The Joker has been given many reinterpretations throughout the years since his introduction into the DCU in 1940. Initially appearing in Batman #1 as what was supposed to be a one-off character, the Joker has stuck around and become as big an icon as his nemesis. Love him or hate him, "Mistah J" is a fascinating blend of ancient archetypes and more modern influences. The production of a team effort by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson, DC’s Joker is an amalgamation. A mix of The Fool as he appears in The Tarot, actor Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, and total psychopath -- the Joker is quite possibly one of the most terrifying supervillains in the DCU.
Some people would even argue the Clown Prince of Crime is one of the scariest villains in any comics universe. However, we will save that discussion for another time. The show Gotham seems to have chosen its own Joker in the form of Jerome Valeska, as played by the very talented Cameron Monaghan. Like other groups, the creators of Gotham have taken their own liberties with interpretations of various aspects of Batman’s universe, including the Joker. Here are some of CBR’s favorite (and least favorite) ways Gotham has portrayed the Joker so far!
15 WRONG: WE DO NOT SPEAK HIS NAME
The concept of “the Joker” is an ancient archetype dating back to as long as people have been making symbols. Spanning across cultures, places, and times -- from Loki to the Fool -- the Joker generally represents frivolity, a love of beauty, curiosity, tricks, and jokes. DC took this concept to a whole other level when it introduced its own interpretation of this character.
Blending the ancient archetype into concepts presented in films like the rather dark The Man Who Laughs, the character developed into the Clown Prince we know and love to hate today. One of the most pertinent concepts behind the Joker concept and character is that his origin and identity are unknown. The anonymity of the Joker is part of what makes him who he is -- the Wildcard, the player of all the parts -- and labeling that with a name and solid history completely takes away from that foundation.
14 RIGHT: JOKER TAKES OVER TV STATIONS
There are many countless examples of the Joker taking over television stations and channels throughout the DCU. One of the more memorable ones is from Batman: The Animated Series #2, “Christmas With the Joker.” In this episode we get to see Joker take over a local TV station on Christmas eve, kidnap the Gordons and Harvey Bullock (who he wraps in paper, complete with a bow), talk to a hand puppet, and blow up a bridge.
Classic, wholesome, holiday fun from the archives of DC Animation, ladies and gents! Gotham gets this concept down with Jerome taking over the local news in “Rise of the Villains: Knock, Knock.” Even the way he gets angry at the camera man for “stealing his punchline” is perfectly classic Joker behavior. Note to self -- don’t ever operate a camera for a crazy clown dressed as a cop!
13 WRONG: FAMILY ISSUES
Continuing on with the concept that the Joker is an anonymous character with no specific backstory, another thing Gotham got wrong about Jerome Valeska (if he is indeed the Joker, and it seems he is, so we’re going with it) is giving him a family. In The Killing Joke, we are given a more detailed idea of what the Joker’s possible family history may have been, at least as a married adult.
Even that is convoluted and possibly an altered interpretation of what actually happened. One thing that is made clear, such as in Batman: The Animated Series, “Christmas With the Joker,” -- “Joker has no family.” Batman said this to Robin, and according to The Lego Batman Movie, Bats has had 5,678,483 good ideas -- so we at CBR accept this as total fact.
12 RIGHT: HE REALLY KILLED SARAH ESSEN
In Gotham, Sarah Essen plays an already established Commissioner at the Gotham City Police Department. Jim Gordon serves alongside her until she is brutally shot and killed by Jerome in “Rise of the Villains: Knock, Knock” -- shooting her through the abdomen in a way that reminds us of a similar incident involving Joker and Batgirl in The Killing Joke.
A more interesting and direct reference to source materials is made in this tragic scene as well -- in the DCU, Joker actually does murder Sarah Essen. In the original comics, Sarah not only works as a cop alongside Jim, but is actually intimately involved with him, marrying him later in life. Things go pretty well for the couple, until Sarah is tricked into death by the Joker in one of the darker panels of DC in Batman: No Man’s Land.
