In this piece, I delve into the murky multiple origins of The Clown Prince of Crime and come out offering both a history lesson and a splash-page headache. SPOILER ALERT (well, sort of)... After reading this months double-sized Batman Issue 24, it seems we have yet another origin for The Joker, The Dark Knights quintessential arch villain... In this newest genesis, the villain formerly known as The Red Hood falls into a vat of toxic chemicals, as usual, but this time he does so with an (literally and figuratively) explosive twist. Its revisionist history, yes, but it isnt without precedent. You see The Man Who Laughs has been born (and then re-born) a great many times before. When comic book readers first met The Joker, he was fully formed and ready to create chaos. Initially a homicidal prankster, The Golden Age Jokers character would be smoothed over during the McCarthy/Wertham era, making him a somewhat loveable goon, yet still always a memorable character. So it was, in 1951, just a few years before the dawning of the Silver Age that The Joker, by now firmly entrenched as Batmans arch nemesis, finally revealed his nightmarish origin story. After taking Batman and Robin hostage, the villain gleefully gloats that, I was a lab worker, until I decided to steal $1,000,000 and retire! So I became The Red Hood! Finally, I reached my goal by stealing from the Monarch Playing Card Company. My hoods oxygen tube enabled me to escape by swimming under the surface of the pool of chemical wastes...But at home I looked at myself with growing horror... We next see the unfortunate crook in front of his mirror, the pill-shaped helmet sitting on a conveniently placed sideboard across from a chair and painting combo (that I always felt recalled the famous painting of Van Goghs bedroom in a sort of confused way) as he loudly exclaims to no one in particular: That chemical vaporIt turned my hair green, my lips rouge-red, my skin chalk-white! I look like an evil clown! What a joke on me! In and of itself, this was a retcon of sorts, as The Joker had actually been modelled on both a playing card design and actor Conrad Veidts appearance in the 1928 silent movie The Man Who Laughs. However, nobody had ever explained the characters ghoulish appearance, nor where he came from and what in the world his motivations might have been. Despite a healthy dose of controversy, writer (and Batman co-creator) Bill Finger did such a good job crafting the story that fans are still debating it to this day. The 1951-era Joker story is usually presented as his official origin, although others have deviated from it, particularly with regards to media outside comics... In the 1989 movie Batman the character is given a name (Jack Napier) and a previous occupation (Professional Gangster), as well as a dose of masculinity and offbeat, quasi-Satanic sexuality courtesy of actor Jack Nicholson (although it kept in the chemical vat sequence, arguably the best realized bit in the movie). Likewise, the 1993 animated movie Batman: Mask of The Phantasm (for my money the best screen depiction of the character) paints the Mephistopheles of mirth as a mafia henchman long before he became The Joker of the animated series (and was played to absolute perfection by Mark Hamill). Heath Ledgers twitchy, anachronistic Joker from 2008s The Dark Knight frequently nods to the characters multiple origins in both comics and other media with the memorable phrase you wanna know how I got these scars? usually accompanied by a tall tale (or is it?). Back in the comics, Alan Moore revived the now-classic 1951 Bill Finger story, before adding a huge dose of pathos and tragedy to it for 1988s The Killing Joke graphic novel. In Moores version, which subsequently became canon, The Joker is a failed comedian with a heavily pregnant wife who dreams only of making enough money to take care of her. He recently quit a steady job as a lab assistant at the A.C.E Chemical plant, so he agrees to help some mobsters break into the neighbouring Monarch Playing Card Company. The mobsters force him to wear the pill-shaped Red Hood helmet over his head, ostensibly to hide his identity, but in reality it is so that they can blame the crime on him should they get caught. However, Batman foils the intended robbery and, in the ensuing scuffle, the comedian jumps over the railings and into the waiting vat of chemicals. This origin story was actually deeply personal to Moore, who, not too many years earlier, had quit a steady job in order to write comics for a living, only to discover that his then-wife was pregnant. The agony of trying to make it in an artistic medium, whilst at the same time balancing a budget and an adult life, is something that was so relatable that it heightened the pain and fear caused by The Jokers horrific actions throughout the book. The Joker was at once everyone and no one. This was finalized to some degree in 1990s Wildcard/Judgements two-parter, in which Marv Wolfman brilliantly wrote a Human and vulnerable Joker who was in the process of returning to crime after murdering Jason Todd in Jim Starlins Death in the Family (1989) and paralyzing Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. Joker once again dons the mantle of the Red Hood in this tale, but finds the experience to be ultimately too traumatic. Eventually, an impostor version of Joker surfaces, intent on supplanting the original, but this time, his self-inflicted tumble into the chemical vat proves fatal... Ed Brubakers sublime 2003 story The Man Who Laughs builds upon The Killing Jokes version of the origin, whilst at the same time re-telling the story of Jokers first appearances from Batman Issue 1 in 1940. In