Joker is easily my favorite fictional character, of any franchise, of all time. Since DC has never ‘officially’ released any backstory for the Joker, I’ve come up with my own theory. DC seems to allow others to create their own origin story (such as The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman), but since no official explanation for how the Clown Prince of Crime came to be who he is, I’m going to piece together what I think really happened to him.
What Did Not Happen
Joker did not get his appearance, nor his madness, from falling into a vat of chemicals. Look, I love Joker, but saying he started to look like a clown because of “random chemicals” has always struck me as really lazy writing. Sure, most superheroes/supervillains get their powers from absurd means, but Joker doesn’t even have powers. It’s just a look. The only take on Joker I’ve ever seen that didn’t use some cheap explanation for his appearance is The Dark Knight. That movie showed that Joker looks like a clown because he simply wants to. He intentionally looks like a clown. Which is perfect. If your head hair happens to be green, if red streaks make you look like you’re constantly smiling, and if your skin happens to be bleached white…. That’s a hell of a coincidence if you didn’t do that to yourself on purpose. So, it’s safe to assume Joker looks that way on purpose.
What Does Joker Do?
What a person does is usually the best indicator of what shaped them and what made them who they are. Joker never ‘officially’ tells his origin story, but he does always like to talk about what he wants (chaos), and his various philosophical reasons for why he wants it. What he seems to always imply is that Batman helped shape him into who he became. So, what does that have to do with chaos? Well, Batman is trying to rid Gotham of crime and corruption, but if Batman was directly responsible for what happened to Joker, then Joker would only ever be after Batman and nothing else. So, Batman can’t be directly (or indirectly) responsible. Joker is a kind of philosopher, we have to admit, which I think makes it obvious that something changed his world view, and THAT’S what turned him into what he became.
Also, Joker is knowledgeable and skilled with chemicals. His signature weapon is Joker Venom, which makes people laugh themselves to death. As we all know in real life, chemicals can easily have various effects on our minds and bodies, whether it’s making us hallucinate or have severe eye irritation or whatever, and if Joker invented his own drug with such a specific effect, the guy has to be educated in that field, at least.
Last but not least, the guy seems to not even know where he came from. In several stories, including Arkham Origins, and the aforementioned The Killing Joke, he outright says he doesn’t remember who he was before becoming Joker and that he’s glad he doesn’t. Perhaps it’s brain damage, or perhaps he found a way to erase his memories, or perhaps the guy’s just faking insanity to avoid the death penalty… Anyway, now for our feature presentation.
A man, who we’ll just call Jack, grew up in a broken home, with an abusive alcoholic father and a junkie mother. Living with an abusive father made him learn how to physically defend himself against a stronger opponent. He hated his father, but he loved his mother because she was a good person, despite her problems.
Growing up in a poor, rundown household forced him to spend his time thinking about things, since there wasn’t much money to go places or buy things to occupy his time. Also, seeing the effects drugs had on his mother made him ponder the philosophical truth that our bodies are completely made up of chemicals. Fascinated with how the mind and body works, he chose to study biology and biochemistry in his spare time. He spent his years in high school focusing on his education more than his social life, and after graduating high school he found work as a biochemist.
By this time, however, he probably lost both of his parents, who likely became casualties of their own addictions. He hated his father, but still, his parents were the only family he ever truly had. Not to mention he obsessed over his education just to escape his impoverished life, so he never had a social life either. In a way, he was alone now. But, while in the field of biochemistry, he developed a love interest. This girl was the love of his life, but one day she was killed by mobsters who raided the factory they worked at to steal useful, expensive chemical compounds. Jack tried to save her, but he was overpowered and thrown into a vat of chemicals by the thugs. He survived the fall and was rescued from the chemical pool. He was thought dead, but was resuscitated at the hospital. When he awoke, he was told his girl had been killed, and in a fit of rage, he killed the doctor caring for him, and ran from the hospital.
Later, he looked at his body and saw that the acidic chemicals burned off all the hair on his body and bleached his skin white, permanently. If anyone knew he was still alive, they wouldn’t recognize him anymore, so he decided to disappear. While in hiding, living off scraps wherever he could find shelter, he lost the will to live, but chose to exact revenge on the mob for the death of his girl. However, he didn’t know who was responsible, so he would settle for killing off 10 random mobsters.
His plan involved luring his victims into an enclosed space and poisoning them with gas. To pull this off, he would need a better appearance than just a hairless guy with pasty-white skin, so he got a wig of green hair and painted his lips red, mimicking a clown, and now calling himself “Joker”. Now that he looked like a person (somewhat), he worked his way through the streets learning who had connections to money. He did whatever it took, including petty crimes, to earn the attention and respect of men with large sums of money. He ultimately allied himself with mobsters that he was also planning to kill. Once he earned as much as he needed, he lured his ten victims as planned, and killed them.
But Joker found no satisfaction from their deaths. He realized that even if he knew those exact men were the ones who killed his girl, it wouldn’t bring his girl back. He started killing more people, completely at random, and learned more and more that he had no REAL control over these great truths about life. Nor did anyone else.
Rather than committing suicide, since he still had no will to live, he decided to go out with a bang and simply have some fun causing chaos. He quickly learned how much he could accomplish by not caring about right and wrong, and being evil was so easy because everyone dies eventually anyway. He wanted to die proving a point.
However, he met opposition with the Batman, who was just starting to rise. This Batman character was in the way of his plans to cause as much chaos as possible, so he tried targeting Batman for a while. After an encounter or two, his ambitions changed one final time. He had found the perfect figure to demonstrate what life had taught him. Batman took life too seriously. Batman hilariously believed that he could rid Gotham of crime. Best of all, Batman refused to kill, and even had a chance to both kill Joker and to simply let him die, but Batman spared Joker’s life both times anyway. In a way, Joker was now in love with Batman. And from that point on, Joker’s obsession was trying to corrupt the incorruptible Batman, and make him learn how little control we all have in the end.
If you enjoyed my take on Joker’s origin, please check out my novel Remnant here. Also, help support my writing in general by becoming one of my Patrons here. Want more Batman-related philosophy? Click here.