The Joker by Alex Ross
Easily one of the most recognizable villains to ever grace comic panels, the aptly named Clown Prince of Crime made his debut on April the 25th, 1940, in Batman #1. Pitted against the Caped Crusader over eight decades across various mediums within the entertainment spectrum, The Joker would eventually become what many fans would deem to be Batman’s biggest archnemesis.
First Appearance of The Joker in Batman #1
The questions that then arise from such a notion is: what makes The Joker the most dangerous of all the villains in Batman’s Rogues Gallery? And why do Batman fans unanimously find him so appealing?
After all, unlike many other Batman villains that fans have come to know throughout the comics, films, and video games, The Joker sports none of the characteristics that we have often come to associate with supervillains in general.
Depending on which of the countless origin stories you subscribe to, The Joker is portrayed as a man in bad clown makeup, devoid of any superpowers or supertech at his disposal that would otherwise allow him to dominate the seedy underbelly of Gotham City easily. And yet, it has been showcased time and time again how other criminals wince and appear somewhat fearful at the mere mention of The Joker’s name.
One theory that would attribute The Joker’s rise to becoming public enemy #1 among the heroes and villains in Gotham is in his unpredictability.
Much like in the depiction of the character in Christopher Nolan’s movie The Dark Knight, The Joker is personified as the embodiment of chaos, an unpredictable agent that appears to act on a whim and projects no clear motive throughout the execution of his many misdeeds. This ostensible lack of clear direction most often results in the inability of Gotham PD and even Batman himself to apprehend The Clown Prince of Crime before he can wreak havoc on the city.
Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Another theory that could explain his established notoriety among Gotham’s denizens is that The Joker does not have a definitive alter-ego.
Of course, there have been numerous instances whereby an origin story was crafted for the character, such as Detective Comics #168 (1951) with the criminal-who-would-be The Joker making his first appearance as the Red Hood.
The man who would become The Joker depicted here as the Red Hood
This particular iteration of The Joker’s origin would be reimagined decades later into what is widely regarded as the “most definitive” genesis for the character, with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke hitting comic shelves in 1988.
Cover Art of The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
In the story, The Joker is initially portrayed as a struggling comedian unable to provide for his pregnant wife, ultimately making him resort to committing a crime in a desperate ploy for money. That crime, however, is foiled by Batman, but not before the comedian accidentally falls into a vat of chemicals while trying to escape, which completely disfigures him and drives him insane. Couple that with the fact that his pregnant wife was presumably killed in an ambiguous accident right before he set off to commit the said crime, and thusly The Joker was born.
The unnamed Comedian in The Killing Joke who would eventually become The Joker
But despite what would seem to be an elaborate backstory for The Joker, it can be argued that, while his origins attempts to humanize his character, the resulting Joker identity is completely severed from his former self. To put it simply, there is nothing of significance left of his alter-ego as the comedian for The Joker to identify with. Therefore, this understanding would instead make him a character with nothing to lose and everything to gain, making him the least malleable foe to both heroes and villains alike.
Why We Can’t Get Enough of Him
It should come as no surprise that the two theories, which make The Joker such a formidable force in Gotham, be the same reasons ascribed to why fans of the character just cannot get enough of him.
The fact that The Clown Prince of Crime is so unpredictable onscreen, in video games, and between the pages of a comic book makes his behavior evoke a feeling of excitement in fans as they eagerly anticipate his next set of misdeeds. It furthermore allows for each appearance of The Joker to seem “fresh” in fans’ minds, as there is often no foreseeable way to map out his schemes, leaving fans feeling surprised by each story the character is a part of.
Additionally, because The Joker is established as a character with no concrete alter-ego, the mystery surrounding his backstory adds to the allure of why he is so popular among fans. Moreover, the existence of the character’s enigmatic past leaves much room for speculation about who The Joker truly is, generating decades of fan debates and new stories that attempt to answer that very question, such as 2020’s Batman: Three Jokers by Geoff Johns.
Cover Art of Batman: Three Jokers by Geoff Johns
If you truly consider yourself a fan of The Joker and cannot seem to get enough of him, you should check out our Joker figurines!