- "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 hood whose appearance was radically and permanently altered by chemicals. He became Batman's first, and greatest foe, and the two shared a secret past that made them greater enemies than either first realized.
Born in Brooklyn, 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 to protect his family, Jack stepped from the shadows and shot both him and Martha in cold-blood. Jack inquired to young Bruce: "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, his panicked partner 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]
As Jack aged, he worked his way up in the Mafia ranks, and eventually became the righthand man of Mob Boss, Carl Grissom. Jack often toyed with a deck of lucky cards, which most likely saved his life on one occasion due to a bullet hole that was in between each card. He often twirled the cards in small tricks. In stark contrast to his later hilarious attitude, Jack's persona was rather sarcastic and grumpy
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 implying that he'll kill Dent brutally if the latter even attempts to move in on Grissom.Jack entered into an affair with Grissom's girlfriend, Alicia Hunt, which prompted the angry crime lord to set him up 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, he was toying with his lucky deck again. Jack 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 would become).
Grissom's plan went awry thanks to intervention by both Batman and Commissioner James Gordon and some other police officers. After he killed Eckhardt, and then caught a ricocheted bullet through his cheeks when he tried to do the same to Batman, 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, he 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 grey 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, and was desperate to have his cheek wounds fixed where the ricocheted bullet had injured him. Despite going through the long and careful procedure, the surgeon informed Jack that he simply could not fix his face, due to both the sheer extent of the severed nerves sustained and the surgeon's own lack of effective tools, which resulted into a permanent smile. Upset with the result, and reflecting 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 began to laugh maniacally and convulsively, then smashed the mirror that he held on the table that held the surgeon's tools, stumbled out of the room, and laughed into the night.
With Jack's mind completely snapped after he saw his bizarre new appearance, he assumed the new identity of "The Joker". He then headed over to Grissom's apartment, revealing his survival, and makes clear he knew it was Grissom who set him up to die in the first place, especially regarding Alicia as his motive, and also holds him up in order to prevent him from reaching for a stowed away gun. Joker killed Grissom as revenge for setting him up and took over the crime lord's empire. The Clown Prince of Crime engaged in a violent and chaotic crime spree, with the motive to "outdo" Batman, whom he felt had gotten too much press. When trying 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 resembling his original appearance. During a mob summit with the rest of the Gotham City Crimelords, Jack claimed that Grissom was just in hiding, who left him to be the acting President, and declared that their action that anniversary was 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 Rotelli 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 lethal Joy Buzzer, which horrified the rest of the Mob bosses and with Jack joking about his demise and laughing at it. Jack then dismissed the mob as his own gang 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 landed him with the check with his signature) with his quill pen after he claimed that he was his "Uncle Bingo" and had his mime faction of his gang open fire. Later on, the Joker and his gang defaced many of the paintings at the Flugelheim Museum. He 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 the Joker state: "Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?" and surviving the 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]
After he announced on television that he would reignite the previously cancelled Gotham City's 200th Anniversary Parade, the Joker threw twenty million dollars into the crowd (the comic adaptation of the film as well as a deleted scene revealed that this money was fake one dollar bills with the 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 causing Joker to kill Bob to vent out his frustration. Batman then made a strafing run on the Joker, but the crazed clown shot down the Batwing with an explosive round that was fired from his long barreled gun. Joker then took Vicki into the Gotham Cathedral and forced her to dance with him. After he walked up to the belfry, Batman, after he defeated a small army of the Joker's men, 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 the 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 the Joker insanely taunted them. Joker's Helicopter arrived to get Joker to safety. Batman used a grappling hook to tie Joker's ankle to a large, heavy stone gargoyle. The Joker sealed his fate when it broke loose.
Unable to break free from the heavy burden of the gargoyle, the Joker lost his grip on the helicopter's rope ladder, fell to his death, and hit the Cathedral's flight of steps below hard, which broke every bone in his body.
Ironically, just a few seconds beforehand, Joker said: "Sometimes I just kill myself!" Commissioner Gordon came upon the Joker's body, and heard a repetitive laugh which drew him ever so slowly. He reached into the Joker's coat and pulled out a laugh box that was activated by the landing.
Bruce would continue to have bad memories of Jack Napier slaying his parents for several years.
