker commits whimsical, brutal crimes for reasons that, in Batman’s words, “make sense to him alone”. Detective Comics #168 (1951) introduced the Joker’s first origin story as Red Hood: a criminal who, during his final heist, vanishes after leaping into a vat of chemicals to escape Batman. His resulting disfigurement led him to adopt the name “Joker”, from the playing card figure he came to resemble. The Joker’s Silver-Age transformation into a figure of fun was established in 1952’s “The Joker’s Millions”. In this story the Joker is obsessed with maintaining his illusion of wealth and celebrity as a criminal folk hero, afraid to let Gotham’s citizens know that he is penniless and was tricked out of his fortune. The 1970s redefined the character as a homicidal psychopath. “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” has the Joker taking violent revenge on the former gang members who betrayed him; in “The Laughing Fish” the character chemically adds his face to Gotham’s fish (hoping to profit from a copyright), killing bureaucrats who stand in his way.
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) built on the Joker’s 1951 origin story, portraying him as a failed comedian pressured into committing crime as the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife. Batman’s interference causes him to leap into a chemical vat, which disfigures him. This, combined with the trauma of his wife’s earlier accidental death, causes him to go insane and become the Joker. However, the Joker says that this story may not be true, as he prefers his past to be “multiple choice”. In this graphic novel, the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon and tortures her father, Commissioner James Gordon, to prove that it only takes one bad day to drive a normal man insane. After Batman rescues Gordon and subdues the Joker, he offers to rehabilitate his old foe and end their rivalry. Although the Joker refuses, he shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman.Following the character’s maiming of Barbara, she became a more important character in the DC Universe: Oracle, a data gatherer and superhero informant, who has her revenge in Birds of Prey by shattering the Joker’s teeth and destroying his smile.
In the 1988 story “A Death in the Family”, the Joker beats Jason Todd with a crowbar and leaves him to die in an explosion. Todd’s death haunts Batman, and for the first time he considers killing the Joker. The Joker temporarily escapes justice when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appoints him the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, giving him diplomatic immunity. However, when he tries to poison the UN membership, he is brought down by Batman and Superman.
In the 1999 “No Man’s Land” storyline, the Joker murders Commissioner Gordon’s second wife, Sarah, as she shields a group of infants. He taunts Gordon, who shoots him in the kneecap. The Joker, lamenting that he may never walk again, collapses with laughter when he realizes that the commissioner has avenged Barbara’s paralysis. This story also introduced the Joker’s girlfriend, Harley Quinn.
The 2000s began with the crossover story “Emperor Joker”, in which the Joker steals Mister Mxyzptlk‘s reality-altering power and remakes the universe in his image (torturing and killing Batman daily, before resurrecting him). When the supervillain then tries to destroy the universe, his reluctance to eliminate Batman makes him lose control and Superman defeats him. Broken by his experience, Batman’s experiences of death are transferred to Superman by the Spectre so he can heal mentally. In “Joker’s Last Laugh” (2001), the doctors at Arkham Asylum convince the character that he is dying in an attempt to rehabilitate him. Instead, the Joker (flanked by an army of “Jokerized” supervillains) launches a final crime spree. Believing that Robin (Tim Drake) has been killed in the chaos, Dick Grayson beats the Joker to death (although Batman revives his foe to keep Grayson from being a murderer) and the character succeeds in making a member of the Bat-family break their rule against killing.
In “Under the Hood” (2005), a resurrected Todd tries to force Batman to avenge his death by killing the Joker. Batman refuses, arguing that if he allows himself to kill the Joker, he will not be able to stop killing other criminals. The Joker kills Alexander Luthor in Infinite Crisis (2005) for excluding him from the Secret Society of Super Villains, which considers him too unpredictable for membership. In Morrison’s “Batman and Son” (2006), a deranged police officer who impersonates Batman shoots the Joker in the face, scarring and disabling him. The supervillain returns in “The Clown at Midnight” (2007) as a cruel, enigmatic force who awakens and tries to kill Harley Quinn to prove to Batman that he has become more than human. In the 2008 story arc “Batman R.I.P.” the Joker is recruited by the Black Glove to destroy Batman, but betrays the group, killing its members one by one.After Batman’s apparent death in “Final Crisis” (2008), Grayson investigates a series of murders (which leads him to a disguised Joker). The Joker is arrested, and then-Robin Damian Wayne beats him with a crowbar, paralleling Todd’s murder. When the Joker escapes, he attacks the Black Glove, burying its leader Simon Hurt alive after the supervillain considers him a failure as an opponent; the Joker is then defeated by the recently returned Batman.
In DC’s New 52, a 2011 relaunch of its titles following Flashpoint, the Joker has his own face cut off. He disappears for a year, returning to launch an attack on Batman’s extended family in “Death of the Family” so he and Batman can be the best hero and villain they can be. At the end of the storyline, the Joker falls off a cliff into a dark abyss. The Joker returns in the 2014 storyline “Endgame” in which he brainwashes the Justice League into attacking Batman, believing he has betrayed their relationship. The story implies that the Joker is immortal—having existed for centuries in Gotham as a cause of tragedy after exposure to a substance the Joker terms ‘dionesium’—and is able to regenerate from mortal injuries. “Endgame” restores the Joker’s face, and also reveals that he knows Batman’s secret identity. The story ends with the apparent deaths of Batman and the Joker at each other’s hands.
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