Real Name: Unknown
Titles: The Clown Prince of Crime
Featured In: DC Animated Universe
Voiced By: Mark Hamill
Where do I even begin with the Joker? He is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery buried beneath a conundrum of half-truths and whole lies. No one, not even the Joker himself, is entirely sure as to who he was prior to the accident that led to his insidious rise in the criminal underbelly of Gotham. However, one constant truth is that it is because of Batman that there even is a Joker at all. In point of fact, it has been proven throughout the kaleidoscopic reflections of the multiverse that wherever there is a Batman, there is almost always a Joker.
As far as the Joker’s actual origins are concerned, there is one common story that frequents his incarnations, particularly in the animated series. In the pursuit of some two-bit crooks, Batman inadvertently caused one such crook to take a trip in a tank of chemicals that warped him mind, body, and soul. Prior to his chemical bath, the Joker was already a madman who felt no remorse for the deaths he dealt out under the command of the crime families. It is even a popular theory amongst fans that the Joker is in fact the one to have killed Batman’s parents but this is due mostly to the first Batman film than what occurred in the comics or cartoon series.
Despite his immeasurable insanity that is quite excessive in its depravity and inhumanity, the Joker is a certifiable genius with skills that range from engineering death machines to horrific chemical cocktails. During his reign as the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker has created a vast array of death traps and gadgets that are as comedic as they are dangerous. These devices include such things as marbles that explode on impact with one another, chattering teeth capable of tearing through steel, electrified hand buzzers, razor sharp playing cards, and acid spewing flowers.
However, the one creation of the Joker that has proven the most dangerous is his aptly named “joker venom.” It is a concoction that contorts the victim’s face into a terrifyingly massive grin as they quite literally laugh themselves to death. Depending on the strength of the joker venom, the victim would either die almost instantly or suffer through several long, agonizing minutes as they slowly choke themselves with their own laughter. The worst part of the joker venom though is how it can be administered in a variety of ways from breathable gas, to chemical injection, to even be mixed into regular products such as lotions or perfume.
As to the Joker’s minions, going from simple goons to hired help, we have his two pet hyenas Bud and Lou, both of whom are named after the famous comedians Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. To those of you who have never heard of these two gentlemen of comedy you have my sympathies. What’s rather hilarious about these two hyenas is the fact that as much as they might listen to the Joker, the one who truly holds their leashes is his chief crony whom I’ll speak about in a moment. I say this is funny because hyenas as a species are led by an alpha female and not a male, hence their obedience to the crony in question.
Following his pets are a trio that are commonly referred to as Mo, Lar, and Cur, hired goons that possess more muscles than actual brain and were likely hired due to their distinctive haircuts and names. Like the hyenas, the trio were named and designed based on the Three Stooges Moe, Larry, and Curly. To those who don’t know who these three are, there’s no excuse for you to hide under that rock any longer so go watch some classical comedy why don’t you?
Of course, the Joker does not limit himself to these particular group of thugs and has been known to attract many other individuals whose insanity, while questionable, is nowhere near his own level and whose pay cut is not worth the risk of the Joker’s ire. Heck, the one and only person known to take the Joker’s rage and live to tell the tale is one Harley Quinn, the Joker’s… girlfriend… and I use that term lightly. I would spend a moment speaking of the former psychiatrist turned villain but she deserves far more than a meager paragraph so I shall speak of her in greater detail in the next review.
Of the Joker’s crimes… Jeez, where do I even start or better yet, where do I draw the line? Though I chose the Joker of the DCAU as my personal favorite incarnation of the villain, the one in the comics has done so much more. In the comics prior to the events that led to the massive retconning in the DC Universes and the Joker going from insane to… Well, full-blown gut-wrenching psychotic (and trust me when I say you should NOT look up and see how he looks now), the Joker had done a LOT of seriously major crimes that personally affected Batman and would haunt him and others for years to come.
On such crime that the Joker had done was his beating Jason Todd, more commonly recognized as the second Robin after Dick Grayson, to death. What makes this particularly chilling as far as the Joker’s crimes are concerned is that the fate of Jason Todd was actually in the hands of the fans and the vote was a landslide in favor of his demise because his character was… well, to put it mildly, not well liked. The Joker is also the one responsible for shooting and paralyzing one Barbara Gordon, more commonly recognized as the first Batgirl, in an attempt to drive her father, Commissioner Gordon, insane.
One particular event though was when a doctor at the prison/asylum that the Joker was held in lied to the Clown Prince of Crime by telling him that he was dying from an inoperable brain tumor. The Joker, to put it mildly, went on a massive spree of chaos and destruction by way of “jokerizing” each and every super-powered criminal he could find. By “jokerizing” I mean turning any and all villains he could get his hands on into Joker-styled versions of themselves, which in itself is an incredibly terrifying thought considering how dangerous even the most tame villains are, super-powered or not.
Yet… much as it pains me to admit… it was the one in the cartoon series that probably dealt the worse blow to Batman than all others. For though the Joker was responsible for the death of Jason Todd and the paralyzing of Barbara Gordon, both were dealt with… swiftly… Yes, Jason was beaten to death but considering other methods that the Joker could have, and has indeed, employed that was something of a mercy… As for Barbara, she would overcome her paralysis and become one of the biggest supporting characters for the entirety of the superhero community in the form of Oracle, a super-hacker whose information network was unrivaled.
In the cartoon series however, the Joker was brutally reminded of his mortality in the form of Ace, a meta-human whose psychic powers drove him to an even deeper level of insane depravity than what he already had. Deciding that he wanted a “family” with Harley, he kidnapped the young Tim Drake, AKA Robin II (in the DCAU), and spent three solid weeks torturing and experimenting on the boy to turn him into a little Joker Junior.
He even had the gall to show a film reel, an actual bleeding film reel, to Batman as he delighted in revealing that he knew all of Batman’s secrets, including his real identity. This was more than enough to drive Batman to nearly break his no-killing policy but the Joker managed to get a surprisingly sneaky attack in and had the hero down on the ropes long enough that he granted the killing blow to his new “son.”
A killing blow that landed straight in the madman’s heart…
This event all but killed the humanity that Batman had inadvertently regained in his association with the likes of Superman and the Justice League. The wall he had put around his heart became as unbreakable steel and would be nigh impenetrable for over forty years until the tangled skeins of fate brought an unknown legacy back to his roots…
But that’s an entirely different story fourteen years and nine cartoon series in the making.
The Joker is one of my favorite villains because he, above all others in Batman’s rogue gallery, is the only one that can in no possible way be redeemed for any of his crimes. Most of Batman’s foes are human, super-powered or not, and many of their motives have to do with a tragedy that could have been rectified easily if people, Batman included, simply cared enough to offer them the help they so desperately needed. The Joker is no such villain. He is… Well, I believe it was said best in The Dark Knight Trilogy…
Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money.
They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with.
Some men… just want to watch the world burn.