- "If you gotta go... GO WITH A SMILE!"
- ―The Joker to Gotham's citizens at Gotham's 200th Anniversary Parade.[src]
The Joker was the chosen alias of Jack Napier, a mob enforcer whose appearance was radically altered by chemicals and botched plastic surgery. Joker became Batman's first great enemy after he attempted to take control of the city from the mob and committed mass random murders.
Joker and Batman shared a secret past that made them greater enemies than either first realized. Prior to Joker's emergence, Batman was regarded as an urban legend but his attempts to thwart Napier gradually left him more exposed to the public.
Born in Brooklyn between February 19 and March 20, 1937, Jack Napier came to live in Gotham City. In his school years, Jack proved himself to be emotionally unstable, but was highly intelligent, and showed aptitude in art, science and chemistry. He also turned to a life of violent crime. When he was fifteen, Jack was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. Jack, at one point, implied that he may have also murdered people, including those who were parents, since he was a kid.
When Thomas interceded in order to protect his family, Jack stepped from the shadows and shot both him and Martha in cold-blood. Jack then inquired to young Bruce after he stepped out of the shadows with his gun aimed: "Tell me, kid, you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moonlight?". Jack cocked the hammer of his revolver and was about to shoot him, but before he could fire, Chill urged him to leave: "Let's go, Jack!". Jack uncocked his gun, decided to spare the boy, turned to leave, and said: "See you around, kid".
Little did Jack know that his prediction came true — he and Bruce met again in the future.
Grissom's Number One Guy
- "He can't run this city without me..."
- ―Jack Napier to Alicia Hunt about Carl Grissom.[src]
Jack doubted the competence of Grissom's leadership of the crime family and also snidely retorted to a news broadcast of Harvey Dent's speech about decent people living in Gotham: "Decent people should live somewhere else", as well as heavily implied that he'd kill Dent brutally if the latter even attempted to move in on Grissom.Jack entered into an affair with Grissom's girlfriend, Alicia Hunt, which prompted Grissom to set him up to be killed by GCPD Officer, Lt. Max Eckhardt at Axis Chemicals. When Grissom informed Jack of his entrusted task with stealing incriminating documents from the plant, Jack was toying with his lucky deck again. Jack then turned a random card's face towards him as he inquired "me?". The card happened to be a Joker (which, coincidentally, was the very thing that he later became).
Grissom's plan went awry thanks to intervention by both Batman and GCPD Commissioner James Gordon and some other police officers. He gunned down Eckhardt and then tried to do the same to Batman. However the Dark Knight deflected his attack and the bullet ricocheted off the factory's machinery and struck him through his cheeks. In pain and in a panic, Jack lost his balance, and fell off the catwalk. Though Batman caught Jack's arm and attempted to pull him back up to safety, Jack's leather glove slipped through Batman's, and he plummeted into the chemical vat below.
Jack survived, and was washed into Gotham Harbor by a drainage pipe. Still submerged, Jack stretched an arm upward through the water's surface, where his lucky deck floated.
Jack's long chemical submersion permanently wreaked a horrible toll: his hair follicles were altered from brown to emerald green, his skin pigmentation was bleached chalk white and his soft flesh, such as his mouth and lips, were flushed ruby red.
- "Jack? Jack is dead, my friend. You can call me... Joker! And as you can see, I'm a lot happier!"
- ―The Joker to Carl Grissom, moments before he killed him.[src]
After he saw the horrible result of his chemical encounter, Jack turned to a hack plastic surgeon named Dr. Davis and was desperate to have his cheek wounds fixed where the ricocheted bullet had injured him. Despite going through the long and careful procedure, Davis informed Jack that he simply could not fix his face, due to both the sheer extent of the severed nerves sustained and Davis' own lack of effective tools, which resulted into a permanent smile. After he was upset with the result, and he reflected on all that had transpired, Jack, though apparently trying at first to let it go and failing, lost touch with whatever sanity that he had left. Jack then began to laugh maniacally and convulsively, then smashed the mirror that he held on the table that held Davis' tools, stumbled out of the room, and laughed into the night.
With Jack's mind completely snapped after he saw his bizarre new appearance, Jack then assumed the new identity of "The Joker". Joker then headed over to Grissom's apartment, revealed his survival, and made clear that he knew that it was Grissom who set him up to die in the first place, especially regarding Alicia as his motive, and also held Grissom up in order to prevent him from reaching for a stowed away gun. Joker then killed Grissom as revenge for setting him up and took over his empire.
The Clown Prince of Crime then engaged in a violent and chaotic crime spree, with the motive to "outdo" Batman, whom he felt had gotten too much press. When Joker tried to present himself in a more "normal" light, he applied various cosmetic products to give himself a more normal-looking skin tone and hair color that resembled his original appearance.
