Text | TWY

“Joker” exploded at the Venice Film Festival. It is said that after the screening, the audience stood up and applauded it for eight minutes.

The world’s top movie creators have witnessed the popular reign of the DC supervillain, who is revered as the “Prince of Gotham’s Crime”, on the big screen.


And just like the madness in his work, every time the character enters the mainstream entertainment stage, the voices of praise and worship, controversy and abuse appear almost simultaneously, which undoubtedly proves the unquestionable influence of this character.

In the history of DC Comics and movies, the Joker, as the “Dark Knight” Batman has been an old enemy for nearly 80 years, and the relationship between the two classic images is absolutely opposite but inseparable, just as people in reality have been as fanatical and fearful of him for a long time, so let’s take advantage of the release of the new film to retrace the history of the Joker.

You may be surprised to say that the image of the Joker has appeared in various adaptations many more times than we think, and has now exceeded 250 versions.

The Joker first appeared as a perverted murderer in 1940, a year after Batman first appeared in the 27th issue of Detective Comics, with a purple suit, green hair, and a weird smiley face (the three creators borrowed from Paul Lenny’s film “The Smiley Man” based on Hugo’s novel, in which Conrad Waite played an aristocrat who always wore an exaggerated smile on his face after being disfigured); His classic weapon, “Laughing Gas”, also debuts, and the victim will become crazy and laugh after inhaling “Laughing Gas”, and eventually die with a smile.

Initially, the Joker was used as a one-time villain, but within a few years, the Joker established his identity as Batman’s old enemy: Batman’s serious and mysterious appearance, superb detective skills and “do not kill” moral code are a perfect contrast to the Joker’s unconventional cards, unbridled mischievous spirit and anarchist tendencies, confirming the old saying that “heroes’ greatness is also reflected in their enemies”.

Unlike superheroes like Superman, who rely on brute force hand-to-hand combat and powerful superpowers to support action scenes, the Joker and Batman, as ordinary people, do not even need to face each other, let alone the kind of super visually stimulating duel, they can “fight” to die and live.

However, the story of the Joker and Batman has not always been as dark as today’s movies, in fact, for a long time, it has completely become a comedy. Due to public dissatisfaction with the dark content in comics, the Comics Standards Authority was established in 1954 (similar to Hollywood’s “Hays Code” at the time), and the violent and dark content in comics was strictly censored, and Batman then “self-destructed” into a ridiculous comedy character, and the Joker as a mirror image was thus “relegated” to a criminal who played pranks with a magical smile.

The “pinnacle” of this stage was undoubtedly the “Batman” TV series and movies broadcast between 1966 and 1968 , in which Adam West played the protagonist in the “Batman” TV series and movies, and the funny music of the series, and the humor in West’s “serious” performance, were greatly welcomed by the audience at the time.

The Batman (1966)

Among them, the clown played by Caesar Lomoro is the first clown image on the big screen, which also created the first classic “clown laughter”.

These Batman stories present a very comedic reflexivity, and the creators look directly at the absurdity of the plot nature of “a big man fighting crime at night in a bat-like costume” (Jack Nicholson’s Joker angrily denounced in a scene in the movie), and also seems quite a sense of déjà vu from a “clown perspective”.

The Batman (1989)

West’s “Batman” series’ seemingly young but impressive comedy has not been completely lost with the progress of the times, in fact, including the Tim Burton Batman films, and two admittedly failed works, “Batman and Robin” and “Batman Forever”, all try to create that kind of comedy.

In 2014, after experiencing the Nolan era trilogy, Warner produced a series of “Lego” movies, especially the 2017 “Lego Batman Movie” reproduced this alternative Dark Knight image with a reflexive attitude, in “Lego Batman”, the director even let the Joker in the battle with Batman to each other bizarre “confession”, in response to the comic history, about the enduring struggle between the two, there is “love” speculation.

The LEGO Batman Movie

Making Batman a comedy story may be the Joker’s dream, and he firmly believes that a good comedy is indispensable for laughter. Mark Hamill, who has voiced the clown for several animated series and games since the 90s, refers to his signature laugh as a musical instrument, a fluid substance that changes with its mood.

And each generation of clowns, whether it is Hamill, Romolo, or Nicholson, Heath Ledger or Joaquin Phoenix, has a unique opinion on his laughter, from Ledger’s defiant “Ha-roar-ha-he” when he leisurely walks into the gang assembly, to Hamill’s various levels from snickering to laughing maniacally, or Nicholson’s almost true laughter (Jack Torrance and the Joker in “The Shining” also have something in common), and different styles of laughter even define the temperament of each work.

Batman: The Dark Knight

It may be said that in addition to comparing the Joker to the other side of Batman, he and his laughter are more of an inflammatory energy, film critic Roger Ebert even warned the audience in film reviews to constantly remind themselves not to cheer for the Joker, which in a sense inspired the existence of Batman, defining everything the latter believed in the opposite direction.

Of course, in the 1970s, after the end of the West series, as the United States entered a more cynical era after a series of events such as the Vietnam War, Nixon’s rise to power, and the Manson murder, DC established a new direction for Batman comics to return to the path of realistic darkness, and everything eventually pointed to two comic book masterpieces born in the late 1980s: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Batman: The Deadly Joke (1988).

Batman: The Deadly Joke

The two works give the story of Batman and the Joker, like a film noir and even a tragedy-like texture to Shakespeare, and also provide a more mature and realistic possibility for later film and television adaptations.