11 WRONG: PREMATURE MURDER
Besides not having a family to kill, according to canon materials, the Joker didn’t commit his first murder until he was an adult. Showing Jerome killing his mother and others certainly makes for intriguing writing for Gotham, but it is far from accurate. According to the comics, again highlighted in The Killing Joke, it wasn’t until after Joker’s unfortunate dip in a vat of mysterious ACE Chemicals that he snapped and started on his killing spree.
A conservative estimate of how many people Joker has murdered in the DCU is at least 550, which is nothing to laugh at (even if Mistah J does). This statistic goes to show that he has certainly made up for lost time getting a “late” start on his penchant for killing, at least in the comics.
10 RIGHT: THE CULT OF JEROME
In Gotham’s “Rise of the Villains: The Last Laugh,” Jerome is killed by Theo Galavan shortly after his takeover of the GCPD and TV. Despite his initial demise, Jerome’s words had a ripple effect on the consciousness of Gotham City. Citizens exposed to his message found themselves obsessing over the concepts he presented to them about “being cogs in a machine” and “needing to wake up.”
The “Cult of Jerome” was formed, and clown inspired, straight jacket-wearing citizens started gathering in groups to watch his recording and recite his words. Eagle-eyed fans will also note Joker inspired graffiti planted on the walls of Gotham City during these episodes as well. It may seem a bit strange or extreme, but the concept behind this cult is very familiar (in a way) to those in the original DC materials. The Joker’s lust for chaos is insatiable, and spreads to others like his toxic laughing gas.
9 WRONG: JEROME AND BABS
Gotham’s relationship between Jerome Valeska and Barbara Kean is one of the more bizarre and disturbing portrayed on the show. The sexual tension that is played up between these two on screen is enough to make most viewers feel uncomfortable. Not only are the interactions between them creepy and borderline inappropriate (which can be fun at times -- “Go make me a sandwich.”) -- the timeline of these two encountering at these points in their lives is totally inaccurate.
The Joker was not admitted into Arkham Asylum until he was an adult. According to source materials, Barbara Kean never even set foot in the asylum -- not to mention was ever checked in there for psychiatric reasons (like murdering her parents -- which she also never did in the original materials!).
8 RIGHT: JOKER’S OBSESSION
Joker is obsessed with a lot of things -- chaos, destruction, explosives -- but especially Batman. He seems consumed with the concept of revenge against his ultimate foe, yet Joker cannot stand the idea of living in a world without Bats as his counter. The obsession has been hinted at as even going beyond the standard psychopathic desire to kill -- Joker seems enamored with Batman.
In Gotham’s "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies," there is a scene that keen-eyed DC fans swoon over. Jerome has taken over the circus -- classic Joker fashion -- and is awaiting the arrival of Bruce Wayne. Bruce shows up, and the camera cuts to a close-up of Jerome’s face breaking into a wide grin while exclaiming, “Brucy, darling!” This is an almost exact panel-for-panel replication of a scene from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and perfectly sums up Joker’s obsession with Bats.
7 WRONG: JOKER MADE BATS
In the comics, graphic novels, and video games, Batman’s initial run-in with Joker is what transformed Joker into the infamous DC villain he is today. According to various sources, Batman was assisting the local police force with a reported robbery taking place at the ACE Chemical plant in Gotham City, when he encountered Joker on a catwalk hanging over vats of bubbling chemicals. Joker either slipped, jumped, or was pushed into the vats below -- depending on which story you reference.
The point being -- unlike in Gotham’s “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,” -- where Jerome's behavior pushes Bruce into the lifestyle of a crime fighting vigilante -- it was actually Bats who inadvertently created the Joker after his life-altering dip in those chemicals. Of course, no one is responsible for anyone else’s choices in life, but Batman certainly has a bigger influence over the culmination of Joker, not the other way around.
6 RIGHT: THE HALL OF MIRRORS
There are so many Easter Eggs and references to older DC material in Gotham’s “Mad City: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” that CBR could do an entire list on just that episode. We will refrain (for now) and focus on one that really stands out and revs our Harley -- the pivotal scene between Bruce Wayne and Jerome Valeska in The Hall of Mirrors.
