The man with the white skin, green hair, and dreadfully hysterical laugh has terrorized Bruce Wayne for decades. Whether it be through threats, maiming, or psychological manipulation, his methods are as varied his appearances. For the last 75 years, many versions of the Joker have been created by many writers and artists, but no one particular version has been seen at the definitive. Each take is informed by the ones before it, culminating in the impressions of the character we have today.
Last Friday, the director of the upcoming Suicide Squad film tweeted the look of Jared Leto’s Joker. The new take has proven divisive to say the least, but it’s important to note that over the years no two Jokers have been alike.
The First Appearance (Batman #1 1940)
Inspired by Conrad Veidt in 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, this Joker has the basic characteristics we’ve come to know from the character: white skin, wide grin, green hair, and trademark purple suit. However, his body his far more proportional rather than the lankier frame he’ll have in later iterations. He also started as a serial killer who killed his victims with a poison that left their corpses frozen with grotesque smiles etched on their faces.
Fun fact: originally the character was set to die early in the comic’s run, as one of the original writers, Bill Finger, felt recurring villains would make the character look incompetent. The editor overruled him… and the rest is history.
Silver Age Joker
As the character continued in the comics, his features and personality became more exaggerated. You’ll see more of the character he’ll become. A slightly lankier frame, a longer chin, and if you read the text his plans are clearly getting more cartoony.
Batman The Series (1966)
The Joker of an entire generation, Cesar Romero chewed scenery with a flamboyance few could match. Overall, he was a fairly accurate adaptation for the Joker of the time.
Fun fact: Cersar Romero refused to shave his mustache for his appearances in the show, so if you look closely you can see his soup strainer buried under the white makeup.
1970’s Joker (Batman #251)
After a four year absence, Batman writer Dennis O’Neil and his artist Neal Adams both moved the Joker character back to his roots and further his current evolution. The physical features of the Joker were exaggerated even more, but done so in a way to enhance the character’s inherent creepiness. His personality was also brought back to more along the lines of his original appearance: namely his homicidal nature. O’Neal said of his initial arc, “I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after.”
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Though he traded the purple suit for a white one, Frank Miller’s Joker brought the character to a new level of insanity and lethality. This time sporting a bulkier frame, the Joker of the future was tied to Batman in an almost existential way. Without the Dark Knight in the world, he simply had no purpose and went dormant. When Bruce decides to put on the cowl back on, Joker’s time has come again.
The Killing Joke (1988)
Just when people thought Frank Miller had redefined the Joker, Alan Moore came along and brilliantly re-imagined the character’s origin as a failed comic turned homicidal psychopath. Brian Bolland’s art keeps many of the exaggerated features of the character at the time, but draws them with a realism that adds both a terrifying quality and emotional vulnerability to the character.