The Joker Keeps Getting A New Origin Story And We’re Tired Of It, DC

By Zack Zagranis | Published

joker origin

Certain things in fiction work better when they’re shrouded in mystery. The Force loses its mysticism when reduced to microscopic parasites, Michael Myers isn’t scary when he has a motive, and the Joker doesn’t work when he has an origin. DC seems to disagree with the last point because they can’t seem to stop themselves from explaining the Joker’s backstory.

The Joker: Year One

The latest attempt to give the Joker an origin was this year’s The Joker: Year One a storyline that ran through Batman #142-144. Writer Chip Zdarsky, creator of cult favorite Sex Criminals didn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of the Joker’s physical origin. The Clown Prince of Crime still got weird after doing a swan dive into a vat of deadly chemicals.

No, Zdarsky instead decided to give the Joker’s personality an origin. Basically, mentalist Daniel Captio finds the Joker after his accident and decides to turn him into the psychopath we all know and fear. Captio in his own words, says that he’s “interested,” in finding out what would happen if Batman, who he describes as “wrongly” thinking he’s a “force for order,” were to meet an “equal force for chaos.

And that’s pretty much it. The Joker and his random acts of evil are the results of someone purposely tampering with his mind.

Giving The Joker Any Origin Is A Mistake

joker origin

The Joker: Year One details how Captio taught the Joker how to live without fear and even how to develop separate unique personalities. Year One‘s explanation of the Joker’s different personalities is itself a retcon of DC’s Three Jokers concept, which tried to explain why the Joker seems different from appearance to appearance by claiming there were actually three different Jokers.

The problem is none of it’s needed and any attempt to explain the Joker makes him less effective as a character. Giving the Joker an origin is antithetical to the idea of him as a pure force of chaos.

An Early Origin Attempt

The first time DC attempted to flesh out the Joker’s backstory was back in 1951 in Detective Comics #168. The issue did its best to give the Joker an origin while simultaneously preserving the character’s mystique.

A masked criminal known as the Red Hood leaps into a vat of chemicals after Batman corners him. The breathing apparatus in his hood allows him to swim through a drainage pipe to freedom, but he soon finds his skin is now bleached bone white, and his hair is stained emerald green.

As far as the Joker’s origins go, it maintains quiet a bit of his mystique. We still don’t know the guy’s name or even his backstory, really. It was basically just a way to justify him being white and green without using makeup.

The Killing Joke

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If it had ended there, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but other writers just couldn’t leave well enough alone. First, Alan Moore gives the Joker a more defined backstory in The Killing Joke. Now, the Red Hood was actually a failed comedian whose wife and unborn child died while he was out on the heist that transformed him.

The Joker is the one character in comics whom readers should never be able to sympathize with, period. Moore giving him a tragic backstory weakens the idea of the Joker as evil incarnate.

Nicholson’s Joker


Batman (1989) kept the chemical bath but made the Joker the one who killed Batman’s parents. The problem with this isn’t sympathy but motive. Now Batman has a personal vendetta against the Joker, making their rivalry one of revenge instead of a clash between order and chaos.

The Dark Knight

joker origin

Since then we’ve had multiple other interpretations of the Joker’s origin, none of them particularly satisfying for the simple reason that the character just works better as a mystery. Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight is the perfect example. We don’t know who he is or where he came from. We just know that he wants to watch the world burn. Simple. Effective.

Batman: The Animated Series

Batman the Animated Series—possibly the only adaptation of the Joker more beloved than Ledger’s—never revealed the Joker’s origin, either. A few different episodes gave conflicting hints about his life before he became a murderous madman, but that’s all they were: hints and speculation.

Leave The Origin To Our Imagination

joker sequels feature

Ultimately, DC can explain where the Penguin came from until the cows come home. Likewise, some of Two Face’s best stories are tied to his tragic origin. But the Joker is just more effective as a mystery.

Much like the Mona Lisa, we should always be left guessing what’s behind that smile.