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What is the Joker's real name?

As one of the most famous characters in pop culture, the Joker is rarely known by any name other than that. But in Todd Phillips' upcoming origin story film, Joker, the super-villain will be given a complete backstory, a reason for his madness, and, most importantly, a full name.

Phillips' film reimagines the Joker as Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian struggling in New York City, who feels completely rejected by society. As portrayed by venerated method actor Joaquin Phoenix, Fleck is ostensibly a frail man (both physically and mentally) on the brink of madness — a state of being Phoenix achieved by losing an astonishing amount of weight, creating a super-unique and terrifying laugh, and crafting a downtrodden character trying to figure out where he belongs. In doing so, Phoenix created a Joker that will undoubtedly be totally distinct from the late Heath Ledger's Academy Award-winning turn in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight – and, as the reviews for the film claim, a version different from any other Joker that came before him. 

Diehard fans of the Joker's original comics might be asking why Phillips is going with "Arthur Fleck" when the Joker already has a real name. Though it's not frequently referenced, the Joker has had an official name for decades — and that name is Jack Napier.

Joker's real name hasn't been noted in the DC comics very often or for very long. In 2017, Sean Gordon Murphy, artist and author of the DC comic Batman: White Knight, announced on Twitter that his Joker would be named Jack Napier — marking the first use of that full name in any comic. (Previously, in 2004, writer A.J Lieberman revealed Joker's name as Jack, but didn't provide a surname.) Though this was huge news for comic book readers at the time, fans who followed the Joker throughout his film depictions had certainly heard this name before.

Jack Napier was the name of the man who eventually broke bad and became the Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 adaptation of Batman – which was considered the defining iteration of Batman films prior to the release of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Aside from the White Knight comic and Burton's film, the name Jack Napier was also used in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, though the show adopting that moniker as the Joker's title could be considered more an alias rather than an official name. 

Speaking of aliases, Joker has gone by a couple since his print debut — including The Red HoodDr. J. Reko and Dr. LaffoMelvin Reipan (in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight by Dennis O'Neil and Bret Blevins), Jack White, and more. 

Throughout Joker's numerous appearances in pop culture, his penchant for aliases and his obvious love for his made-up moniker has given him an even more terrifying, mysterious presence — and without a concrete backstory, he's felt almost inhuman. It makes sense that his official name has sort of flew under the radar, and why it was so easy for Phillips to pick a totally new one for Joker

Phillips is bucking Joker convention with his upcoming film not only with the Arthur Fleck name but also by giving the villain a full origin and clear motivations. Positioned as a sort of original "incel," Phillips' Joker could end up being a cautionary tale for our modern times — and Phoenix is contributing to that as well. The actor wanted to mold a Joker that has never been seen on screen before, and he spent time studying books about murderers and political assassins to help give his Joker a realistic backstory. Clearly, giving the Joker a new name was just one part of Phillips' and Phoenix's goal to present a new take on this storied character, who has been portrayed in pretty similar ways since his inception in the very first issue of Batman in 1940.

Names and origin stories aside, fans already know one thing for sure about Joker: audiences lucky enough to have seen the film are going almost as crazy as Arthur Fleck himself. At Joker's premiere during the Venice Film Festival on August 31, Vulture reported that both screenings were so packed, people were actually turned away. For those who did manage to make it in, they cheered especially hard when the movie concluded roughly two hours later. 

Nearly of the early reviews for Joker have been complete raves, with critics saying that Phillips and Phoenix have reinvented not just the Joker, but also superhero movies in general — an accolade once bestowed on Nolan upon The Dark Knight's release. Oscar buzz for Phoenix is already building as well — so it seems safe to say that even if fans disagree with the way the two creative minds have reimagined the Joker, the film itself will be basically beyond reproach.

The highly anticipated Joker film might be receiving great reviews ahead of its release, but aside from its Italian outing, general audiences will still have to wait a while to see if it lives up to the hype. Joker is set to hit theaters worldwide on October 4.