The Joker (known in Latin America as the Guasón ) is one of the most iconic and recognized villains in the world of comics, but also of film and television. He is such a complex and fascinating character that he has been the subject of multiple interpretations (some of them very different) throughout his more than 75-year history.
Join us on our journey through the history of the clown who couldn’t stop laughing!
1. First Appearance: Batman #1 (1940)
Bob Kane , Bill Finger , and Jerry Robinson designed this character which debuted in 1940 and is inspired by Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs (1928).
In the comics, The Joker does not have an “official” origin, we only know that after an accident with chemical products he was disfigured and went mad, becoming Batman’s archenemy.
2. Mustache Joker: The TV Series (1966-1968)
In the 1960s, the ABC television network broadcast a live-action series, with a markedly comedic and even parodic tone, which achieved great popularity and had a tremendous impact on pop culture as few times had been seen, unleashing a phenomenon called Batmania , which influenced many music groups of that time and attracted important personalities from the world of entertainment and culture to make small cameos in an episode.
The person in charge of getting into the (white) skin of the Joker was César Romero , an actor of Cuban origin famous for playing roles of Latin gallants and who, to everyone’s surprise (and derision), managed to keep his mustache unshaven, because he considered that it was his personal touch and he demanded it in his contract.
Despite the efforts of the makeup artists, it was clear that this Joker had a mustache, but that “detail” made his remembered performance even more memorable.
3. Return of the menacing Joker: Batman #251 (1973)
In “The Joker Five Ways’s Revenge”, Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams bring back the Clown of Crime as the threat he really is, after the 1960s series and the Comics Code had turned him into a pale reflection of himself. This story has a true historical and symbolic value.
This story perfectly reflects the true essence of the villain and marks his return to his violent and psychopathic nature , traits that remain in force to this day. The stage of the two authors managed to recover the climate of mystery of the early days, turning Batman into a creature of the night.
4. The Laughing Fish: Detective Comics #475 (1978)
The stage of Steve Englehart , Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin is a return to the times of Kane and Finger, with an urban Batman who fights against gangsters and other criminals and corrupt. In just a few issues, they connected the character to his roots while bringing him up to date, achieving a critically acclaimed run and a fan favorite.
In “The Laughing Fish”, we are presented with one of his quintessential versions, faithful to the classic image of an extravagant gangster in a cutaway, trench coat, hat and gloves. His appearance in this story is already a classic: tall, slim, elegant and stylish.
5. The Roaring ’80s
In The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Frank Miller revolutionizes the medium and writes one of the best (if not the best) Batman stories of all time. The age of more complex superheroes and moral ambiguity had officially begun.
Miller’s Joker is a dangerous psychopath unleashed, facing Batman one last time, ultimately being defeated and killing himself in the Tunnel of Love.
6. Big screen debut (1989)
Tim Burton’s Joker found in Jack Nicholson the perfect actor to portray him. Nicholson had the attitude, the intensity and the smile of the crazy clown and his performance was praised by everyone.
Bob Kane had wanted Nicholson to play the Joker ever since he saw a poster for The Shining and painted the actor’s face: green hair, white face and red lips. The perfect Joker?
7. A death in the family and a controversy in DC
In the story “A Death in the Family” , Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo turned the Joker into the cold-blooded killer of Jason Tood, the second Robin, in an editorial ploy that included telephone voting to decide on the fate of Boy Wonder.
Jim Aparo would return to the Joker in multiple adventures, being one of the authors who has best transferred him to cartoons.
8. The Joker’s sadistic prank
The Killing Joke (1988), the work of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, was immediately recognized as one of the best Joker stories of all time and remains an undisputed classic.
In this story, the authors give the Joker a tragic origin story, while horrifying us with an attack by the crazy clown on Batman through two people important to him: Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara. The Joker shoots Barbara, leaving her confined to a wheelchair for years to come.
Here the Joker is presented as the perfect (and necessary) adversary of Batman, since their relationship is similar to the concept of yin and yang: opposite forces, but they need each other.
9. A serious house on a serious land
In 1989, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean presented this graphic novel that definitively immortalized the iconic Gotham City asylum and that involved a deconstruction (yet another) of the figure of the Dark Knight.
The Joker of this story, masterfully drawn by McKean with expressionistic features and a slightly demonic appearance, stands as the spokesman and leader of the villains rioting in the asylum, trying to undermine Batman’s sanity through increasingly perverse psychological games.
10. The animated version
Mark Hamill is the man who has played the Joker for the longest time. He has done it by taking charge of giving him a voice since the mythical Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), repeating later in other DC animated series, feature films and even video games.
The success of this television series led to the launch of comics with designs based on her and one of its creators, Bruce Timm , was responsible, along with Paul Dini , for the special Mad Love , where the character of Harley Quinn was officially introduced within the comics continuity.
11. The tragic Joker
In the second part of Christopher Nolan ‘s trilogy on Bat Man, The Dark Knight Returns (2008), Heath Ledger was chosen to play the Clown of Crime, embodying the most methodical, maniacal and sadistic Joker on the big screen, at the same time time that realistic and terrible.
Ledger died of an overdose shortly before the film’s release, but his role earned him an honorary Oscar and is considered by many to be the best Joker ever.
12. Joker (2008)
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo are the authors of this graphic novel, an interesting study on the psychology of the homicidal clown that can be enjoyed by any reader as it is situated outside of continuity.
13. The Man Without a Face
At the end of Detective Comics #1 ( 2011), after his relaunch within the New 52, the insane surgeon Dollmaker rips the Joker’s face off, leaving for posterity an image that shocked readers and left the question of what It was going to happen next with the Clown of Crime.
The next step would be the story “A Death in the Family”, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo , where the Joker tries to get rid of all of Batman’s allies and deal a definitive blow to his eternal adversary.
Later, Snyder will make him recover his face (after undergoing surgery) and build a controversial mythology around the immortality of the Joker, presented as a force of nature.
14. Suicide Joker
In 2016, Suicide Squad was released , directed by David Ayer and charged with controversy and expectation due to the appearance (and mannerisms) of the Joker played by Jared Leto .
Leto’s Joker is more like a gangster, drug dealer, or pimp than the Criminal Clown we know from the comics, leaving a lot to be desired in many ways. His design full of tattoos and gold teeth left no one indifferent.
15. There are other Jokers, but they are in this one
There are other authors who have illustrated the Joker in a magnificent and very personal way. Which bonus track , here are a few preferences of the one who subscribes: