The Joker is widely considered one of the greatest villains of all time. There are few heroes and villains more brilliantly antithetical to each other than Batman and The Joker, so much so that it’s easy to assume that the pair were conceived of at the same time to be perfect rivals– surprisingly, they weren’t.
The Joker was first introduced to the world in 1940; a surprisingly dark character for the time who was then watered down a bit in the 1950s. After spending some time as a more lighthearted, prankster type, Joker’s edge returned in the 1970s and was eventually sharpened further as Batman’s comic book universe grew much grittier.
Despite his campy turn in the 1960s Batman live-action series, Joker’s portrayals outside of comic books have typically leaned more heavily on him having a harder edge, which has especially been solidified by his various film adaptations. The character also made history when Heath Ledger’s portrayal of him in The Dark Knight earned an Academy Award, an honor unheard of for a superhero movie.
Like most comic book characters, The Joker’s traits and origin story differ depending on the medium, and he’s been reinvented multiple times even in comic books. Generally speaking, the most “official” version of the character is the one that exists within the DC canon, and we’ll be using that as a guide for much of this list about common misconceptions of Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime.
Here are 20 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About The Joker.
20 His White Skin Isn’t Makeup
This is one of several entries on this list that can be blamed on the movies for giving people the wrong idea. In both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan versions of the Joker, his white face and red lips are in fact just makeup that can be removed– and in both cases, he does exactly that at some point during the movie just to hammer the point home.
However, while all the details of Joker’s origin story remain a mystery, it is generally accepted in the DC universe that the character’s skin, “lipstick,” and even his green hair are all permanent, the result of some sort of chemical-related accident.
19 He Doesn’t Hate Batman
Archvillains generally despise the hero that they are constantly at war with– and most of the time, their hatred for said hero is what drives them to a life of evil to begin with.
As silly as The Lego Batman Movie is, it actually nails a particular truth about Joker and Batman’s relationship– it isn’t based on mutual hatred, but in fact, the two sides “needing” each other to justify the other’s purpose.
Joker doesn’t actually want to permanently defeat Batman, because that would spoil all the fun.
It’s the dance that the two of them do that sustains the Joker, and he loves every minute of it. If the Joker ever began to hate Batman or their “relationship,” he’d probably just hang up his purple suit entirely.
18 His Real Name Is Officially Unknown…
More thanks to Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson for creating a misconception about the Joker that has persisted for years.
While the Joker’s past and identity is officially almost 100% a mystery, including his real name, the 1989 Batman film showed him living his life as a man called Jack Napier before the accident that befell him and turned him into the criminal clown. With that, many people began ascribing the name Jack Napier or at least Jack to the character, even though most official DC storylines don’t corroborate that.
A big part of why the Joker works so well as a character is precisely because we know so little about him– and many fans believe that learning facts about him like a real name would just serve to humanize him too much.
17 …And So Is His Backstory
Here’s what we know: Something happened to the Joker at some point in his past to a) make him a complete sociopath, and b) permanently alter his appearance. And that’s about it.
Heath Ledger’s Joker’s constant changing of the story of how he got his scars was a nod to the way the comic book Joker often alters details about his past from one telling to the next.
He even famously quipped that his past was “multiple choice.”
However, Hollywood doesn’t always like that kind of ambiguity, so we have Tim Burton’s Joker and Suicide Squad‘s Joker with in-depth backstories. We can only assume that the upcoming Joaquin Phoenix movie devoted entirely to the Joker is going to also dream up some elaborate and detailed origin for him.
16 Harley Quinn Wasn’t His First Sidekick
Since her debut in the early-90s Batman animated series, Harley Quinn has seldom left the Joker’s side. The two are so attached at the hip that it’s hard to even imagine a time before she was his right-hand woman.
In fact, Harley wasn’t the Joker’s first #2– that distinction belongs to Gaggy Gagsworthy, who debuted during the Joker’s sanitized era. That tells you much of what you need to know about him.
Beyond Joker outgrowing Gaggy once he retained his original edge and finding a far more interesting partner in Harley, Gaggy is problematic under a modern lens as his stature as a little person was often used as comic relief.
Gaggy briefly returned in the short-lived 2009-2011 Gotham City Sirens comic series but hasn’t been heard from since.
15 He Isn’t Actually Insane
So the Joker is obviously crazy, right? He has the gimmick of being a clown, he seems to place no value on human life and no remorse for the terrible things he does, and he has spent a lot of time at Arkham Asylum. Seems like an open and shut case for insanity– or is it?