In addition to the stylistic changes in the Joker’s personal image, the story about the origin of the clown can also be seen as a major category in the clown adaptation.

Moore’s “Deadly Joke” written by Moore, who created “Watchmen”, is considered the best Joker origin story in history, and it is completely deepened in the form of a two-line story based on the original origin story of the 50s, and Tim Burton’s funny but brutal Joker in Jack Nicholson’s first “Batman” movie was greatly influenced by it, and Burton himself even said that it was one of the few comics he could read.

The original Joker Origin manga depicts it as a criminal working in a chemical factory, later known as the “Red Hood”, who accidentally falls into a chemical pool during a theft and is disfigured and becomes insane. In “Deadly Joke”, “Joker” was originally just an ordinary person with a poor family and working in a chemical factory, who resigned because he hoped to become a comedian, but he failed and was scolded by his pregnant wife in a shabby home all day.

So, one day he is forced to take the dark road to that chemical pool, and at the same time, he suddenly receives the news of his wife’s accident and death, so that after a “bad day”, the future prince of crime is born, and his purpose is to make his victims suffer such a “bad day” as he did, so that he distorts their minds and destroys their morals.

The setting of “Bad Day” in “Deadly Joke” was played to the extreme by Ledger’s Joker in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”, thus creating one of the most talked-about confrontation scenes between good and evil in this century, and when the movie ended, it was almost the Joker who won the final victory.

Nolan grafts the origins of Harvey Dent, another classic villain in the Batman world, into the Joker’s conspiracy, showing his nemesis how a dignified prosecutor, a “knight of light”, has become a villain who ignores morality and kills by flipping a coin after a night of tragedy.

The movie does not explain the origin of the Joker, but let him play Rashomon-like jokes in front of the victim, Nolan accurately captures the Joker’s enthusiasm for chaos, distrust of the laws and morals that maintain social order, and just as Moore’s writing is easily defeated by family relationships and economic difficulties, Ledger’s Joker is hung in the air, laughing and saying to Batman: “All you need is a gentle push.”

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight’s Return, while not with the Joker’s absolute focus, provides an ending hypothesis: an old, tired Batman ends up killing the Joker, but in doing so he also reneges on his own rule of not killing. Let this protracted contest finally have a result.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part II)

The clown won.

At this point, the Joker has also completed his ultimate evolution, and he has risen from a secondary character in a superhero film to an unsurpassed classic character, becoming a character with an absolutely special status in this genre film.

After that, when we mention the Joker, we will always give it a certain depth, and even the movies related to the Joker will have a different sense of heaviness and practical significance from the kind of popcorn movie to which it originally belongs, becoming a “deep movie” in superhero films.

For example, in 1989’s “Batman”, Tim Burton’s dark temperament perfectly matches the dark temperament of the Joker, and the anarchist sensitivity and madness of the Joker, and is mixed into a stage-style elegance by Jack Nicholson’s interpretation, which can be said to make this image more layered and more tragic than the villains in ordinary superhero films.

The story of “Watchmen” is inherently dystopian, the story of the hero being killed points to some kind of worst futuristic fantasy, and the joke that the joke of the joker going to the doctor is not only satirizing the joker, but also deconstructing the superhero itself.

As for the social experiment of Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker, and the relationship between him and Batman, it makes “The Dark Knight” move out of the mythical tradition of the traditional superhero narrative of personal heroic growth narrative, and instead explore the mirror relationship between the two sides of justice and evil in human nature, and also make this movie and Heath Ledger himself become a classic that can never be replaced in the hearts of fans.

In the latest “Joker”, we can finally go back to the beginning of everything and explore how the image of the clown was born.

In a way, the Joker has thus become a very special one among superheroes – starting from the ending backwards, born backwards from death, and appearing backwards from disappearance – a hero who reverses the legend.

It is not so much that these superhero films make the image of the clown, but that the image of the clown gives these superhero films a new depth, superheroes and superhero films represent the maintenance of an ideal society and mythological system, and the clown image is completely the opposite of this ideal and myth, he makes us aware of the falsehood of these myths, he appears in those chaotic societies, and uses his own evil deeds to make those cities more chaotic.

And this is what reality looks like.

But the Joker is different from all superheroes, not just because he is a villain, but because he has some kind of uncertainty in him, you can never predict what the Joker will do in the next second, and perhaps this absolute instability is why he is the strongest of all superhero villains. Because the unknown is the scariest.

Compared to Batman who is bound by his own morality, the Joker does not have any shackles, he does whatever he wants, lives in chaos, and does not hope for any order, not so much that he is crazy, but that he is simple, because he knows best how fragile those so-called morals are in this chaotic world.

Batman can undoubtedly be called a guardian, but the Joker, who is his opposite and mirror image, must not be simply defined by “destroyer”, after all, thinking about destroying the world all day often does not have any real ambitions, but the Joker is different from them.

What he wants to destroy is not a particular world, but the fear of “sin” in people’s hearts.

People obey the law, Batman upholds justice, not so much to follow the rules, but to say that they can’t face the fear in front of sin and killing, it is this sense of fear that keeps us away from sin, and what the Joker does is to use his crazy, unpredictable, unchained, and “sinful hedonism” way to enter the inside of sin to eliminate your fear of sin.

Batman can also kill after not being afraid of sin, so what ordinary people can do is even more unimaginable.

He is the mentor of sin in everyone’s mind, and no superhero dares to achieve such glory as the Joker in this way.


The Batman (1989)

The Batman (1989)

Batman: The Dark Knight

Batman: The Dark Knight