It's something of an unwritten rule between comic book writers to never permanently tamper with the Joker's origin story. Even stories like The Killing Joke or Case Study keep things ambiguous enough as to not serve as definitive explanations of Joker's backstory. That's why we're equal parts excited and terrified for the Joaquin Phoenix Joker film coming out later this year!
While Todd Phillips claims that the film will deviate from the comics, this statement could be as legitimate as the existence of a Justice League 'Snyder Cut.' There's a real possibility that Phillips and Phoenix's Joker movie could adapt one of the Joker Origin stories presented in the comics, previous films, or the DCAU - of which there are many! Here are five origins for the Clown Prince of Crime that we hope are true, and five that we hope are false.
10 Case Study (Hope It's True)
Not may stories play with the idea that the Pale Man is faking it. However, in Paul Dini and Alex Ross' Case Study story, we're told that The Joker is perfectly sane! Psychiatrists at Arkham Asylum interview the Joker and surmise that he' can't be cured because he's mind is normal.
Allegedly, the Joker is a criminal mastermind who feigns insanity to avoid imprisonment. The ending of this story makes you question the validity of that account, but it does get the mind racing. It also makes you think about real-world criminals who've successfully used insanity pleas to escape justice.
9 The Immortal Joker (Hope It's False)
Near the conclusion of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman: Endgame story, we're presented with the idea that the Joker is immortal - like Vandal Savage and Ra's Al Ghul! In the story, we learn that the Lazarus Pit may have kept Red Hood One alive for centuries. And DC fans already know that prolonged exposure to the Pit can drive one mad.
While the notion of an immortal Joker is interesting, it contradicts the 'one bad day sentiment.' The Clown Prince of Crime might not be insane because life took a toll on him if he's immortal. Rather, his madness might stem from a mystical pool of zombie juice. The Lazarus Pit Joker origin story isn't bad, but it isn't as provocative as most of his other backstories.
8 Lovers & Madmen (Hope It's True)
Jack used to be a career criminal until he had a run-in with the Dark Knight in Batman Confidential. Ever since that fateful day, Jack became obsessed with the Caped Crusader - intentionally committing crimes to gain his attention. Jack even begins targetting people close to Bruce, including a woman named Lorna. These acts enrage a young and inexperienced Batman, who throws a Batarang at Jack with reckless abandon.
The rang misses its mark and viscerally slashes Jack's face - giving him a Glasgow smile that permanently disfigures him and begins his descent into madness. This Joker origin story plays up the notion that Batman created the Joker in a literal sense. It serves as a reminder that the superheroes can end up doing more harm than good when they let their emotions get the better of them.
7 Jack Napier (Hope It's False)
Jack Napier is a fake alias that the Joker uses in the comic books, as well as his given name in the Tim Burton Batman films. It's the latter example that we take issue with for several reasons - none of which include Jack Nicholson's ingenious portrayal of the Joker! No, the gripes that we have with the Burtonverse's version of Jack Napier stem from the film's narrative.
We're not too crazy about the idea of the Joker being the criminal that killed Bruce Wayne's parents. It makes the DC Universe seem far too small and preordained. It also accidentally makes the Joker responsible for the creation of Batman - which comes off as too "I am your father"-y for our tastes. But one's taste is subjective after all, so we won't knock you if you genuinely like this Joker origin story.
6 The Killing Joke (Hope It's True)
The Killing Joke is one of the most well-known Batman stories, as well as one of the most controversial. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland paint a portrait of the Joker as a villain created from the events of 'one bad day. The Killing Joke expands on an older story - The Man Behind the Red Hood!
An ex-engineer and failed stand-up comedian agrees to rob Ace Chemicals to support his family. Donning the Red Hood costume, the man encounters Batman and flees. The rest is genuine comic book history - the man falls into a vat of chemicals, is horribly disfigured, loses his family in a fire, and becomes the Joker. The thesis of this Joker origin story is that anyone might break bad after experiencing 'one bad day.'
5 The Comedian Is The Joker (Hope It's False)
Continuing our deep dive into Alan Moore's bibliography, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that there's a theory that tethers the Joker to The Watchmen. Ever since DC Rebirth, fans have speculated that the Comedian could've been one of the three Jokers active in Gotham. There are definitely similarities between the two characters, but also key differences.
The Comedian is a critique of America during the Cold War. The Joker, on the other hand, is a comment on the human condition, regardless of nationality. The Comedian also genuinely cares for his daughter and is a fallen hero. The Clown Prince, however, doesn't seem to care about anything or anyone. Ideologically, the Joker and the Comedian represent two different schools of thought.
4 The Joker's A Traumatized War Vet (Hope It's True)
In the wake of the Nolan Brothers' seminal film The Dark Knight, numerous theories cropped up - all trying to explain how the late Heath Ledger's iconic iteration of the Joker originated. Unable to take any of the Joker's contrasting personal accounts at face value, fans pieced this theory together; what if the Joker were a war veteran from Desert Storm or Iraq?
Military service could explain why the Joker is so proficient with firearms and explosives. This backstory could also explain why he primarily operates in America. The Joker also could've gained his scars after surviving an inhumane torture session. Making the Pale Man a broken war veteran could serve as a critique of the way returning soldiers get treated. This Joker origin story also underscores the dehumanizing effects of war.
3 Lex Luthor Becomes The Joker (Hope It's False)
Elseworlds stories are what-if scenarios that reimagine various aspects of the DC Comics Universe. Superman: Red Son reimagines the Man of Steel as a citizen of the Soviet Union, while Gotham By Gaslight envisions a 'Steampunk 'version of Gotham City as well as an archaic iteration of Batman that's more akin to Sherlock Holmes.
Superman: Speeding Bullets is an Elseworlds story where baby Kal-El lands in Gotham. You probably see where this is going; Supes becomes Batman and fights crime with his powers. Naturally, Lex remains Supes' nemesis. However, he also becomes the Joker after falling into a vat of chemicals. Lex and Joker heavily contrast against one another - making for great banter between the two. We prefer if Lex and the Joker remain as separate individuals tenuously united by their villainy.
2 "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" (Hope It's True)
Though the above quote comes from Batman: Endgame, we're not referring to one Joker origin story. After so many years of guessing and theorizing, a definitive backstory for Batman's nemesis might not be fulfilling. Maybe it's best if we never truly learn how or where the Joker's backstory.
The Joker could continue to lie about his background, or his madness could've genuinely sapped his memory. Ultimately, it's more interesting if the Joker remains enigmatic to us just as Bats is a mystery to his foes. Most criminals in Gotham have no idea how or where Batman originated. Isn't it fascinating that the Joker's able to make us feel the same way?
1 The Joker's A Figment Of Batman's Imagination (Hope It's False)
It'd be interesting to see DC's writers borrow a few pages from Fight Club, but it'd be hard to justify. The concept of Tyler Durden sharing a body with the Narrator barely works in a 208-page book/ a 2 hour and 31-minute film. However, Batman and the Joker have fought for decades - both in-universe and in our chronology.
Moreover, numerous other heroes and villains have a history with the Clown Prince of Crime. If you asked Nightwing, Batgirl, or Alfred who the Joker was they wouldn't point at Bruce Wayne! This Joker origin story could work in a self-contained Elseworlds' story, but not as his definitive backstory.