The Joker is the most notorious Batman villain, bar none, but despite taking starring roles in two Batman movies and making an appearance in another, there are still a lot of things that the film representations have missed about the character. Jack Nicholson brought the Joker to the big screen in 1989’s Batman. He gave audiences a larger than life evil guy who laughs a lot, but that character was adapted heavily for Tim Burton’s vision. Heath Ledger did a famously in depth character study to get to the root of the Joker for The Dark Knight (2008).
He came really close to tapping the source of the Joker’s motivations as a character, but those movies mistold the story in other ways, still shortchanging the villain’s complexity. Jared Leto only made an appearance in 2016’s Suicide Squad Joker, but came off to be more a psychotic cartoon than Gotham’s criminal of many faces. An emissary of chaos and an enemy to Batman’s brand of justice, Joker definitely isn’t going away, and now there are talks of a new movie featuring the villain in a starring role. As fans count the days until his next appearance on screen, here are 16 Things About The Joker That Warner Bros. Still Doesn’t Understand.
16 HIS HIGH IQ
The adhesive holding his fragments of reality together is the Joker’s intense super smarts. While he’s definitely an over the top criminal, his cunning is what really keeps him in contention with Batman, proving him a worthy foe.
Nicholson’s Joker let this detail fall away, but Ledger and Leto both showed flashes of brilliance.
A deeper look will have to do more than prop up the Joker’s intelligence with three page monologues on chaos theory and disassembled pianos. His intelligence is inseparable from his insanity for his complete mental condition. Writer Grant Morrison called it a sense of super sanity, others have equated his perception to some kind of hyper awareness. This isn’t a sociopath in makeup, the Joker’s hanging by a thread, walking that same line between obsession and insanity that he treads in lockstep with Batman.
15 HIS VARIETY OF INSANITY
The precise mental state of Joker, along with his origins, are also a matter of much debate, but neither of the three Warner Bros. film portrayals have treated his condition with any level of serious medical consideration. A full psychological evaluation is unnecessary, but Suicide Squad uses the Joker’s insanity as a feature of his criminal behavior, a flourish of affectation and dazzling camp (as played by Jared Leto). The Ledger and Nicholson Jokers alternate between “too crazy to be contained” and “well reasoned criminal mastermind” as the plot sees fit, with no justification for the switches.
Ledger’s Joker came the closest to incorporating his madness into his character, but he turned out to be far too great a philosopher and master strategist to really bring the crazy across. A deep dive into the Joker’s psychosis is required on screen at some point; Warner Bros has yet to deliver.
14 HIS FIRST SIDEKICK
Much is made of the marketability of Ms. Harley Quinn, but everyone forgets about the first sidekick the Joker picked up in his three-quarters-of-a-century history. Gaggy, full name Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy, was first published in 1966, Batman #186, created by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff. Gaggy started out as a little person clown working in Haley’s Circus, the same show that hosted The Flying Graysons.
When he got a little bit too rough, even for the circus, Gaggy made the leap to organize crime and naturally gravitated toward the Joker.
This would be a great hard-edged bad guy character piece. Think Dog Day Afternoon meets... Death to Smoochy? This young partnership starts out well, but the tragic ending turns the Joker into the unrecognizable sociopath that haunts the Batman for the rest of their careers.
13 HE KILLED JASON TODD
The 1988 story “A Death in the Family” tells the tale of the Batman clan’s worst nightmare: the murder of one of their own. The Joker lured Jason Todd’s Robin into a trap and then killed him, the whole Bat family finding his body as evidence. This editorial decision was famously made my popular fan vote: life or death for the controversial character.
Jason Todd came back later as a pissed off reminder of the Cowl’s darkness, but this story of the Joker’s brutality has never been captured on screen, and it’s certainly in the running. It would take a little bit of set up to tell such a family based story. However, along with The Killing Joke, a little bit lower on this list, this is one of the darkest Joker stories ever written, and it would make for a chilling feature.
12 HIS TRUE IDENTITY
When Jack Nicholson played the Joker, he portrayed a former gangster named Jack Napier who underwent a horrific transformation at Batman’s hands and became even more evil. In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger described his genesis in different ways; once as a desperate husband with a family, caught up with the wrong people, and once as the child of an abusive father.