Comic writer Grant Morrison has said that the Joker actually suffers from something called “super-sanity.”
There have been several articles and think pieces that examine the Joker’s various psychological traits from a clinical point of view, and the general consensus seems to be that he can’t actually be diagnosed as insane. It’s all a bit too complicated to get into here, but essentially, the Joker is psychopathic and sociopathic but not criminally insane.
14 He Knows Batman is Bruce Wayne
Both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan takes on the Joker placed a heavy emphasis on the Clown Prince trying to discover Batman’s true identity. The Dark Knight has the Joker threatening to blow up hospitals just to learn who the Caped Crusader is under his cowl.
Sure, there had to be a point before the Joker knew that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one in the same, but in most of the comic book versions of the character, he discovered the truth and very quickly got over it.
It actually isn’t of much consequence to the Joker who Batman is when he isn’t Batman– it’s only Batman who fascinates him. He has little interest in boring Bruce Wayne or what he does during the day.
13 He Has No Romantic Feelings For Harley Quinn
People who feel that traditional love stories don’t apply to their relationships like to say that they want a love like the Joker and Harley Quinn have. Beyond the most obvious problems with this– that the Joker treats Harley like garbage– theirs “romance” is also completely one-sided.
Sure, he plays along with her love for his own selfish ends, but it’s always just a game to him.
While a couple of alternate-universe storylines– and of course, the movie Suicide Squad— have dabbled in a Joker with romantic feelings for Harley, the more canonical version of their relationship shows the Joker not having any actual affection for Harley. She’s just a subordinate who does his dirty work.
12 There Was A Female Joker
There are definitely a few things that every single version of the Joker has had in common, and one of the big ones is that they’ve all been male. At least, that’s what most people think. Those people obviously never read the Flashpoint series of comics or saw the direct-to-video animated movie based on it.
Martha Wayne becomes the Flashpoint version of the Joker.
To be fair, Flashpoint is considered an alternate universe story, meaning there has yet to be a main canonical version of the Joker that’s a woman.
It’s still worth noting that it happened, alternate timeline or not. Here’s hoping they retain that aspect of the story for the upcoming DCEU movie based on Flashpoint.
11 He Isn’t To Blame For Bruce Wayne’s Parents
It isn’t personal for the Joker and Batman, and it doesn’t have to be– what makes the ongoing fight between the two so compelling doesn’t require either of them to have a vendetta against the other. However, the 1989 movie had other ideas.
The writers of Tim Burton’s Batman decided that the Joker should be the one who took out Bruce Wayne’s parents, giving him a particularly personal reason to want to go after the Joker.
It was all well and good for that movie, but the side effect is that it has led a lot of people to mistakenly believe that that’s what the Joker does in most versions of the character.
10 He Goes After Other Heroes, Too
The Joker seems so entertained by antagonizing Batman that it doesn’t even seem like he’d bother messing with anyone else. For the most part, that’s true– but he has definitely mixed it up with some other heroes in pretty significant ways.
The Joker has gone toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, The Flash, even Superman on multiple occasions.
In fact, in the Injustice alternate timeline based on the video game series of the same name, the Joker works his specific “charms” on Supes so well that he gets the Man of Steel to drive his arm straight through the Joker’s chest in an uncharacteristic act of rage and brutality.
9 He’s seen outside of DC – with Scooby-Doo and Marvel
Comic book companies obviously have a history of leasing out their characters for the right price, as evidenced by Marvel once being in such dire financial straights that they sold off the movie rights to Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four.
While the Joker may seem like he’s never left the confines of strictly DC-based projects, he has actually crossed over into other universes several times. He joined Batman and some of his fellow villains in a Scooby-Doo cartoon and was in a Judge Dredd crossover.
He was even part of a bizarre Marvel Vs. DC crossover event that eventually resulted in a Batman/Wolverine hybrid character called Dark Claw and a ridiculous mash-up of the Joker and Sabretooth named Hyena. Nobody was laughing.
8 Heath Ledger’s Passing Had Nothing To Do With Playing The Joker
It was news that blindsided the world– actor Heath Ledger, right in the middle of filming his portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, had tragically lost his life due to what was discovered to be a bad mixture of medications.
Right away, people assumed that Ledger deliberately chose to exit this world– and moreover, that it was because playing the Joker has infected his mind and caused him to be in a dark place.
Ledger’s sister spoke out against these assertions, saying that the actor was having the time of his life playing the character and that it wasn’t having any negative effects on his mental health. An investigation would also reveal that the overdose was an accident and not intentional, and found no illegal substances among his personal belongings.
