In his 70-year career of menace and mayhem, The Joker has often done his foul deeds with panache. Although he has the look of a clown, he dresses like a dandy in formal wear, in his signature villain colors of purple and green. But in different stories and across multiple media, the Grinning Gargoyle of Greed has switched things up from time to time. Sure, the basic look is always there — the green hair, the pale skin, the bright red mouth, the piercing eyes.
But at one time or another, including in one or more possible futures or in alternate dimensions, the Harlequin of Hate has sported somewhat different looks. He has gone from formal wear to a plain jumpsuit; from dress shoes with spats to bare feet; from pale skin to pancake makeup; and from tailored fashion to thrift-store chic. In some of these guises, he’s terribly frightening; in others, frankly, he just looks… kinda funny. Sometimes the creators try too hard to be different, with lousy results. Here, CBR casts an eye at The Joker’s different looks, including some that were great … and some that were, well, just a bit laughable.
15. SLAY: THE ORIGINAL JOKER
Of course, the mold was set by the original Joker, a creation of Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. The level of each man’s contribution is uncertain, as there are many accounts of the character’s genesis that do not reconcile. What is certain is that the character first appeared in Batman (Volume 1) #1 (Spring 1940).
The Joker sports green hair, pale white skin, bright red lips and almost too many teeth, modeled on actor Conrad Veight in the film The Man Who Laughs. He wears a waistcoat over a long-sleeved shirt with a string necktie. From head to toe, he is in lavender — a morning coat and pinstriped trousers with gloves. He sometimes wears a matching lavender overcoat and a flat-crowned hat.
14. SLAY: NEAL ADAMS JOKER
The Joker strayed from his beginnings as a chilling murderer as comics shifted to become more child-friendly. He became a cunning thief in the 1950s, and was sidelined as much as possible during the 1960s, because he didn’t fit in editor Julius Schwartz’s vision of the “new look” Batman era.
After a four-year absence, The Clown Prince of Crime returned to the scene in a big way in Batman #251 (September 1973), “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.” Artist Neal Adams put The Joker in a plain single-breasted lavender suit, with an orange shirt, green and black striped tie, and lavender gloves. He also sports a tan trenchcoat. But in every panel The Joker appears in, his face is full of gleeful menace.
13. WACK: BIZARRO JOKER
Key characteristics of Bizarros: their pale, crystalline skin; addled sense of logic; and cheerful demeanor. Most Bizarros, including Bizarro No. 1, are created by a malfunctioning “duplicator ray” that makes imperfect duplicates of the things it is trained on.
In DC Comics Presents #71 (July 1984), we see Bizarro No. 1 use the duplicator to create Bizarro Green Lantern. We also meet other Bizarros on their homeworld, Htrae — including Bizarro Joker. Bizarro No. 1 notes, “Him not white like us — and not laugh like Earth Joker!” Indeed, Bizarro Joker is a depressed, tearful mess, saying, “Since The Joker is mad, me only sane person on this whole square world!”
12. SLAY: HEATH LEDGER JOKER
The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) was a departure from long-established tradition. Ever since “The Man Behind the Red Hood” in Detective Comics (Volume 1) #168 (February 1951), we knew The Joker had pale white skin because of a chemical bath he took escaping from Batman.
But in this film, The Joker has normal Caucasian skin tone, and plainly wears white clown makeup only on his face and hands. He has scraggly grass-green hair and dark circles around his eyes. He has a slash of red on his mouth — which has been slashed in a “Glasgow smile” nearly ear-to-ear. And he dresses like a slob, but sticks to the classic color scheme of purple and green.
11. SLAY: JARED LETO JOKER
Suicide Squad (2016) updated The Joker further for the 21st century. This Joker had the traditionally pale white skin, which was frequently on display, as actor Jared Leto was shirtless in several scenes and publicity photos. He also displayed a brighter shade of green in his hair — Scream Green, which was made by Splat Hair Color and was available at Walmart and other retailers for $8.99.
This Joker had no eyebrows and his hair was slicked back, exaggerating his forehead and making his eyes more frightening. Completing the look, he also had a mouthful of metal caps on his teeth and an array of tattoos all over his face, arms and torso, including the word “Damaged” just below the hairline.
10. WACK: CESAR ROMERO JOKER
The 1960s Batman TV series gave us a Joker who was modeled on the merry prankster from the 1950s comics, not the cunning killer he was in the 1940s or the sociopathic spree killer he would become in the 1980s and later.
This Joker was played by Hollywood legend Cesar Romero, who appeared in 22 episodes over the show’s three seasons. His costume resembled the classic outfit of the 1930s, albeit in brighter tones. But Romero famously did not shave his mustache. Even covered with thick white makeup, the hair was still visible. Which, one might consider, is the kind of nutty thing The Joker would do.
9. SLAY: BATMAN ANIMATED SERIES JOKER
The 1992-1995 Batman: The Animated Series is a high-water mark in television animation and is fondly remembered by fans. And its version of The Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill, is a standout. He originally had the lavender morning coat and pegged pants but without stripes, white gloves, beady yellow eyes hooded by prominent brow, a needle nose and a mouth full of yellow teeth.
