Batman has one of the largest and most renowned rogues’ galleries of all time, but decade after decade there is one villain that continues to stand out from the rest of the pack. He’s had countless of comic book appearances, starred in his own movie, and is celebrating his 80th anniversary this week – Batman’s greatest foe, The Joker.
"There’s been all kinds of variations. And with each storyteller they focus on a different angle," Judd Winick, who wrote the character at various times, told Newsarama. "But I think what’s more remarkable is how little he’s changed over 80 years.
"Yes, since the 1980s we have found a more dark, troubled, and psychological point of view when we think of Joker and create stories around him. But that’s true of most superheroes at this point," the writer continued. "BUT - there is a constant that runs through the whole 80 years. He’s always been a psychotic clown. True, in early days there were more jokes coming out of the Joker. And now it’s more about madness.
"But I think he’s lasted as long as he has because from the outset the character was just a stunningly interesting idea."
Scott Snyder, who has been one of the primary Joker writers in modern history thanks to his work on Detective Comics, Batman, and various spin-offs in the past decade, agrees - and wrote the introductory story to this week's The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular.
"I was lucky enough to do the opening story for that book. I wanted to do something that would get at some of the definitive material for our version of the Joker," Snyder said. "My version of the Joker with Greg Capullo and Jock, the Joker that haunts me is enduring because he’s essentially the joker card, right? The joker card is a card in the deck that can be of any value you need it to be to win the hand.
"The Joker to me, sees you and sees your worst fear about yourself or about the world, and then brings that fear to life, and laughs at you for thinking that you could overcome it."
Jim Starlin might be best known for Marvel's arguably top villain Thanos, but he too has a long history with the Joker thanks to his runs on Detective Comics and the Batman title itself. For him, what cemented the Joker's place as Batman's top antagonist was a specific cover by his friend and collaborator Marshall Rogers.
"The moment is a Marshall Rogers’ cover with him having a couple of fish guns pointed at Batman telling him not to move because they’re loaded," Starlin told Newsarama.
"He’s as bizarre as Batman. Batman is this black and gray shadow running around, and The Joker is nothing but bright color. They are the antithesis of each other in every way possible but they are bonded."
Winick tells Newsarama that it was Starlin's "Death in the Family" storyline drawn by Jim Aparo cemented the Joker's status.
"He crosses this line that there was never going to be any return from. He murdered Batman’s troubled son. He made it as personal as one can make it," said Winick. "Like any parent, Batman would’ve preferred that he died in Jason‘s place. And the troubled relationship that led up to his death made it all the worse."
"They had so much 'unfinished business' to deal with," Winick continued. "The father and son relationship was a struggle for the two of them. And then Joker, who had so long plagued Batman, takes Jason from his life. It’s exquisitely brutal."
Batman artist Greg Capullo, who designed the "New 52" design of the Joker with the mask made of skin, says the character works because he's the antithesis of the Dark Knight.
"He’s really a mirror image of Batman in many ways," the artist said. "That’s the glue."
"Why Joker is so perfect for Batman as his arch-nemesis, is because Batman is the complete opposite," Winick elaborated. "Batman is rigid. Batman is moral. Batman lives by a set of incredibly firm rules that he finds impossible to deviate from. But lastly, it can be argued that these two characters were both born out of madness. Different events. And different reactions to those life experiences."
"But they are both kind of insane. With all that, this is still about a guy who dresses up like a clown and a guy who dresses up like a bat. And that’s entertaining."
In Snyder's summation, the Joker works so well because he's everyone's darkest fears made manifest.
"He’s that voice in your head that says everything you're trying to do, everything you're trying to achieve, it's all meaningless," Snyder said. "And because your worst fears, the worst things that you believe to be true about life, about yourself, about the people around you, that's the truth. Your system of faith is the joke.
"The big joke is that you think any of this means anything what you're trying to do or be - that's the joke. That's mean – that’s not crazy, it's not anarchy - it's evil. So that's why for me he’s scary. He's always the monster under the bed."