The Unsettling Evolution of The Joker

With the release of the Todd Phillips film Joker, Debra Minoff and Susannah McCullough of The Take explore incredibly unsettling evolution of the The Joker since his introduction as a Batman villain in 1940. They specifically look at the editorial inspirations behind the Joker alongside the origin story of the character himself, noting how this lack of a personal history makes the Joker enigmatic to the extreme.

Where did the character of the Joker come from? And what makes him one of the most iconic villains ever? We retrace the history that led all the way up to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, and figure out just what exactly is behind that disturbing smile.

They also examine how the Joker was depicted and perceived by audiences throughout the years. His hysterical depravity waning and waxing in accordance with various restrictions by different government regulations, the medium in which he was portrayed and the actors who played the role.

As the age of comics readers drifted downward the stories grew softer and, after the panic over comic books influence on young readers led to a 1954 Senate hearing and the self-censoring Comics Code Authority, they grew softer still. What place did a psychopathic mass murderer have in this puritanical environment The Joker adapted by turning into a sillier, less lethal character and this would set up a question that’s come into play with all Joker’s sense to what extent should this clownish villain be truly scary versus enjoyably playful or even likable?