The Joker is Batman’s archenemy and one of the most original and popular comic book villains of all time. He has also been the subject of some of the best comic book stories ever conceived, from “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Killing Joke” to “A Death in the Family,” and the Joker’s popularity has translated to the big screen too. Actors ranging from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger (who won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal) have played the maniacal clown. Most recently, the Joker can be seen in the live action film Suicide Squad, as played by Jared Leto (who continues to grumble publicly about his deleted scenes), and in the animated adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke performed by longtime Joker voice actor Mark Hamill. Yet despite his influence, a lot is still not known about Gotham City’s most infamous evildoer. Here are 10 little known facts about the Joker that you may not have been aware of.
10. The Joker Has Been With Batman From The Beginning
If you’re wondering how long the Joker has been tormenting Batman and the citizens of Gotham City, the answer is since the very beginning. In fact, the Joker first appeared in Batman issue #1 published on April 25, 1940. Batman creator Bob Kane conceived the Joker at the same time he came up with the idea of a standalone Batman comic book series, figuring that an insane clown would be the perfect foil for the Dark Knight. Interestingly, the original script for Batman #1 had the Joker being killed off at the end of the comic book, but editors at DC Comics liked the character so much that they intervened and had the script re-written so that the Joker would live and continue to serve as a foil to Batman for years to come.
9. The Joker Was Initially A Lot More Violent
Ever since he first appeared in the 1940s, the Joker has been an extremely violent character. However, what many may not realize is that he was more violent in the 1940s and early 1950s than he was often portrayed in later years. Up until the Comics Code came into effect in 1954, the Joker was a vicious murderer who regularly shot and carved up innocent people with a knife. The Comics Code, with its strict regulations on violence in comics, changed all that, and afterwards the Clown Prince of Crime became a lot less violent – often depicted as a bank robber or performing some weird clown shenanigans around Gotham City. Some comic books in the early 1960s even had him driving around in a clown car with a dozen other clowns. Fortunately, he has been restored in recent years to his ultra-violent persona (though seeing him cut off own face and wear it as a mask in the New 52 is an image we certainly could have done without).
8. The Joker Has Been The Inspiration For Several Roller Coasters
We’re not sure why exactly, but the Joker has proven to be the inspiration for many roller coasters at theme parks around the world. For example, there is the Joker’s Jinx roller coaster at Six Flags in Maryland, The Joker Coaster at a Six Flags in Mexico City, and The Batman Adventure – The Ride roller coaster, featuring The Joker, at an amusement park in Perth, Australia. There are also Joker themed coasters in Germany and Spain. Perhaps it is because the Joker is so dangerous and unpredictable that he is the subject of so many roller coasters. Or maybe it is his colorfulness that makes him ideal for being on a rollercoaster marquee. Whatever the reason, the Joker has inspired many amusement park rides around the world.
7. The Joker Didn’t Appear In Any Comic Books For A Decade
It may seem hard to believe due to his tremendous popularity today, but there was a time when DC Comics wanted nothing to do with the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime did not appear in any comic books at all between 1964 and 1973. DC Comics editor at the time, Julius Schwartz, decided that the character had become tiresome and clichéd, and so was taken out of the Batman line-up for 10 years as writers and artists introduced new villains such as Man-Bat. Even the performance of actor / comedian Caesar Romero as the Joker on the 1960s Batman TV show starring Adam West didn’t convince the creative heads at DC Comics to bring the character back. It was only when Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams pitched a major reinvention of the character for the story “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” in 1973 that the beloved Clown Prince of Crime was finally revived.
6. The Joker Is Based On A Character In A Victor Hugo Novel
Conventional thinking has always been that Batman creator Bob Kane got his inspiration for the Joker from a deck of cards, but the truth is much more literate in origin. Kane has said in interviews that the inspiration for the Joker came from a character called “Gwynplaine” that was portrayed by actor Conrad Veidt in a 1928 movie called The Man Who Laughs which was based on a novel by the celebrated French novelist Victor Hugo (who also wrote Les Misérables). Looking at still images of the character Gwynplaine from that movie, one can clearly see the resemblance to the Joker; in fact, it’s almost eerie how similar they look. Bob Kane says he found the character from the movie scary and unsettling in the best way possible, and so decided to model the Joker around him.
5. The Joker’s Origin Story First Appeared In 1951
Although there have been differing accounts of the Joker’s origin story over the years – “The Killing Joke” is often cited as the best origin tale – the fact is that the Joker’s origin was first published in Detective Comics #168 in 1951. In fact, director Tim Burton followed this origin story closely in his 1989 movie Batman. In the first published account of the Joker’s beginnings, for example, the character is named Jack Napier, a low level organized crime hood who is transformed into the Joker after falling into a vat of chemicals while trying to rob a factory. This mirrors closely the story from Burton’s film. While people have played with the Joker origin over the years (In The Dark Knight, actor Heath Ledger gives multiple accounts of how he came to look the way he does), the first account from 1951 is the one Bob Kane has said he prefers.
4. The Joker Was Originally Called “Red Hood”
While the Joker’s real name is Jack Napier, he also went by a professional criminal name prior to being hideously transformed when falling into a vat of chemicals and becoming the Joker. That professional criminal name was “Red Hood” and was the handle Jack Napier used on the streets of Gotham City when he was running around as a low life hustler robbing people in alley ways and knocking over liquor stores. This was also explained in Detective Comics #168, published in 1951, when the Joker’s origin story was first put out for public consumption. The “Red Hood” moniker is one of the little known details of the Joker’s past and has not been raised in any of the film or television depictions of the character.
3. There’s Controversy Over Who Created The Character
Since the 1940s, there has been some controversy over who actually created the Joker. Bob Kane has always claimed that he came up with the character with some input from Batman co-creator Bill Finger, and based the Joker after the character Gwynplaine from the 1928 movie The Man Who Laughs. However, DC Comics artist Jerry Robinson, who worked on the early issues of the Batman comic books, claims that he, in fact, was the person who created the Joker and got the inspiration from a Joker playing card. Bob Kane disputed this claim right up until his death in 1998. In a 1994 interview, Kane stated: “Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up.” Jerry Robinson is still alive today and maintains that it was he who created the Joker.
2. The Joker Once Had A Sidekick
Comic books are littered with terrible sidekicks. From Aquagirl to Krypto the Super Dog, sidekicks are one of the most cringe-worthy aspects of comic books. Even the Joker hasn’t been spared. In the early 1960s, the Joker had a brutally terrible sidekick called Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy or “Gaggy” for short. Meant to be a counterpoint to Robin, Gagsworth was a dwarf who ran away from the circus to help the Joker carry out his diabolical crimes. Gagsworth, like all comic book sidekicks, proved to be intolerable and was killed off after a short period of time. That being said, the character has been resurrected in recent years, usually as someone who is trying to bump off Harley Quinn out of jealousy over her relationship with the Joker.
1. The Joker Had His Own (Short-Lived) Comic Book Series
After the Joker successfully reappeared in Batman comic books in 1973 with “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge,” DC Comics decided to go all-in with the character and gave him his own monthly comic book series in 1975. However, the book did not prove popular with readers or critics, and was cancelled after only nine issues and less than one year of publication. The Joker series faded into history and became hard to find over time. Collectors and diehard fans of the character began seeking out the series and often had to pay big bucks to get their hands on the nine issues. However, DC reprinted The Joker run in 2013 as a self-contained graphic novel. This approach seemed to satisfy those who wanted to revisit this lost Joker comic book series.