Jack Napier, in the beginning of the film, was seen as quite vain, with a penchant for nice suits and Alicia Hunt as his trophy girlfriend. In a contrast to the Joker, Napier was quite humorless, though when he committed his crimes, he made large smiles on his face (for example after he murdered the Waynes' or when he enjoyed killing Eckhardt). However, he was still equally as psychotic, although not as outwardly, with hints of his psychopathic nature oozing out when he watched Harvey Dent's speech about making Gotham safe for decent people, noting that "decent people" needed to move elsewhere and also stating he'd "hand [Dent's] lungs to him by now" should Dent even dare try to move in against Grissom, showing he had no qualms with killing any threats to the mob in an extremely graphic manner. He was also not above murdering children, as he was clearly preparing to execute Bruce Wayne on a whim after murdering his parents, and would have gone through with it with zero remorse had his friend 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]", indicating that he was treacherous against his boss and was content with waiting until the mob boss died before he could take over the mob. His treachery was also retained after becoming the Joker, where he proceeded to tell his friend Bob that he was his number one in a very similar manner to how Grissom himself told Jack this right before sending him off to Axis Chemicals to die, implying he may have been planning a similar fate for his friend in the future. While he discussed Grissom and Eckhardt's future within the mob, the latter retorted to Jack that he was: "An A-1 nut boy". After he read Jack'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, Jack was just as terrified of Batman when he first met him. However, after becoming the Joker, he had absolutely no fear of him, and in fact, he not only was unphased by the Caped Crusader vowing to kill him, but reminded him bluntly that Batman's the reason why Joker exists, 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 Jack 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. He also was shown to "talk" to Antoine Rotelli's corpse as if he were still alive, even being "told" by him to "grease" the remaining mobsters at the summit, although it is unclear whether he genuinely believed that he was being told this by Rotelli or was simply mocking the deceased mobster, as shortly afterwards, he proceeds to laugh exhileratedly over his own words about how he's "glad [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 a flower that squirted acid. 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 Pennyworth to bring him a copy of the GCPD's Case History Folder on Jack Napier. Included were two mugshots, one of Jack 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: 38. __:5 ft. 8". __: 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, is a play on the word "jackanapes" according to Sam Hamm.
- 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 would also provide ideas that pleased Nicholson.
- The Joker being the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents had been Burton's intention with the character since he had first joined the film. However, screenwriter Sam Hamm had argued with Burton and had managed to talk him out of putting it in. Burton would place the plot back in during principal photography because Hamm was not present during filming due to a writer's strike.
- According to the Wanted Posters that were handed out by Lt. Eckhardt at Axis Chemicals, Jack was born in Brooklyn.
- During the flashback sequence of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the young Jack was played by Hugo E. Blick.
- The Joker's line: "Take thy beak from out my heart" (that was said at Vicki's Apartment) was from Edgar Allan Poe's "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)
- Jack Nicholson said of his role: "The thing I like about the Joker is that his sense of humor is completely tasteless".
- 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 asked him to cease giving out the gloves and although he promised he would, he kept doing it anyway. New gloves were constantly being made throughout filming, Ringwood estimates that there must be hundreds of signed Nicholson Joker gloves.
- In the original script during the parade (but made it in the comic book adaptation) where the crowd discovered that all the money that the Joker handed out was counterfeit, adorned with his face. In a follow-up to the Joker's earlier line that he wanted: "My face on the one-dollar bill", all of the dollar bills that were thrown to the crowd had the Joker's picture on them in place of George Washington's.
- In the comics, the Joker is 6'0" - 6'4" (depending on writer), Jack Nicholson is 5'9.5".
- The Jack Napier name was carried over to Batman: The Animated Series as an alias for Mark Hamill's The Joker.
- That incarnation was also one of the only versions of the Joker who had a fully identified backstory prior to encountering Batman at the chemical plant and becoming the Joker, though in the comics it was accepted for decades he was formally the supervillain Red Hood before falling into a vat green chemicals, prior to Alan Moore expanding the circumstances of that identity somewhat. Various other examples include Joker in the DCAU (who was an enforcer in Sal Valestra's mafia much like Burton films which were immensely popular at the time), the version during the Flashpoint Arc (as she was in fact Martha Wayne who was driven insane due to the death of Bruce at the hands of Joe Chill). The Dark Knight had a running motif of the Joker telling different backstories to different individuals. Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood (due to a flashback to Batman's encounter with the previous Red Hood who claimed that he was "set up.") and The Joker from the animated adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke (largely due to the flashbacks that depicted him as a struggling comedian, although Joker's statement of "sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I were to have a past, I'd rather it be multiple choice" suggested that the veracity of those flashbacks were debatable at best.). In the Gotham television series his name is Jeremiah Valeska and has a twin brother named Jerome.
- Although not explored, Joker was implied to have a chauvinistic/misogynistic streak. For example, pursuing Vicky as a lover despite already being 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 final battle between the Joker and Batman made it seem as though Batman had managed to kill the Joker simply by punching him in the face while the latter wore glasses in response to the latter's remark "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses on, would you, huh?".
- In the flashback for Batman Forever, the young Jack was played by David U. Hodges.
- 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, that was 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, however, the reason of the Joker's resurrection was completely unknown.
- The way in which he taunts Batman to fire at him with the Batwing is strikingly similar to how Heath Ledger's version shouts at Batman to run him down in The Dark Knight.
- Batman (1989 Movie Comic Adaptation)
- Batman (1989 Movie Novelization)
- Batman Forever (In Flashback Only)