The Joker is my favorite villain of all time. You don’t know his past, you just know what his plans are – The Weeknd
Yaphet Kotto once said that names are tombstones, meaning that in the grand scheme of things, they have little or no importance.
That statement could have been the mission statement that Jerry Robinson and Bill Finger were guided by when they created the Joker in nineteen forty.
The ambiguous nature of the Clown Prince of Crime was all that mattered, and his real name was merely a leftover from his previous life and had no relevance to his new underworld identity.
That doesn’t mean that the Joker doesn’t have a real name, he does, but like his origin story, his civilian moniker has changed a number of times during the course of the character’s long and storied history.
Even the Joker has trouble remembering who he is and where he came from, glibly musing that who he really is, depends largely on who he’s talking to and what day of the week it is.
But just because the Joker is reluctant to share who he is with his victims and henchmen, it doesn’t mean that the writers who shaped the character’s mythology had, and have the same reticence as the Ace of Knives does about telling their audience who the man behind the ever-present grin really is.
And to help you decide who you think the Joker really is, we’ve taken a deep dive into the multiple personalities of the yin to Batman’s yang in order to find out what the attending physicians at Arkham would call him at the beginning and end, if they ever made it that far without sustaining grievous bodily harm, of their sessions.
Hush, It’s A Secret – The Joker’s Name In Comics
Remaining faithful to Robinson’s visions, it took nearly sixty-seven years for the Joker’s name to appear in print.
In his two thousand and seven run on Batman Confidential, Michael Green drew the curtain back enough to give his readers a brief glimpse of who the Joker used to be, outing him as a former mob enforcer called Jack, a decision inspired by the character’s role in Tim Burton’s Batman, and which ultimately if somewhat loosely, tied the long-standing canon of the character in the comics to the director’s brief tenure as the architect of the Joker’s destiny.
Paul Dini was the next writer to pick up the baton and link the characters name to his origin story, and in House Of Hush, revealed that the Joker was named Sonny, who after being kidnapped and tortured as a child, ultimately succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome and became the thing that he hated most in the world.
It isn’t exactly shocking, given how popular the film was and how well-received, when it was first released, Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker was, that the enduring legacy of Burton’s Batman continued to play a part in the characters comic book evolution.
And in two thousand and eighteen, in his limited series, Batman: White Knight Sean Murphy paid homage to Nicholson and Burton by naming the Joker, Jack Napier.
On The Big Screen – The Joker’s Name In Film
Preferring to subscribe to the theory that the Joker was more akin to a force of nature than an actual person and that he was, and is chaos personified, in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Joker isn’t named and is played by the actor exactly as the director envisioned him.
As an unwavering maelstrom of destruction that defies understanding and can’t, and shouldn’t be named.
While Ledger and Nolan were unwilling to give the Joker a name, in Tim Burton’s Batman which served double duty as a Joker origin story, the fates of the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime are tragically, and irreversibly linked by the directors choice to fundamentally alter Batman’s origin story.
Burton’s Joker is Jack Napier who assumes the role of the gunman responsible for the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
It’s a name that due, no doubt to the film’s enduring legacy, seems to have followed the Joker from the big screen to comic books, and will almost certainly continue to make its presence felt at some point in the character’s future.
How true to mythology the film is supposed to be, or what part in plays in the Jokers enduring canon is open to debate, but Joaquin Phoenix’s damaged, disturbed, and emotionally charged performance as Arthur Fleck, the alter ego of the Joker in Todd Phillips film dedicated to the character is perhaps the singular, most profound revelation of who the Joker really is.
Drawing inspiration from Alan Moore’s Killing Joke, the film casts the character as a would-be stand-up comedian, who plagued by mental illness, is beaten down by life, and doomed to failure until he decides to strike back at the world that has hurt and betrayed him.
Even though its place within the rigid structure of the character’s timeline is contested by fans and critics alike, if we had to put a bet on the name that DC will eventually settle on for the Joker, it’d be Arthur Fleck.
Making His Television Debut – The Joker’s Name On TV
Caeser Romero never broke character and didn’t appear without his infamous make-up and gaudy costume during his multiple appearances on Batman during the nineteen sixties, so it’s hardly surprising that his Joker wasn’t named in either the series or the film based on the popular television show.
In fact, television managed to do something that neither film nor comics could do for another four decades. It kept the Joker’s name a secret.
It wasn’t until an embryonic version of the character played by Cameron Monaghan appeared in Gotham that the Joker’s name was revealed on television.
In a delightful twist that even Jerry Robinson would have approved of, the not-really-but-maybe-one-day Joker was exposed as identical twins Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska.
It was and is a decision that would have earned a double thumbs up from the Clown Prince himself, regardless of what day of the week it was.