9 of the Joker’s Most Infamous Origin Stories

The Joker is easily the most iconic comic book villain of all time. Originally a minor character meant to die in his second appearance, he’s become as popular as his heroic foil, the Dark Knight. With the announcement that Warner Bros is making a Joker origin film, it looks like we’ll soon have another version of the Clown Prince of Crime causing chaos on our screens. And it’s anyone’s guess how this one will take form. Jared Leto is out as Batman‘s BFF (Best Foe Forever); the project is being handled by the unexpected creative team of Martin Scorsese and The Hangover’s Todd Phillips; and, perhaps most significantly, the new film will apparently take place outside of the established DCEU.

So what route will this curious new Joker movie take? Well, we’ve got you covered with a comprehensive list of the eclectic and ever-changing origins of Man Who Laughs. After all, in his own words: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Detective Comics #168

It took 11 years after his first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1 for the Joker to get an origin story. In this inaugural version of his beginnings, it’s revealed that the Joker is none other than an old Batman foe known as the Red Hood. When escaping the Caped Crusaders, the crook dove into a vat of acid, both disfiguring and transforming himself into the iconic villain who’d become as important to Batman lore as Bruce Wayne himself.

The Killing Joke

The best known and most frequently cited Joker origin comes from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s controversial classic from 1988. The pair expanded on Bill Finger’s original Joker story, adding an empathetic backstory that imagined the character as a failed stand-up comedian, forced by circumstance into donning the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife. It’s highly likely the new cinematic adaptation could take from this most popular rendition.

Case Study

In this 1996 story from Paul Dini and Alex Ross, we find the Joker as a crazed gangster who, bored with power, creates the Red Hood persona to commit petty crimes. Straying wildly from all other representations, this version of the Joker is a sane man who only feigns insanity to avoid the death penalty.

Batman Confidential #7-12

This 2006 story arc introduced “Jack” as a career criminal who, after growing bored with his life of crime, becomes obsessed with Batman and sets off on a spree of bank robberies to gain his attention. One of the most interesting parts of this origin is that Batman himself disfigures Jack, slicing his face with a Batarang and giving the Joker his iconic grin.

Brave and The Bold #31

In this 2010 comic, The Atom goes into the Joker’s mind and witnesses a memory of the villain burning his own parents alive after being caught killing animals. A dark and intimate moment that gives a rare look at the formative years of Gotham’s most famous psychopath, this is a story beat which could easily be added to any live action version of the Crown Prince of Crime’s early years.

Batman #38

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo took great pleasure in introducing huge swathes of new Joker lore, perhaps none more intriguing than the idea of the Joker as an immortal being. In this 2015 story, Joker is depicted as an ancient who found Lazarus pits before even Ra’s al Ghul, he’s been keeping himself alive and laughing ever since. Later in their run they also uncovered that there are in fact three Jokers, though their individual identities are still yet to be revealed.

Batman (1989)

Tim Burton’s seminal blockbuster imagined the Joker as Jack Napier, a Gotham gangster who murdered Bruce’s parents in his prime but has now been set up by his scheming boss. After falling in a vat of acid during a Batman battle, Napier returns as the Dark Knight’s fiendish foe. The new flick is allegedly set in the ’80s with a Taxi Driver influence, so including the Wayne murders would fit the tone and timeline.

The Dark Knight

In what’s arguably the most canonically accepted representation of the Joker’s mysterious origin, Heath Ledger’s Joker tells multiple versions of the story behind his terrifying grin. The enigma of his backstory has always been a large part of his charm, so it’ll be interesting to see if these new filmmakers can tackle a solid origin story that manages to maintain the mystique of the character comic book fans love so much.

Mask of The Phantasm

This Oscar-nominated animated flick from 1993 is a fan favorite, and Mark Hamill’s Joker is a huge part of the reason why. Phantasm presents an entirely new Joker origin where he’s a mob enforcer and hitman for a famous Gotham crime family. Todd Phillips has said his film will be a dark and gritty crime movie, so it wouldn’t be a huge reach for the team to take notes from this iteration of the Joker.

What direction do you think the Joker movie will take? Did we miss an important origin story? Are you just happy that Jared Leto’s gangster Joker is no more? Let us know in the comments!

Images: DC Comics, Warner Bros

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