None of these descriptions is quite accurate, but to their credit, the question of the Joker’s identity is still unresolved.
Any future Joker solo movie will have to make a decision about the Clown Prince of Crime’s inscrutable origin story. The desire to shroud his origin in mystery is valid, but until the matter becomes more settled in comics canon, an original contribution to his identity will be necessary as well. Fans still haven’t gotten a suitable, or even entertaining, explanation for the how the Joker began his reign of terror.
11 HIS OBSESSION WITH BATMAN
For a long time now, the Joker hasn’t been just another face in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Gotham’s craziest criminal is officially elevated in status to Batman’s chief nemesis. This becomes a deeply personal dynamic in the comics, but the face to face, good vs. evil, between the Batman and the Joker has yet to be explored on-screen.
In The Dark Knight, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger gave fans some great one on one moments between the hero and villain, but each time the Joker has starred in a movie, it’s been one of his origin tales. Suicide Squad mentions the Joker’s notoriety, but the connection between he and Batman goes far deeper than that. The Joker is constantly trying to prove the similarities between he and the Batman institution, meanwhile Batman progressively elevates the Joker to white whale status, ever struggling to crack his criminal mind.
10 HIS PAST WITH THE RED HOOD GANG
In The Killing Joke, Moore and Bolland spend their time telling one version of the Joker’s origin story. Fittingly, a man who starts out as a failed comedian with a family support turns to organized crime with no other choice. The gang he falls in with, the Red Hood Gang is a recurring entity in a certain type of Batman story.
This underground crime syndicate didn’t come with big time affiliations, but there was a literal Red Hood actually involved.
In Killing Joke, a particularly bad day in which the Joker loses his family and falls into a vat of poison while engaged in his criminal activity, gives fans one version of the Joker’s checkered past. As mentioned, the exact details of his background are open to interpretation, but including the Red Hood Gang, and rooting the villain in organized crime and the streets of Gotham would be a start.
9 HIS ENCOUNTER WITH BATGIRL
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 story, The Killing Joke did a lot to fill in parts of the Joker’s story, one of the most lasting effects it had on the DC Universe was the paralysis of Barbara Gordon. The Joker shows up at her doorstep in a very distracting Hawaiian shirt, shoots Barbara, then goes on to bait Jim Gordon on a wild goose chase.
The comic handles gender in way that would have to be heavily adapted for the screen, but it’s a cornerstone of the Joker, detailing, not only his sadistic nature, but proving the relationship and obsession with Batman once again. In this story, Joker notes that all it takes is “one bad day” to turn someone. The Killing Joke describes the Joker’s bad day, connecting it to Bruce Wayne’s bad day that happened when he lost his parents.
8 HE HAD A COUSIN
Just to prove how open to interpretation that background can be: there is, in fact, one random record of the Joker having a cousin. In Legends of the Dark Knight #50, a man named Melvin Reipan is introduced, by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Brett Blevins. In lieu of a secret lair, the Joker appears to be using his cousin Melvin’s trailer as a place to crash and his companionship to bounce evil ideas and monologues off of.
Melvin’s cat even makes an appearance in the book before falling victim to one of the Joker’s poison gases.
This is a nice example of the Joker’s ability to make even the driest organized crime plot seem interesting, it also adds to the clown prince of crime’s ever growing list of henchpeople and sounding boards.
7 HIS FEUDS WITH SUPERMAN
The Joker hasn’t only made enemies in Gotham City. The Man of Steel has also run into the Joker on numerous occasions, usually alongside Batman on some kind of planet wide, Justice League, business, but at least twice the Madness has come to Metropolis to mess with Clark Kent.
In their first published bout, a 1987 story called “To Laugh and Die In Metropolis”, the Joker kidnaps Lois Lane and fends off Superman for a surprisingly long amount of time.
On another one of their notable clashes, “Emperor Joker”, an event from the year 2000, tells the story of the Joker creating a pocket universe in which he’s more powerful than Superman. Fans have seen the Joker squaring off against Batman, it’s been done on-screen. The Joker/Superman attempt, while ambitious, and potentially preposterous, affords an opportunity for fresh takes on both characters.
