How the Joker became so sick and twisted

The Joker is one of the most fascinating villains in pop culture. He's one of Batman's greatest adversaries—and probably the one member of his Rogues Gallery who's arguably almost his mirror image. After all, both characters were born from one bad day. In this article, we're going to explore some of the Joker's origin stories (there are many), and delve deeper into what makes the Clown Prince of Crime such an intriguing—and terrifying—character.

The Killing Joke

The Joker is psychotic, there's no denying that. In Alan Moore's famed one-shot The Killing Joke, we see the depths of his psychosis through one of his origin stories.

The Killing Joke offers readers a look at the unnamed Joker before his disfiguring accident, living a hard life with his pregnant wife while working at a chemical plant. He informs his wife that he's quitting to become a comedian, but realizes that he won't be able to make the money to give her the life she wants. After getting mixed up with a group of mobsters known as the Red Hood Gang in a plot to steal from his former workplace, he's chased down by the Batman and jumps into a vat of chemicals in an effort to escape, disfiguring his face in the process.

As the Joker, we see him commit atrocities against Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, and her father Commissioner Gordon. He tortures them both and even paralyzes Barbara in an effort to make Gordon go insane, showing how a single day is enough to change even the best of people. Totally twisted stuff.

Batman: Zero Year

Batman: Zero Year offers a variation on the Red Hood story, retuned for DC's lineup-wide "New 52" reboot. Here, Batman's just starting his life as a vigilante, and is nearly beaten out of commission by the Red Hood Gang before learning of their plans to rob a chemical plant. The leader, Red Hood One, again leaps into a vat of chemicals to avoid being captured by Batman. The gang's leader is later identified, but only after his remains have been found eaten away in a barrel of lye—suggesting that the real Red Hood One might have condemned some poor patsy to a grisly death so he could start his new life as the Joker. He's done some repugnant things over the years, but dissolving someone to fake his own death has to be one of the worst.

Flashpoint Joker - Martha Wayne

In the Flashpoint arc, we're given a look at an alternate universe in which things are very different. In this reality, Batman still exists, but his real identity is Dr. Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne's father. The good doctor became the Batman after his son was shot and killed one night, which is the reverse of Bruce Wayne's origin story. Unfortunately, this same event caused Martha Wayne to go insane and turn into the Joker. Yes, you read that right, Bruce Wayne's mom becomes the Joker in the Flashpoint arc, complete with green hair and scars. Not to be outdone by the other versions of the Joker, Martha ends up kidnapping Harvey Dent's kids and kills Commissioner Gordon. This is one mom you wouldn't want to cross.

Batman Confidential

The Joker's beginnings in Batman Confidential: Lovers & Madmen are even more deranged because he starts out as a normal, albeit talented, criminal named Jack who becomes obsessed with Batman. After committing crime after boring crime, Jack decides to kick it up a notch and tries to get caught, leading to his first encounter with Batman. He's so fascinated by the Batman that he keeps trying to draw him out with other crimes before finally hitting a ball that's hosted by Batman's girlfriend, Lorna Shore. He ends up injuring her, enraging Batman who then cuts Jack's face, giving him his trademark smile. After setting up Jack to be killed by monsters, Batman realizes what he's done and tries to save the man's life, but of course he falls into—you guessed it—a vat of chemicals and emerges as the Joker, a criminal mastermind who is also now psychotic. Thanks, Bats.

Batman - Jack Nicholson

In Tim Burton's Batman, the Joker starts out as a gangster by the name of Jack Napier—who, as fate would have it, was partly responsible for the deaths of Bruce Wayne's parents. Napier and a partner murdered the Waynes in a botched robbery, but before Napier could kill young Bruce, his partner convinced him to flee instead, leaving the boy orphaned. Years later, after moving up the Mafia ranks, Napier suffered an accident that left his skin bleached and turned his hair green. Boom, the Joker was born again!

This version of the Joker, while violent and definitely malevolent, was a bit goofier. Everything about him—from the silly costumes to the comically large gun he uses to take down the Batwing and the Prince song he dances along to—is at least a little wacky. But all of the weirdness doesn't detract from the fact that he's a cold, hard killer, making Nicholson's Joker one of the coolest.

The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is the stuff of legends and catapulted the villain to new, terrifying heights. While the Joker's always been known as an unreliable narrator because of his psychosis, Ledger's version offers up several origin stories in The Dark Knight, making us wonder who he really was before. His stories always have to do with how he got his scars, and he tells them with such fervor that he commands the attention of all who listen. It's here we see that the Joker's greatest tool isn't his arsenal of weapons, his terrifying appearance, or even his psychosis—it's his charisma and his ability to capture an audience. After all, he was able to turn Harvey Dent, Gotham's greatest weapon against crime, into the insane villain known as Two-Face.

Suicide Squad - Jared Leto

As of this writing, Suicide Squad hasn't been released, but we've seen enough of Jared Leto's Joker to safely hypothesize what kind of villain he'll be in the ensemble villain movie. Many of the previews and trailers show his interactions with Harley Quinn, so it's safe to assume we're going to get to see the transformation of Dr. Harleen Quinzel into her lethal alter ego. While many fans aren't too fond of Jared Leto's extreme looks as the Joker, we're glad to know that Leto got into the character's head and sent some creepy gifts to his costars. We're hoping this means that he's tapped into some of the character's truly sick and twisted personality traits—although it's hard to imagine anything explaining those goofy-looking grills in his mouth.