The Joker is one of the most known and popular villains in comic book and cinematic history, he is also one of the most iconic monsters of all time. He fits all of the qualifications that make up a monster according to “Monster Culture: Seven Thesis” by Jeffrey Cohen, that goes in depth about the characteristics that make up a monster. There are many stories that revolve around the Joker that make him a monster, all of them hold to what Cohen defines as a monster and explain the creation of this particular monster. There have been many cinematic adaptations of this monster and one particular animation film that was adapted from a comic helps give multiple causes to the Joker and why he went insane and became a monster that audiences find fascinating. There are also multiple movies that have their own creative take on the Joker and each have their own fame and the actors that portray these Jokers give the personality of the character life and capture the audience when they are on screen. The Joker is a amazing villain and monster within both comics and movies, and has multiple causes spanning across many different versions which make him a mystery and icon.
There is a famous comic book called “Batman:The Killing Joke” that has a movie adaptation based on it that explains a certain take of how the Joker came to be and how he became a monster. The backstory of the Joker starts with a struggling comedian that has a wife and an unborn child and is struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of talent he has in his field. He eventually decides to turn to a life of crime by first thinking about doing a heist with some criminals he just met, while at his meeting with the criminals, he learns that his wife and unborn child have passed away due to an illness she had. He tries to back out of the heist once he learns about what happened to his wife and child, however, the criminals insist he helps with the heist and force him to help. They break into Ace chemicals, a chemical company that the comedian used to work for, and were pursued by security and the protector of the city, Batman. The comedian is seen wearing a disguise that Batman recognizes as the Red Hood which is another famous criminal. In fear of being hurt by Batman, the comedian doesn’t watch where he is walking and falls into a vat of chemicals that alter his mind and eventually transforms him into the Joker. This leads across a time gap which recognizes the many battles the Joker and Batman faced, and Batman always coming out on top, eventually leading to their last battle in a carnival where Batman does come out on top, however, realizes they can’t be doing this anymore and something needs to change ending with the Joker telling a joke and Batman laughing.
This animated movie does great work at displaying the making of how the Joker became the true monster audiences come to know today. It shows that one of the main causes of why the Joker was created was because the failed comedian lost everything close to him and that chemicals had changed his mind about reality, causing him to go insane. “Yes, memory is so treacherous. One moment, you’re lost in a carnival of delight:childhood aromas, the flashing neon of puberty, all that sentimental candyfloss. The next, it takes you somewhere you don’t want to be. Somewhere dark and cold, filled with the damp, ambiguous shapes of things you’d rather forget. Memories can be vile, repulsive little brutes. Like children, no?” (Liu, Batman:The Killing Joke). This quote is from the Joker that explains how his memory of how his life was before he changed is heartbreaking on himself due to the fact that he had a good life with some struggles, and then changed to his wife and unborn child dying and having his appearance and mind altered from a freak accident. This quote also connects with Cohen’s monster theses because it relates to thesis five which is the monster polices the borders of the possible because just how the Joker was influenced by past memories and going from having a good life to everything taken away from him, normal everyday people also go through life changing experiences whether they be good or bad and some memories affect the way they perceive life and how they react. The story of this Joker also connects to Cohen’s second thesis which is the monster always escapes which is proven throughout this story because it spans through the many fights that the Joker and the Batman have had and because of Batman’s moral code of no killing, the Joker is free to torment and kill others as long as he has the ability to escape. The thing that makes this story unique is that it tackles the psychological mind game that the Joker can establish against Batman, and explains a origin story of the Joker and why it only took one bad day to change his life forever.
The movie “Batman (1989)” showcases one of the more iconic Jokers in cinematic history which is portrayed by actor Jack Nicholson. This movie follows a similar origin to the Joker as the animated film “Batman:The Killing Joke”, which is that a mob boss that is known for being humorous is pushed into a vat of chemicals by Batman because he wanted revenge for the death of his parents, which this mob boss, Jack Napier, does at the start of the movie. The Batman has multiple run-ins with the Joker, each with a trick up their own sleeves which makes them perfect matches for each other. Eventually, the Joker kidnaps Bruce Wayne’s love interest and takes her to the top of a cathedral where he has one last battle with Batman which eventually Batman reveals to him that he was the boy that saw him murder his parents. The Joker tries to relate to Batman by telling him that they created each other and that it was nonsense, which later on this doesn’t get to Batman and eventually kills him before he escapes. The uniqueness of this Joker and his origin story is one of the reasons why fans and audience members like this monster and the ability to become unpredictable while being a threat at all times within the story.
The causes for the creation of this Joker rely on the hero within the story itself, Batman, which in a sense they create each other based on the things they did to each other in their pasts. The Joker acknowledges Batman about them creating each other, however, believes that it seems kiddish stating “Hey, bat-brain, I mean, I was a kid when I killed your parents. I mean, I say “I made you” you gotta say “you made me.” I mean, how childish can you get?” (Batman (1989)). This directly relates with Cohen’s thesis eight which is that the monster stands at the threshold of becoming which is that the hero must accept that the monster is like it’s child, the creation for this Joker rests on the shoulders of Batman himself because of the revenge he wanted to take out on him, however, the Joker also created the Batman in this movie because he killed his parents. The chemicals that Jack Napier falls into also help cause the Joker to become who he is and alter his mind and the way he looks which he is upset by because there’s no going back and makes him go psycho.
There is an article titled “Joker is Still Wild Years after ‘Knight” it focuses on the Jokers after the most famous and iconic one, Heath Ledger’s version, and what they bring to the table after the most famous monster which is some big shoes to fill. The article describes Heath Ledger Joker as the most maniacal villain and essentially opened the door for more actors to try and fill the iconic role and create their own version of the monster. It also briefly goes into the history of the Joker and how he originated from the comics in 1940 and that every Joker that has previously portrayed the monster has been created by different causes every time, even if some share experiences, each is unique in their own way. It relates to Cohen’s monster theses one and two in which the monster is a cultural body and changes with society to make every version of the monster unique and brings something new, and the monster always escapes which is heavily regarded in this monsters stories because the hero Batman does not kill which keeps the monster alive to keep tormenting and does as he pleases. This article does a great job in comparing the Jokers of the past and the newer ones to come as they have big shoes to fill and try to create their own sense of style as the previous ones of the past.
There are many reasons as to how and why the Joker was created and the causes leading up to him being the monster the audience knows and loves. Each version of the Joker is unique in their own way and has a different past which has multiple causes as to why they are the monster and experiences that help shape them into the psychopath that many audience members know. The Joker has many causes that are mysterious in some ways and tragic that help shape and define him, he uses many hints that help the audience understand why he can’t be stopped and why he does the things that make him a monster. The Joker is a monster and the causes from his story and past help define that, along with Cohen’s theses that also define him as a true monster to society.
Alexander, Bryan. “Joker is still wild years after ‘Knight’.” USA Today, 18 July 2018, p. 01D. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A547003051/OVIC?u=ranc95197&sid=OVIC&xid=90e76b61. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
Burton, Tim, director. Batman. Warner Bros Pictures, 1989.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Liu, Sam, Brian Azzarello, Kevin Conroy, Ray Wise, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, and Brian Bolland. Batman. , 2016.