6 HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HARLEY QUINN
Harley Quinn became a smash hit with audiences in her debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad, courtesy of the performance by Margot Robbie. The way the Joker was portrayed in the scenes that detailed their relationship rang a little bit off, however. The film takes the trouble to touch on the ways the Joker manipulated his therapist, Harleen Quinzel, to become completely dependent on him, but then it spins it with a romantic note that doesn’t quite match the tone of those two.
Although Harley Quinn was created for a television show so art deco that it abhorred all rough edges, Batman: The Animated Series, her descent and entanglement with Joker is a deeply disturbing story whose surface hasn’t even been scratched yet. A great rendering of their dynamic will tell both sides, the dark and difficult, along with the light, funny and intimate.
5 HIS WORK ON TEAMS
If the post credits scene from Justice League (2017) is to be believed, Warner Bros. is considering some kind of villain super team, with Lex Luthor at the helm. The Joker has been well known to team up with Luthor, forming some version of the Injustice League, on multiple different missions.
Some fans are speculating the Jared Leto’s Joker could join Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor and even Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke.
If all the pieces already on the board are put together, a(nother) villain team up may be the most realistic of these Joker futures. While his commitment to evil is always unquestionable, the Joker has never been a great team player, so it’s not clear how well the character will fare in an ensemble movie.
4 HIS BAD BLOOD WITH DICK GRAYSON
For a two in one, greenlight, project for both characters, there’s definitely a Dick Grayson vs. Joker story that would make a great movie. While the Grayson iteration has escaped the worst of Joker’s Robin torture, he holds a lot of the same grudges as Batman, and Dick’s love for his adopted family brings him right into the symbolism of bat-obsession.
Whether it’s Dick Grayson’s time as Batman, or his guilt for the death of Jason Todd, the original Robin’s confrontations with the Joker are filled with family history, telling a story between the two of them is a good way to fill in a lot of Batman backstory and shine a light on two characters that would struggle to hold a project on their own.
3 HIS PHYSICAL AND MENTAL INVULNERABILITY
While he carries the motif of a clown, the Joker’s skills as an evil mastermind are no laughing matter. Throughout the years, despite the with the ironically rare zinger, the Joker has revealed a set of abilities that continues to impress fans, and, usually, outsmart Batman. Through the shades of dementia, he carries on some unified mantra of chaos and orchestrates increasingly elaborate schemes to extort city officials, hold Gotham hostage, or just cause general mayhem
Along with an organizational brilliance and an unending font of street smarts, the Joker makes full use of his comic book level invulnerability.
He’s been blown up dozens of times, fallen off of buildings and out of planes, but there’s a resilience to the lunatic that goes deeper than a reusable trope. The Joker is woven into Gotham in similar ways to the Batman sometimes, but at the same time, he yearns to destroy it.
2 HIS GADGETS
Nicholson’s voice still rings from the trailers, even before the Joker’s official debut on screen, asking of Batman, “where does he get those wonderful toys?”. What the films have neglected so far, are the handful of toys and gadgets that the Joker has worked up on his own over the years of his reign over Gotham.
The Jokermobile needs to come to the screen as soon as possible. It would be a great antagonist in a chase scene against Nightwing’s motorcycle, for example. Nicholson’s Joker employed a hand buzzer and squirting buttonhole flower. Ledger and Leto revealed a fondness for knives, but the elaborate mechanism set to push Gotham over the edge of peril hasn’t been showcased yet. There’s a Rube Goldberg like circus villainy that has yet to make its circuitous way to theaters.
1 THE THREE JOKERS
The biggest headline in recent Joker news, on the comic book front, is the revelation that a timeline for three different people to have taken the Joker moniker has been set in motion. This tidbit was revealed at the conclusion of the New 52 experiment and the knowledge of more to the Joker’s history has continued through DC Rebirth.
Until Geoff Johns pens the story, which is confirmed to be on the way, no more than speculation can start to divide up the versions or different sub characters.
The passing of a Joker torch is something too ridiculous to even dream about making its way to a live action movie. The one thing that’s for sure, the Joker has now, canonically, been elevated to legacy character status, as Robin is considered to be, or, more appropriately, the Dread Pirate Roberts.