There have been more epic showdowns between Joker and Batman throughout the DCU in this setting than we can count. We may not agree with the way they chose to have Jerome influence Bruce into donning the cowl, but we do so love the way Gotham used it for that encounter. A favorite example of other DC materials involving The Hall of Mirrors that comes to mind is the intense finale of Frank Miller’s graphic novels and animated film adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.
5 WRONG: HALEY'S CIRCUS
Haley’s Circus first appeared in Detective Comics #38 back in April of 1940. Featuring “The Flying Graysons” -- a family trapezing trio by the names of John, Mary, and Dick -- as in, the future Robin and Nightwing! Despite the most excellent Easter Eggs in Gotham’s “The Blind Fortune Teller,” there is no way that Joker could have been “raised with the circus” as is stated in this episode.
Jerome may well have been a child of a circus sideshow, but if he is Joker, he wouldn’t have been a part of Haley’s at the same time as Dick Grayson’s parents. The timeline in the comics just doesn’t add up. Considering Haley’s Circus was disbanded after the horrific events that took place in the Batman: Death of the Family series in 2013 -- and Gotham didn’t start airing until 2014 -- this story-arc in the show doesn’t add up for at least a few reasons.
4 RIGHT: PRINCE OF CRIME
Something that is common throughout the DCU is the general fear and terror that surrounds the Joker. It isn’t just honest members of Gotham City either -- even the most hardcore criminals are intimidated by the Joker. His total lack of emotion for anyone, including himself, along with his lack of attachment to material riches or power, make him a less than ideal candidate for the Gotham City Bad Buy Classifieds.
He is driven purely by a desire to create total and utter chaos. Chaos is not conducive to things like making money or living to see another day. This is perfectly highlighted in the animated version of The Killing Joke, when Batman is desperately searching for an escaped Joker. While interrogating an old time Gotham City mob boss for Joker’s whereabouts, he tells Bats,”We may be scared of you, but we’re terrified of him.”
3 WRONG: PRETEEN JOKER
One of the biggest liberties the writers of Gotham have taken with Jerome/Joker that has so many DC fans in a tizzy is the very concept of introducing Joker as a youth. In the rest of the DCU, Joker is not introduced until he is an adult -- which is also when his obsession with murder, acid-spewing flowers, and Batman started. The whole order for character development with Jerome in Gotham is pretty confusing for those with a familiarity with prior materials.
Joker has to grow up, have his night time swim in acid, and then transform into the Joker. Additionally, he doesn’t have his face cut off until far later, in The New 52 -- and he actually asked for it, which is even more insane than Gotham's presentation. As fun as Jerome is, the entire approach to this character as Joker is confusing and unsatisfying.
2 RIGHT: THAT LAUGH
One thing Gotham’s interpretation of Jerome as the Joker has down right is his very demeanor. Cameron Monaghan nails it all down -- that trademark laugh (well Joker tried to trademark his image in “The Laughing Fish” anyway) -- the face, the smile, the way he carries himself. We have become very attached to who our “favorite” Joker is, arguing all over the web about who is “the best Joker.”
CBR feels that Cameron does an excellent job of bringing Gotham’s version of the Joker to life, while staying true to some key elements of the character from other parts of the DCU. Unpredictable, switching from gut-wrenching laughter to maniacal murder faster than the Batmobile launching out of the Batcave -- Cameron does a superb job in his role.
1 WRONG: NOT A TEAM PLAYER
When Theo Galavan broke Jerome Valeska, Barbara Kean, and other “special” inmates out of Arkham Asylum, he did so with the idea of forming "a group of brilliant outlaws like yourselves... Imagine the synergy." These outlaws would form a group known as "The Maniax," who wreaked havoc on Gotham City for a while. A brilliantly devious concept, but with a wildcard like the Joker involved, not something that would play out well for the planner.
“Synergy” -- when agents combine to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their parts -- is not Joker’s forte. He very well would have taken Galavan up on the opportunity to escape and have some fun -- but rather than Galavan tricking and murdering Jerome, Joker would have been the one to pull that move on him.