The Joker is a character, a comic book supervillain published by DC Comics and appearing as the archenemy of Batman. Created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the character first appeared in Batman #1 (Spring 1940).
Throughout his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a master criminal whose characterization has varied from that of a violent psychopath to a goofy trickster-thief. He is the archenemy of Batman, having been directly responsible for numerous tragedies in Batman's life, including the paralysis of Barbara Gordon and the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin.
Throughout the character's long history, there have been several different origin tales; they most commonly depict him as falling into a vat of chemical waste, which bleaches his skin and turns his hair green and his lips bright red, giving him the appearance of a clown.
The Joker has been portrayed by Cesar Romero in the Batman television series, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman, and Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which posthumously earned Ledger an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Larry Storch, Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson and Jeff Bennett have provided the voice for the character in animated form.
Wizard's list of the 100 Greatest Villains of All Time ranked the Joker as #1. IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time List ranked the Joker as #2. He was also named the eighth greatest comic book character in history by Empire being the highest ranking villain on the list, and was listed as the fifth Greatest Comic Book Character Ever in Wizard Magazine's 200 Greatest Comic Book Characters of all Time list, the highest villain on the list.
Though many have been related, a definitive back-story has never been established for the Joker in the comics, and his real name has never been confirmed, but some unofficial amateur sources state that it is Jack, but did not come from an official source. He himself is confused as to what actually happened; as he says in The Killing Joke, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha!" In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, written by Grant Morrison, it is said that the Joker may not be insane, but has some sort of "super-sanity" in which he re-creates himself each day to cope with the chaotic flow of modern urban life.
The first origin account, Detective Comics #168 (February 1951), revealed that the Joker had once been a criminal known as the Red Hood. In the story, he is a scientist (a chemical engineer) looking to steal from the company that employs him and adopts the persona of Red Hood. After committing the theft, which Batman thwarts, he falls into a vat of chemical waste. He emerges with bleached white skin, red lips, green hair and a permanent grin.
The most widely cited backstory, which the official DC Comics publication, Who's Who in the DC Universe credits as the most widely believed account, is featured in The Killing Joke. It depicts him as originally being an engineer at a chemical plant who quits his job to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperate to support his pregnant wife, Jeannie, he agrees to help two criminals break into the plant where he was formerly employed to get to the card company next door. In this version of the story, the Red Hood persona is given to the inside man of every job (thus it is never the same man twice); this makes the man appear to be the ringleader, allowing the two criminals to escape. During the planning, police contact him and inform him that his wife and unborn child have died in a household accident.
Stricken with grief, he attempts to back out of the plan, but the criminals strong-arm him into keeping his promise. As soon as they enter the plant, however, they are immediately caught by security and a shoot-out ensues, in which the two criminals are killed. As the engineer tries to escape, he is confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance. Terrified, the engineer leaps over a rail and plummets into a vat of chemicals. When he surfaces in the nearby reservoir, he removes the hood and sees his reflection: bleached chalk-white skin, ruby-red lips, and bright green hair. These events, coupled with his other misfortunes that day, drive the engineer completely insane, resulting in the birth of the Joker.
The story "Pushback" (Batman: Gotham Knights #50-55) supports part of this version of the Joker's origin story. In it, a witness (who coincidentally turns out to be Edward Nigma) recounts that the Joker's wife was kidnapped and murdered by a corrupt cop working for the criminals in order to force the engineer into performing the crime. The Joker attempts to find the corrupt cop who committed the murder, but is beaten badly by Hush and expelled from Gotham before this takes place. "Payback" also shows pictures of the pre-disfigurement Joker — identified as "Jack" — with his wife, giving further support to this version.
The Paul Dini-Alex Ross story "Case Study" proposes a far different theory. This story suggests that the Joker was a sadistic gangster who worked his way up Gotham's criminal food chain until he was the leader of a powerful mob. Still seeking the thrills that dirty work allowed, he created the Red Hood identity for himself so that he could commit small-time crimes. Eventually, he had his fateful first meeting with Batman, resulting in his disfigurement. However, the story suggests that the Joker remained sane, and researched his crimes to look like the work of a sick mind in order to pursue his vendetta against Batman. Unfortunately, the written report found explaining this theory is discovered to have been written by Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, the Joker's insane sidekick/lover, which invalidates any credibility it could have in court.
The most recent origin retelling is featured in the second arc of Batman Confidential (#7-12), which re-imagines him as a gifted hitman. This origin once more states his name as Jack, and eliminates the Red Hood identity. Bored with his work, Jack becomes obsessed with Batman, and crashes a museum ball to attract his attention. In doing so, he badly injures Lorna Shore (whom Bruce Wayne is dating). An enraged Batman disfigures his face with a batarang as he escapes. In retaliation, a furious Batman sells Jack out to mobsters whom he had crossed, who torture Jack in a disused chemical plant. Turning the tables, Jack kills several of his assailants, but falls into an empty vat. Wild gunfire punctures the chemical tanks above him, and the resultant flood of toxins alters his appearance to that of a clown