7 He May Actually Have Some “Superpowers”
One of the things that Batman fans point to about why they love the character so much is that he’s ultimately just a regular, mortal person In conjunction with that, his greatest foe is also just a regular guy with regular human weaknesses.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Joker might actually have “superpowers.”
The Joker has fallen from great heights, been in massive explosions, and all types of similar situations that a regular human would easily succumb to– yet he’s back in the next issue, unscathed.
Lest you want to chalk that up to creative liberty, consider that the Joker has proven invulnerable to Raven’s mental powers, which would suggest actual super powers.
6 The Joker May Be “Played” By Different People
Since we don’t really know the Joker’s real name or anything about his non-Joker life, we have no reason to assume that there has been more than one person to play the role of Clown Prince of Crime. What if that’s not the case? What if the Joker is something of a Dread Pirate Roberts; a legacy that multiple people can take up the mantle of?
The Three Jokers miniseries tackles this theory head-on, having three separate people portraying a version of the Joker simultaneously.
Prior to this, fan theories have frequently pointed to the possibility that each time the Joker seems to be reinvented in some major way, it isn’t the existing Joker evolving but a new person taking over the identity.
5 He Hasn’t Been A Constant Figure In The Comics
Beyond the yearlong gap between Batman’s debut and the Joker’s, most people assume that the two characters have co-existed in the 70+ years since they met. As a matter of fact, the Joker actually went completely MIA in comic books for nearly a decade at one point.
As we previously mentioned, the Joker was once watered down due to tightened restrictions by the Comics Code Authority. Losing his edge and with only so much to do with a silly prankster clown character, DC effectively put him on hiatus from 1964 to 1973, when he was finally able to return to his darker roots.
Interestingly, it was during this time frame that the Batman TV series debuted– and with it, Caeser Romero’s delightfully goofy take on the character.
4 Mark Hamill also voiced a live-action Joker
The debate over which actor has done the Joker best has raged for years and will obviously never be settled. While many only choose to discuss those who have played him in live-action, there is a legion of fans who will always go to bat for Mark Hamill’s turn as various animated versions of the character.
Hamill first played the Joker in the iconic Fox Batman animated series, and has since reprised the role in various other animated projects as well as the Arkham series of video games. What most people don’t realize is that Hamill actually once played a live-action Joker– kind of.
In a brief cameo in the DC-based TV series Birds of Prey, a blurry appearance by the character was represented physically by Roger Stoneburner, but was voiced by Hamill.
3 Solo Joker Comics Don’t Sell Well
The Joker is obviously an extremely popular character. He’s so popular, in fact, that Warner Bros. is banking on an upcoming self-titled movie for the character. A series of comic books starring the character seems like it would be a slam dunk– only, that didn’t prove to be the case.
In 1975, just as the character was making his big comeback after his hiatus, he starred in his own comic book series simply titled The Joker that saw the clown going on capers that didn’t involve Batman in any way.
The series proved to be a dud, only managing nine issues before its cancellation.
It would be the last time DC ever attempted an ongoing Joker-focused solo series, especially one that doesn’t include Batman. It just goes to show that the Joker really does need Batman to justify his existence.
2 Bob Kane Took Too Much Credit For Joker’s Creation
The more you dig into Bob Kane, the man who was long credited as the sole creator of Batman, the more you realize he had a history of not giving proper credit/compensation to others for helping to conceive of Batman and other characters. It is generally agreed upon that Bill Finger likely did just as much, if not more, than Kane did in truly creating Batman.
When it comes to Batman’s greatest villain, not only did Bob Kane also try to downplay Bill Finger’s contributions once again, but he basically gave zero credit to artist Jerry Robinson. Experts and historians have since come to the conclusion that Robinson probably did more to create the character than anyone else, basing Joker on a character from a silent movie called The Man Who Laughs.
1 He was only supposed to be in one issue
It might be an overused cliche to call a character the yin to another character’s yang, but there really is no better way to describe the way that the Joker and Batman are two halves of the same whole. The Joker is just a perfect antithesis to Batman in looks, attitudes, rules, and ideals. Most people assume the two were created at the same time to be bitter longtime rivals.
Not only were the Joker and Batman not conceived of together, but the Joker wasn’t even planned to be around for that long.
Originally, he was going to meet his end within his debut issue.
It was decided that his potential as a Lex Luthor to Batman’s Superman was too great, and he quickly became the Caped Crusader’s primary antagonist for most of his existence since.
What other big misconceptions are there surrouding The Joker? Let us know in the comments!