We Finally Know How The Joker Became So Sick And Twisted
- Published: 01 October 2019
- Thumbnail Image by Bosslogic → instagram.com/bosslogic/
Just like Batman himself, the Joker didn't arrive fully formed. Here's how we got from a one-shot gimmick villain to the embodiment of madness and mayhem and how he was almost completely forgotten along the way.
It might be hard to believe these days, but when he first hit the pages in 1939, Batman wasn't exactly an original concept. Bill Finger and Bob Kane were heavily influenced by the Shadow, a pulp vigilante who eventually found himself replaced in the pop culture pantheon by Batman. In fact, the story that introduced Batman, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," was, to put it charitably, "inspired by" a Shadow novel called Partners of Peril that had been released a few years earlier. If you don't want to be charitable, you might even say it was lifted wholesale.
Before long, of course, Batman emerged as his own character. Six months after his debut, he got the origin story that remains unchanged to this day, and five months after that, Finger and Jerry Robinson introduced Robin, who redefined the idea of a sidekick and inspired a thousand knockoffs himself. Still, those stories were never exactly subtle about where they were digging up their ideas.
Enter German actor Conrad Veidt. In 1928, he'd starred in a silent film called The Man Who Laughs, about a 17th-Century noble named Gwynplaine. His father had been killed in an iron maiden by political rivals, and as for Gwynplaine himself, they disfigured him by cutting his mouth into a smile, quote, "so that he might laugh forever at his fool of a father." Gwynplaine grows up, gets revenge, and actually gets a much happier ending than he gets in the Victor Hugo novel on which the film was based.
The important part for the then-new Batman comics, however, was the striking image of a man whose face was permanently twisted into a grin, forced to smile no matter what emotion he was actually feeling something that Veidt did very well in the film. Finger was inspired by that incredible visual, and brought the idea to Jerry Robinson, thinking up a new villain for their comic.
Batman #1 hit the shelves in 1940, and kicked off with one of the Golden Age's most memorable images: the Joker, smiling at the reader while plotting a string of crimes. Keep watching the video because we finally know how the Joker became so sick and twisted!
The Man Who Laughs | 0:11
Enter: The Joker | 1:52
Under the Red Hood | 2:43
Gone and forgotten? | 4:19
The Laughing Fish | 6:38
Villain evolution | 7:47
Exponential insanity | 9:46