15 years ago - The Joker first appears in Gotham City, poisoning several prominent citizens before threatening to poison the water supply directly, confronting Batman for the first time.
11 years ago - The Joker shoots Thomas Blake for no reason, driving him from Gotham and establishing his reputation in the Gotham underground.
10 years ago - The Joker accepts a contract with Oswald Cobblepot to sew chaos in Roman Sionis's organization until he is forced to accept a truce.
9 years ago - The Joker shoots and paralyses Barbara Gordon and tortures Commissioner Gordon. He escapes custody and flees the country.
8 years ago - The Joker is tracked down by Batman & Robin while trafficking weapons. He kills Jason Todd, but is immune to reprisal as the newly appointed ambassador to the US, but when he tries to poison the UN he is finally captured. Only Nightwing stops Batman from killing him.
6 years ago - The Joker becomes the subject of the research of a young psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzell. He slowly twists their sessions, using her history of abuse against her.
4 years ago - The Joker is among the Arkham inmates freed by Bane. He enacts an elaborate plan that nearly floods the entire city, only to be recaptured to avoid Bane's rule of the underground.
3 years ago - The Joker escapes Arkham during the Gotham earthquake, bringing Harley Quinn with him. He joins Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang and helps him attempt to destroy the Watchtower.
1 year ago - The Joker attempts to join Grodd's Legion of Doom but is turned away. He comes to Arkham to free Harley Quinn, and insists that she kill Poison Ivy before they leave. when she can't do it, he beats and abandons her.
now - The Joker returns to Gotham. He is confronted by Harley Quinn & Pamela Isley. He tries to prove that the current Batman isn't the real one, but is stopped by Robin, who beats him with a crowbar.
It isn't a stretch to say that the Joker is the best villain ever created. Certainly ONE of the best, in comics or otherwise, but a case can certainly be made that he is, in fact, THE best. It of course depends on how you measure greatness; longevity, effectiveness, entertainment value... but by almost any measure the Joker is among the best ever. He's been played by some incredibly talented actors, all with wildly different takes on the character, and every time he is immediately recognizable because the character transcends performance. Even a cursory read of the character becomes a fascinating descent into ideas about violence, duality, chaos, and insanity, and they all juxtapose effortlessly against Batman. A truly great arch-nemesis needs to elevate the protagonist, and the Joker quickly turns Batman into a complex psychological exploration.
The Joker's Comic History
Originally invented as a one-off villain by Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane based on the character from the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, the final panel of the book was altered to allow for the character to return, presumably because the creators recognized that they had something great on their hands.
The Joker's original appearances depicted a sadistic murderer before the character, like the rest of the comic, became more kid-friendly. He spent many decades as a zany criminal, more interested in bank robberies than anarchy. Then in the mid sixties editor Julius Schwartz masterfully re-imagined the Batman universe, removing many of the more comical elements, and slowly reintroduced a more modern take on the character, including the return of the classic, murderous Joker. This was the version of the character that perpetuated some of the most heinously violent acts in DC history, like the murder of Jason Todd and the paralyzing of Barbara Gordon. Grant Morrison invented the phrase "super-sanity" to describe the Joker, suggesting that rather than being insane, he is in fact operating at a higher level of awareness. (Subtly suggesting that he might be aware that he's fictional? The Imaginary Axis did an awesome video exploring the concept.)
Our Joker Story
You'll notice that we actually don't even attempt to put together a singular backstory for the Joker. There are a lot of them out there, some more wild than others... and apparently getting wilder all the time. While some of those stories are actually pretty fun, The Joker is at his absolute best when he's a complete enigma. He simply arrives in Gotham like an avatar of chaos.
The truly important Joker stories are all present and accounted for, but this should in no way suggest that this is all that happens. Joker is obviously in and out of Arkham all the time, having hundreds of little exchanges with Batman. We simply wanted to make sure to include the broad strokes that define his story: his escalation of the type of crime being perpetrated in Gotham, Jason & Barbara and his corruption of Harley Quinn,
Interestingly, The most recent years of his story seem to feature Joker interacting a lot more with some of the other hero's villains. His invitation into Luthor's Injustice Gang and then his rejection by the Legion of Doom are both directly from the comics. The Legion of Doom have yet to truly enact their plans, but once that's completed part of their downfall will definitely come from the fact that they left him out.
The Joker's Costume
The truly amazing thing about the Joker is the malleability of the concept. At his core, we all get what he's about: The elongated jester grin, the smile, the white face and green hair. We understand that. From there, though, he's been depicted in dozens, maybe hundreds of different styles and textures, non of them EVER claiming to somehow be the definitive version. If anything, the prevailing notion is simply that this is what he looks like TODAY.
Not to focus too heavily on his live action portrayals, but it's actually fascinating to look at them all together. Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Jared Leto all had wildly different appearances and created the character very differently, but the character is always unmistakably the Joker. The only requirement seems to be to play the character with complete and utter abandon.
Even the color schemes of his classic suits seem to be up for grabs. Purple and green seem to be the order of the day, but he's been depicted just as successfully in white, or black, or pink. Even the cut and style of his outfits can be vastly different. In the end, It might simply be that there's no wrong way for him to look, as long as he has that particular energy that is unquestionably the Joker.
The Joker's Future
We ended our timeline with the introduction of the new Robin giving the Joker a very deserved crowbar beating, something that actually comes from the comics. This might put him out of commission for a bit, but truthfully he's bounced back from worse. He still has his revenge to enact on the Legion of Doom, after all.
Moving into the future, the Batman family is starting to expand. Dick is taking over a lot of the higher-end responsibilities of Gotham and the Watchtower, treating Batman more as a figurehead than a single person. The network of Batman's allies continues to grow in influence, and so it seems to suggest that the Joker might just begin to evolve as well. If Batman is going to become a cipher, then it seems likely that the Joker might do the same. Some of the new Batman villains that were built in Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin run like Flamingo and Professor Pyg all represent an escalation in the perverse chaos of Gotham. If they begin to make themselves known in Gotham's future, perhaps the Joker will wind up right in the middle of it all, like usual.