Alias: Red Hood, Jack Napier, Joseph Kerr, Oberon Sexton
First Appearance: Batman #1 (1940)
Powers: Genius in both planning and improvisation, master chemist, completely unpredictable, unmatched tolerance for pain
Other Media: Yeah, pretty much.
“Frighteningly sick in the head… yet strangely compelling company.” – Lex Luthor when asked about the Joker
Despite all those above aliases, there’s never been a true name to go with the Joker’s pale face. His origin has always been up in the air and he rather likes it that way. The most famous non-movie take on the Joker’s backstory is the classic 80’s tale Killing Joke, where Joker spent time reminiscing about being a failed stand-up comedian who in one day senselessly lost his wife and unborn child and then got knocked into a vat of chemicals by Batman. Joker later admitted to Batman and the reader that he always remembered the actions that led up to him becoming the Joker differently every time and no longer truly knew who he was. All he could tell was that – much like Batman – he had one bad day and it caused him to snap. The difference was that while Batman had dedicated himself to making sense of the world, Joker dedicated himself to knocking down the whole house of cards and reveling in it.
Joker’s appearance was based on actor Conrad Veidt’s creepy portrayal of Gwynplaine from the 1928 film the Man Who Laughs. In his initial appearances, Joker was just as creepy and violent as he was in the movies. It wasn’t until the Comics Code Authority stepped in that he became more like Cesar Romero in the 60’s Batman TV show. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one time in the 50’s that Joker dedicated his time and energy to committing crimes based on colossal mistakes. That led to a comic where they mentioned the word “boner” like a hundred times and it STILL makes me laugh like an idiot.
“And I’m worried about the boner he’s readying for YOU!” – Commissioner Gordon to Batman
Remarkably enough, Joker appears to be the one character who was never affected by any of the DC reboots. He always just kept being the Joker and any different depictions fell into the idea that he’s just a versatile nutjob who is as likely to poison a troop of boyscouts as he is to steal a child’s straight A report card and call it a day. Even Batman scribe Grant Morrison explained that his boner crime days were just another step in the psycho’s evolution.