Secret Origin Sunday: The Joker
Welcome to a brand new feature at Comic Booked: Secret Origin Sunday!
The Joker. The Batman’s greatest nemesis, and quite possibly one of the best villains ever created in the entire medium of comics, has a past that is full of mystery, intrigue, and madness. Within the pages of the comic books, he has been presented as a low-level enforcer for the mob, a failed comedian with marital problems, a masked man by the name of the Red Hood, and even as a psychopath forced into a life of crime. But with each and every retelling of the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin, he contradicts himself. In an issue of Robin by legendary longtime DC Comics and Batman universe architect Chuck Dixon, he even blamed Batman for his current state by claiming that he was a happy child with a pony until Batman killed it.
But I digress.
Whatever the Joker’s origin is, one thing is for certain: his behind-the-scenes origin, or, his creation, is just as interesting as the one (or two, or three) presented in the comic books. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger (and arguably Jerry Robinson, much to Kane’s dismay), he had a humble beginning. But that beginning, after his immense popularity became international, was the start of a battle (both legal and personal) that is still unresolved today: Did Bob Kane really create him? Or did someone else? Was it just as much Finger’s creation, just like that of many of the original Batman concepts, characters, and stories are believed to be? Or does Robinson deserve more credit, solidifying the craze around the Joker that has yet to die off? Well, the speculators and the haters are all over the internet to this very day talking about this. But that is beside the point. The point is (or was), Batman creators wanted a returning bad guy for Bruce Wayne’s Dark Knight to combat. So they introduced the exact opposite to do such battle.
The opposite of dark? Light. The Bat operates in the shadows and wears colors that can shroud him in darkness, while the Clown wears garish and bright colors, choosing to commit crimes in broad daylight. The opposite of order? Chaos. Batman fights each and every night to keep the streets of Gotham City safe from criminal scum, while Joker has over-the-top plans to infect the city’s fish supply with his toxins, rob banks and kill countless of innocents until the Mayor decides to give him his own holiday, and occasionally randomly hijacks a car and goes on a Grand Theft Auto style hit-and-run adventure.
But where did he come from? Well, for those of you who don’t know, the greatest villain in all of comics history is actually:
A rip-off. That’s right. The legendary Victor Hugo novel (later turned live action screen adaptation), The Man Who Laughs, is the true inspiration for the Batman’s most deadly enemy. The Joker is, admitted by all three creators, based in part (or in full) on actor Conrad Veidt’s performance and even appearance as the title character of Hugo’s tragic tale. So Gwynplaine becomes the Joker, and over the years, we all forget the original.
So just like that… Poof! Bob Kane wins again. But really, in all honesty, don’t we all win? I mean, after all, the point is this: We got the Joker. He is an awesome villain. And for lack of a better way to compensate those creators, both living and dead, can’t we all just move on and continue creating and enjoying great Joker stories?
So what do you think? Had you heard this story before? Let me know your reactions in the comments section below.