The Joker: A History

Graham Host
Comics Batman
Comics Batman DC

Although he’s Batman’s enigmatic arch-enemy, astoundingly little is actually known about the Joker. Even his name has been a mystery for almost a century. With the secret soon to be revealed in the upcoming Justice League #50, let’s take a look at what we think we know about the Joker.


The Joker

The Joker has created toxins and poisons aplenty over his years as a crime-fighter but none so deadly as his trademark Joker Venom. During one stint in Arkham Asylum, Joker was able to break out by creating a variety of his Joker Venom using just the contents of a cleaning cupboard. As the cupboard did not contain any sort of measuring containers, he did it by eye alone. Although he may be insane, he is also a genius.

His other deadly paraphernalia includes razor-edged playing cards, exploding cigars that can level a building, a lethal joy buzzer capable of carrying a million volts of electricity, and the flower in his lapel which often sprays a lethal acid.


Despite just over eighty-five years of history, nothing is known for sure about the Joker. The most common interpretation is that he was being pursued by Batman whilst under the guise of the villain known as Red Hood. Red Hood falls into a vat of chemicals that alter his appearance and twist his mind.

In The Killing Joke, it is expanded upon as Joker being forced into the role to support his pregnant wife. In this iteration, he is a failed comedian. This story may or may not be true as the Joker prefers his past to be ‘multiple choice’. At the end of The Killing Joke, Batman offers to help with Joker’s rehabilitation. The Joker refuses but shares a joke with Batman to show his appreciation for the offer.

Not far removed from The Killing Joke, Joker murders Jason Todd, the second Robin when Todd is searching for his mother. A Death in the Family marks the first time that Batman considers killing the Joker. When Todd is resurrected several years later, Batman reveals that he imagined kidnapping the Joker and tormenting him for months before killing him.

Joker’s Last Laugh centers around an unconventional attempt by the Arkham doctor’s to cure Joker of his madness. They doctor scans of his brain to make him think that he has an inoperable tumour killing him. Instead of being rehabilitated, Joker creates a virus to ‘Jokerize’ other villains and launches a final crime spree. Believing that the current Robin (Tim Drake) has been killed, Nightwing beats Joker to death. Although Batman brings Joker back to prevent Grayson from being a murderer, the Joker succeeds in making one of the Bat Family kill.

Since the New 52 reboot, Joker has been rewritten as potentially being an immortal who has caused tragedy in Gotham for decades. After the events of Endgame, in which Batman and Joker seemingly fall to their deaths, both hero and villain lost their memories. Batman recently regained his identity as Batman using a machine that forces a copy of his mind and identity into a person at the expense of their original mind.

Origins and Aliases

Although the most common origin story is Red Hood falling into a chemical vat, others have been put forward. One variation on the Red Hood story is Joker being pressured into the role after being unable to support his pregnant wife and needs to make money. However, another version portrays him as a sadistic gangster who became Red Hood for the thrill. This story has the Joker as sane but feigning insanity to avoid the death penalty.

Batman Confidential shows ‘Jack’, a talented criminal who has become bored. After Jack injures Batman’s girlfriend, Batman scars Jack with the trademark grin and betrays him to a gang at the chemical plant. Jack falls into an empty vat but the one above is punctured by bullets and leaks onto him, transforming him into the Joker.

Atom once saw a memory of the Joker burning his parents alive after they find him killing animals.

In ‘Zero Year’, pre-Joker Red Hood is head of an intricate network of criminals.

Although Joker currently has no memories, it has happened before. Believing his nemesis dead, he washed off his make-up, underwent surgery to normalise his appearance, changed his name to be Joseph Kerr and somehow ended up believing his own story. Although he fell in love and proposed to his girlfriend of a time, he slowly began slipping back into his old ways. It began with poor jokes but quickly escalated to bouts of uncontrollable laughter. Over time, he became slowly more unbalanced. Upon seeing Batman in the newspaper, Joseph Kerr threw himself in a river and the Joker dragged himself out.

Real Name

Joker has possibly been for centuries which would make any identity near useless. But when Batman claimed the Mobius chair, a device capable of knowing all knowledge in the past and present, he asked it two questions: who killed his parents and who was the Joker? The Mobius chair identifies Joe Chill as the murderer of his parents but the reader is not told the Joker’s name. All that is seen is Batman reacting in disbelief and shock.Many theories have been put forward.

Many theories have been put forward. It’s a future version of Bruce himself, Alfred Pennyworth in disguise, a failed Talon experiment that got loose. All we have been told so far is that the real identity of the Clown Prince, the insane King of Arkham, will be something nobody could see coming. Justice League #50 will be hitting stores 25/5.

Graham Host is a member of the Fan Contributor program. In his spare time, he enjoys the works of Terry Pratchett, DC Comics and a wide assortment of video games. Under no circumstances should he be fed after midnight.
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