During a mob summit with the rest of the Gotham City Crimelords, Jack claimed that Grissom was just in hiding, who then left him to be the acting President, and declared that, starting with Gotham's 200th anniversary festival, their action would be to "run the city into the ground". However, most of the mob bosses, including Antoine Rotelli and Vinnie Ricorso, were suspicious of Jack's apparent orders from Grissom and his constant devilish grin. Rotelli then wondered what would happen if he said "no". Jack then responded with a handshake and that would be it. Unfortunately for Rotelli, Jack meant by that statement that it would be it for Rotelli, as he fried and electrocuted Rotelli with a Joy Buzzer, which horrified the rest of the Mob bosses and with Jack joking about his demise and then laughing at it. Jack then dismissed the mob as his Goons then rushed in and held them at gunpoint. Joker then ordered Bob to tail Alexander Knox, and then decided (by talking to Rotelli's charred corpse as if he were still alive) to "grease" all of the mob bosses at the summit.
Joker then arrived at City Hall and, after he claimed that the check was written with a dead hand, murdered Ricorso (who claimed that Grissom had landed him with the check with his signature) with his quill pen after he claimed that he was his "Uncle Bingo" and then had his mime faction of his gang open fire.
Later on, Joker and his henchmen defaced many of the paintings at the Flugelheim Museum. Joker also tried to woo Gotham Globe Reporter, Vicki Vale, Batman's love interest. When Bruce learned about Joker, he was shocked about Jack Napier's survival, but when he attempted to protect Vicki the next morning, upon hearing Joker state: "Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?" and survived Joker's gunshot with an impromptu bulletproof vest, Bruce recalled the night of his parents murder and realized that Jack Napier was the gunman who had murdered his parents, and that Jack was responsible for his oath to protect the lives of innocent people as Batman.
Death and Legacy
- "Sometimes I just kill myself!"
- ―Joker, prior to his death[src]
Batman then drove to Axis Chemicals to stop the manufacturing of Joker's poisonous products once and for all. Batman succeeded in destroying the factory and killed most of Joker's henchmen, but Joker escaped in his helicopter, and mockingly told Batman that he wasn't beaten yet.
At the parade, Joker threw twenty million dollars into the crowd as he had promised (the comic adaptation of the film and the novelization as well as a deleted scene revealed that the money was actually fake one dollar bills with Joker's face on them). After that, Joker released a gas form of Smylex out of his Balloons. Batman arrived in the Batwing, took away the balloons, and released them into the night sky, which caused Joker to kill Bob to vent out his frustration. Batman then made a strafing run on the Joker, but Joker shot down the Batwing with an explosive round that was fired from his long barreled gun.
Joker then took Vicki hostage and led her at gunpoint into the Gotham Cathedral where he forced her to dance the waltz with him. He also used his Acid Flower to disconnect one of the bells which fell to the ground and blocked the only entrance to the stairs so they wouldn't be followed, but Batman who was already following them, narrowly missed the falling bell and continued the pursuit. Joker then ordered three of his henchmen to get rid of the Dark Knight should he succeed in following them. Batman eventually reached the belfry and after he defeated Joker's henchmen, confronted Joker, and vowed to kill him for murdering his parents years ago, although Joker, who had apparently murdered several parents since he himself was a kid, did not know what Batman was talking about and eventually mocked him for how he made the revelation of Joker making Batman first.
During their confrontation, Batman repeatedly beat up Joker and managed to knock him off the balcony, but Joker reached up with both of his arms and pulled both Batman and Vicki down. Batman and Vicki held on for dear life from a narrow ledge, while Joker insanely taunted them. Joker's Helicopter then arrived to get Joker to safety. Batman fired a bolo launcher that then tied Joker's ankle to a large and heavy stone gargoyle. The Joker sealed his fate when it broke loose.
Unable to break free from the heavy burden of the gargoyle, Joker lost his grip on his helicopter's rope ladder, fell to his death, and hit the Cathedral's flight of steps below hard, which then broke every bone in his body.
Ironically, just a few seconds beforehand, Joker said: "Sometimes I just kill myself!" Commissioner Gordon then came upon Joker's body and heard a repetitive laugh which drew him ever so slowly. Gordon then reached into Joker's coat and pulled out a laugh box that was activated by the landing.
Though the madness of the Joker was ended forever, the decline of the Gotham mob and the Joker's initial rise paved the way for the appearance of numerous villains with a similar theatricality to both Batman and Joker, such as The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane, while Harvey Dent himself would suffer a horrific incident that would transform him into the villainous Two-Face.
Bruce continued to have bad memories of Jack Napier killing his parents for the next several years.