this story, Batman figures out that The Red Hood must have survived his fall and thus become The Joker. This story would be alluded to several times throughout 2012s blockbuster Joker event Death of the Family. Moores version of Jokers origin was referred to again and again in the 1990s & 2000s, with the comedian eventually being named Jack by writer A.J Lieberman for 2004s garbled-yet-morbidly-fascinating Pushback storyline. The Jokers famous line If Im going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice HA HA HA written by Moore for The Killing Joke has long provided Batman writers eager to add their stamp to the Joker mythos with a convenient get out of jail free card, because, in that way, any origin for The Joker makes sense as long as The Joker is the one having the flashback. Because of this, legendary Batman writer Steve Engelhart was able to get away with returning to the 1951 version of the story for his criminally underrated Dark Detective series in 2005, in which The Joker recounts, Ive always been smarter than everyone else. In my first life, I was an inventor And a criminal, of course. I created a Red Hood that let me breathe underwater and seemed to have no eyes. It was creepy...But it wasnt THIS! (Referring to his now chalk-white appearance). Paul Dini was able also to create another possible early life for the character (he was also partly responsible for the one in Mask of the Phantasm) in his 2010 story The House of Hush, in which a young boy, nicknamed Sonny is cared for by Thomas and Martha Wayne before being kidnapped, beaten and sexually molested by mobster Sallie Guzzo (whom The Joker later brutally murders). With the chemical vat sequence of events seemingly untouchable, recent years have seen a couple of stories that featured Jokers supposed childhood. The most recent was in last months Joker 1-shot, in which Andy Kubert depicted the boy who would be Joker being tortured by his (possibly murderous) Aunt Eunice, who regularly scrubbed his face with bleach (lovely). When it comes to explaining Jokers erratic behaviour and origins (as well as providing an alibi to writers everywhere) few ideas are as oft-used as Grant Morrisons Super-Multiple-Personality-Disorder concept, which was first introduced in 1989s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth OGN and further alluded to in his other work like 2008s Batman: R.I.P and 2009s Batman: Reborn. In Arkham Asylum, Jokers therapist says: Its quite possible we may actually be looking at some kind of super-sanity here. A brilliant new modification of Human perception. More suited to urban life at the end of the 20th Century. Unlike you and I, The Joker seems to have no control over the sensory information hes receiving from the outside world. He can only cope with that chaotic barrage of input by going with the flow. Thats why some days hes a mischievous clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day. He sees himself as the lord of misrule, and the world as a theatre of the absurd. In this fashion, Joker can have multiple childhoods and multiple origins that pretty much all make sense. However, it is entirely possible that the boy ran away from Aunt Eunice, ended up in the custody of Sallie Guzzo and then attempted to become a comedian before falling into the vat of chemicals. It is also possible that much of this life story was an hallucination brought on by feelings of suppressed guilt as Snyders new take on the Red Hood character sank to the bottom of the chemical cocktail... It is even possible that a couple of Jokers past memories from Paul Dinis Mad Love story (both the TV episode and the comic) are actually true, especially the runaway orphan one... This makes quite a bit of sense when, in Batman & Robin Must Die! Joker (whos adoption of the Oberon Sexton persona is itself a muddled version of his own origin) says to Damian Wayne, I was a little boy wonder once, too. I didnt set out to be this. In House of Hush Guzzo referred to Sonny as the little boy wonder who tried to call the cops on us! referring to the boys foiling of their scheme to spread a plague through the slums of Gotham... Hmm... Going back to Snyder, despite nods to Finger, Moore and Jack Nicholson, his early-years Joker from the most recent instalment of Zero Year actually has most in common with Michael Greens non-canon Joker origin from the 2009s Lovers & Madmen story. A good, but slightly undercooked, psychological thriller from Green (who made his name on TV shows like Heroes and Smallville and also co-wrote the far-better-than-the-reviews-suggest Green Lantern movie), Lovers & Madmen features Joker as a bored criminal genius, simply looking for a challenge. Also, if you consider the possibility that Moores Red Hood Gang of opportunistic mobsters are actually copycats and that Snyders Red Hood Gang operates in the same reality, both stories could still run parallel, after a fashion, but I digress... Scott Snyders most recent Joker origin does, at least, allow for the possibilities that most (if not all) of these stories are in some way true (even if they are only imagined). At the end of the issue, Bruce and Alfred discuss the possibility that the man who fell into the chemicals wasnt actually the original Red Hood, so were left with just enough mystery to keep us guessing for another twenty years or so... DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know, its a new timeline and so on, but before you blah blah blast me in the comments section below, remember that this in an overview of The Jokers origins, running on the Morrison-esque assumption that they are all true, so please dont explain to me what I already know, OK? Cheers.