But in Season 4, The Joker was redesigned. He was more angular, his beady eyes got even more beady and reversed in color; his needle nose got even more needle-like, and he lost the red lips. The look reverted to the more familiar style in Batman Beyond: The Return of The Joker (2000), Justice League (2001-2004) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006).
8. SLAY: BATMAN BEYOND JOKER
The futuristic vision of Batman in Batman Beyond naturally called for a futuristic version of The Joker. In the film Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker (2000), the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, faces off against a Joker who hasn’t been around in 35 years. The original Batman, Bruce Wayne, believes this Joker must be an impostor, and the mystery of who this man really is carries through the story.
Impostor or no, the new Joker soon takes control of a Jokerz gang faction. He is clad in a simple deep purple jumpsuit. This future-world Joker has ghostly white skin, beady red eyes, a menacing smile full of yellow teeth, and black fingernails.
7. WACK: “RASTA” JOKER
After Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) and Batman Beyond (1999-2001) concluded their runs, they were replaced by a new series, simply titled The Batman, which ran on the WB network and moved to the CW network, which was created from the merger of WB and UPN.
This version gave us a new version of the Jeering Jester of Crime, one that fairly screamed “This Is NOT Your Father’s Joker!” This version featured bright green hair in locs, blazing red eyes, jagged yellow teeth, black fingerless leather gloves, a lavender patterned tunic and blue jeans. He went barefoot, and had green fingernails and toenails. And to top it off, he frequently sported a straitjacket.
6. SLAY: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS JOKER
Another futuristic version of Batman and The Joker is in the famed miniseries The Dark Knight Returns from 1986. Batman comes out of a 10-year retirement to deal with a crime wave from a gang of terrorists. The Joker had been catatonic for that 10 years because of Batman’s retirement, but awakens because of a news report. Canny as ever, he cons his psychiatrist into believing he is sane.
In issue #3, The Joker preps for an appearance on The David Endochrine Show (an obvious parody of Late Night with David Letterman). He wears a white herringbone tweed blazer with wide lapels and padded shoulders, a white necktie and purple dress shirt with matching purple pegged pants, and purple boots with Cuban heels.
5. SLAY: JOAQUIN PHOENIX JOKER
After Suicide Squad, there was buzz about The Joker appearing in a solo film, especially as much of Jared Leto’s performance landed on the cutting room floor. The ways of Hollywood being what they are, the project developed without Leto, and is planned as the start of a new franchise and a film separate from the DC Extended Universe.
The Joker, with a planned release date of Oct. 4, 2019, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian in 1980s Gotham who becomes unhinged and launches a crime spree. Currently filming, director Todd Phillips released a clip on Instagram featuring Phoenix in ordinary garb, as projections of the villain he will become flash over him — ending with him in Joker guise.
4. WACK: LEX LUTHOR JOKER
The Elseworlds graphic novel Superman: Speeding Bullets (1993) had an intriguing premise: What if the rocket that brought baby Kal-El from Krypton to Earth landed outside Gotham City and was found by Thomas and Martha Wayne?
Unfortunately for Kal-El, who is given the name Bruce Wayne, his parents are murdered by Joe Chill just as they are on Earth-1. But the violence triggers a violent response, and Wayne becomes a recluse. Years later, Lex Luthor comes to Gotham City to expand his empire. Frequent references are made to his having suffered a disfiguring accident in a chemical factory. He reveals himself to be The Joker — but rather than look menacing, Luthor Joker mostly looks goofy.
3. SLAY: JACK NICHOLSON JOKER
The theatrical release Batman (1989) went for star power when it cast The Joker, getting Academy Award-winner Jack Nicholson to become the Mad Maestro of Mirth. As Nicholson was a bigger star than lead Michael Keaton, he got first billing, above the title; demanded and was granted a cut of the profits; and set his shooting schedule, which included time off to attend Los Angeles Lakers games.
Nicholson’s role as The Joker, originally intended to be a glorified cameo, expanded until he was the main presence in the film. This Joker not only suffered the chemical bath that turned his skin white, the best efforts of an underworld surgeon left him with a rictus.
2. SLAY: MARTHA WAYNE JOKER
The Flashpoint miniseries (May-August 2011) covers an alternate timeline for the DC Universe. Barry Allen, The Flash, works to restore the proper timeline as he struggles with the changes in this new world. Among them: Thomas and Martha Wayne survived the mugger’s attack that ended their lives; instead, it was their son Bruce who was the victim.
As a result, it was Thomas Wayne who became a rather brutal Batman. Moreover, Martha Wayne went mad and became The Joker. In the three-issue spinoff series Flashpoint: Knight of Vengeance (August-October 2011), we see how Martha’s grief and despair play out — including her slashing her cheeks into a wicked grin.
1. WACK: NEW 52 JOKER
Another bid at showing “This Is Not Your Father’s Joker” came with the 2011 New 52 reboot of the DC Universe. The new Detective Comics #1 (November 2011) has Batman on the trail of The Joker, who wantonly strikes one more time. With some difficulty — as the Gotham Police are after him, seeing him as an an enemy and not an ally — Batman delivers The Joker to Arkham Asylum.
This, however, fits with The Joker’s latest scheme. To be reborn, he has the Dollmaker flense away the skin from his face, and goes into hiding. When he returns a year later, during the “Death of the Family” storyline (October 2013-February 2013), The Joker is wearing the skin as a mask.
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