Jack Napier was seen as quite vain, with a penchant for nice suits and Alicia Hunt as his trophy girlfriend. In contrast to Joker, Napier was quite humorless, though when he committed his crimes, he made large smiles on his face (after he murdered the Waynes' or when he enjoyed killing Eckhardt). However, Napier was still equally as psychotic, although not as outwardly, with hints of his psychopathic nature that oozed out when he watched Harvey Dent's speech about making Gotham safe for decent people, noted that "decent people" needed to move elsewhere and also stated he'd "hand [Dent's] lungs to him by now" should Dent even dare try to move in against Grissom, which showed that Napier had no qualms with killing any threats to the mob in an extremely graphic manner. Napier was also not above murdering children, as he was clearly preparing to execute Bruce Wayne on a whim after he murdered his parents and would have gone through with it with zero remorse had Chill not told him to flee the scene. Even prior to killing Grissom upon becoming the Joker as revenge for being set up, Napier mentioned that Grissom was a tired old man who "couldn't run the city without [Napier]", which indicated that he was treacherous against his boss and was content with waiting until the mob boss died before he could take over the mob. Napier's treachery was also retained after he became the Joker, where told his friend, Bob, that he was his number one guy in a very similar manner to how Grissom himself told Jack that right before he sent him off to Axis Chemicals to die, which implied that he may have been planning a similar fate for Bob in the future. While he discussed Grissom and Eckhardt's future within the mob, Eckhardt retorted to Napier that he was: "An A-1 nut boy". After he read Napier's Police File Report, Bruce summed up to the Joker his opinion of what he was before: "Mean kid, bad seed, hurt people (...) he got sloppy, you know crazy, he started to lose it. He had a head full of bad wiring, I guess. Couldn't keep it straight up here. He was the kind of guy who couldn't hear the train until it was two feet from him. (...) Well... he made mistakes. Then he had his lights out!".
Like many criminals before him, Napier was just as terrified of Batman when he first met him. However, after he became the Joker, Napier had absolutely no fear of Batman, and, in fact, not only was he unphased by Batman vowing to kill him, but reminded Batman bluntly that he was the reason why Joker existed, and even when told that he himself had been responsible for Batman's existence, he didn't lose his composure and continued to mock him.
When he sought out surgery after he fell into the vat of chemicals, it was possible that Napier finally lost his remaining sanity upon seeing his new appearance, although he explained to Batman that he tried to get over it. As a result, the Joker was born cackling madly. Joker also was shown to "talk" to Antoine Rotelli's corpse as if he were still alive and was even "told" by him to "grease" the remaining mobsters at the summit, although it was unclear whether he genuinely believed that he was being told that by Rotelli or was simply mocking the deceased mobster, as shortly afterwards, he laughed exhilarated over his own words about how he's "glad that [Rotelli's] dead." Throughout the film, the Joker had skills for using all sorts of gadgets as weapons. Joker killed a mob boss with a quill, another with a supercharged Joy Buzzer, and was frequently seen using an Acid Flower. Also, Joker had a tendency to wear gag chattering teeth so that he could shock the enemy if he was punched in the face long enough to attempt a retaliatory blow, as he attempted to do with Batman in their final encounter.
In addition to his trademark gadgets, the Joker also had a macabre sense of humor, which was both surreal and morbid. The Joker was also quite sadistic, as seen when he shot Grissom and laughed, deliberately disfigured Alicia (it's strongly implied also that he threw her to her death out of a window) and found humor in killing Mob boss, Rotelli. It's also implied that when he killed Grissom, that Joker actually seemed to enjoy death in itself, and not just the deaths of other people, and even went as far as referred to it as "therapy" from his experience. That belief was contradicted near the end of the film, though, when Joker was seen screaming as he fell to his death. However, that might have been because there was no way that he could have survived.
Police Case History Folder
Bruce asked for Alfred to bring him a copy of the GCPD's Case History Folder on Napier. Included were two mugshots, one of Napier from recent years, and one of him from the time period that he murdered the Waynes. The following were known segments of the report. All underscores indicated sections of words or numbers that were currently unverifiable:
Jack Napier - Police Case History Folder
Name: Jack Napier. Sex: Male. Address: 1379 P__ 565, Gotham City. Age: 52.....6778 __: Gotham. Height: 5 ft. 11". __: JN7. __:265-784. __ by: __. __: 2846287.
Assault: AC+D = __ N (8-29-76)
__: AC+D = __ A (2-16-78)
__: AC+D = __ A (11-6-80) Can not prove
Extortion: AC+D = __ J (12-16-81)
Bruce then summarized the remainder of the report. "Jack Napier, assault with a deadly weapon, age fifteen. Results of psychological profile: Violent mood swings, highly intelligent, emotionally unstable. Aptitudes include science, chemistry, and art".
- See: The Joker (Jack Nicholson)/Gallery for additional images
Behind the Scenes
- The name Jack Napier, was a play on the word "jackanapes" according to Sam Hamm.
- Jack Nicholson had ample creative control over the character, which included final say on what the character would look like in the film. However, not all of his decisions won out in the final appearance, as Tim Burton and Make-up Artist Nick Dudman also provided ideas that pleased Nicholson.
- The Joker, being the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, had been Burton's intention with the character since he first joined the film. However, Screenwriter Sam Hamm argued with Burton and managed to talk him out of putting it in. Burton placed the plot back in during Principal Photography because Hamm was not present during filming due to a Writer's Strike.
- Nicholson got into the habit of signing his Joker gloves and giving them away as gifts to visitors on the set, much to the chagrin of Costume Designer Bob Ringwood. Ringwood then asked Nicholson to cease giving out the gloves and, although he promised that he would, kept doing it. New gloves were constantly being made throughout filming, Ringwood estimated that there must have been hundreds of signed Nicholson Joker Gloves.
- According to the Wanted Posters that were handed out by Eckhardt at Axis Chemicals, Napier was born in Brooklyn.
- During the flashback sequence of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, young Jack Napier was played by Hugo E. Blick.
- In the flashback for Batman Forever, the young Jack was played by David U. Hodges.
- The Joker's Line: "Take thy beak from out my heart" (at Vicki's Apartment) was from Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven. The full line is "Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!" (the "beak" being of the Raven).
- Nicholson said of his role: "The thing I like about the Joker is that his sense of humor is completely tasteless".
- In the original script for the parade scene, the crowd discovered that all the money that Joker handed out was counterfeit and adorned with his face. This was a follow-up to the Joker's earlier line that he wanted: "My face on the one-dollar bill". The scene still appears in the comic adaptation.
- In the comics, the Joker was 6'0" - 6'4" (depending on the writer). Jack Nicholson was 5'9.5" in real life, making this version smaller.
- The name "Jack Napier" has been carried over as an alias for DC Animated Universe and Batwoman versions of the Joker. It has also been used in several non-canonical comics, including Gotham Noir and Batman: White Knight, and some retellings of the characters origin, albeit as "Jack".
- This incarnation of the Joker is one of the few versions of who have a fully identified backstory. Various other examples included the DCAU Joker (an enforcer in Sal Valestra's mob, who fell into the vat during a fight with Batman), the Flashpoint Joker (a version of Martha Wayne who was driven insane after Bruce was killed by Joe Chill) and the Batman: Under the Red Hood version (who is shown as the Red Hood in flashbacks, and verbally confirmed by both him and Batman). In Gotham, a character called Jeremiah Valeska is heavily implied to become the show's Joker, thus is giving him a proper origin.
- In the comics, it was accepted for decades that Joker was formerly a supervillain called the Red Hood, who fell into a vat of chemicals and was disfigured during a confrontation with Batman. This was changed after Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, which altered details and implied both stories were fabrications caused by Joker's fractured mind. Subsequent writers have taken elements from this Joker's backstory, mainly the name, in their own Joker backstories.
- This incarnation is also one of only two versions of the Joker to have been involved in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and thus responsible for Batman's existence. The other is the incarnation from the film Joker, whose riot during the climax indirectly inspired Joe Chill to kill Thomas and Martha Wayne.
- Although not explored, Joker was implied to have a chauvinistic/misogynistic streak: his pursuit of Vicki as a lover despite already in a relationship with Alicia, and his comment that Grissom “must be insane” to have betrayed him “over a woman.”
- That incarnation was one of only two Joker characterizations that was given a deep voice and the only other was The Joker from Batman: Under the Red Hood, as most Joker incarnations were given a fairly high-pitched voice.
- In some TV airings of the film, the cuts to the final battle removed the attempted helicopter escape and Batman tying a gargoyle to Joker's leg. These made it seem that the hero had managed to kill the Joker by simply punching him.
- In Batman Unchained, the cancelled sequel to Batman & Robin, the Joker would have returned as a hallucination that was caused by Scarecrow's Fear Gas. Harley Quinn would have also appeared as his daughter, who then tried to get revenge on Batman for his role in his death.
- In the planned crossover of Batman and Superman named Batman vs. Superman, the Joker would have returned as the murderer of Elizabeth Miller, the wife of Bruce Wayne. That crossover, according with Warner Bros. would have been a stand-alone sequel of Batman & Robin. Leaks of the script suggest that this Joker would have been a clone created by Lex Luthor.
- The way Joker taunts Batman to fire at him with the Batwing is eerily similar to a moment from the later film The Dark Knight, where its Joker encourages Batman to run him down with the Batpod.
- During the Arrowverse's Crisis on Infinite Earths event, a newspaper on Earth-89, the designation for the Burtonverse, mentions that Joker has been captured by Batman. This hints that either Napier was resurrected or another person has taken up the identity.