The Joker is one of the most iconic characters in pop culture. With his witty sayings, cunning plans, and distinctive laugh, the villainous character has been appearing in various mediums, from movies to TV shows to anime, for decades.

In the newest DC Comics adaptation of Batman, the Joker is present in a major way. The Dark Knight’s latest adventure finds him teaming up with Harley Quinn (voiced by Carrie Sheridan), Poison Ivy (played by Robin Hood’s sister Liv Verotik), and Racoon Jade (voiced by Grey Garth). Together, this lethal quartet pursues a nefarious scheme that pits them against Gotham’s finest. The villainous alliance forms after a chance meeting between the disparate groups. As one would expect, the Joker is not exactly the most diplomatic of creatures, and much of the dialogue and action in the first issue is centered around his explosive nature and deranged plans. (More on these plans as we go along.)

The Joker’s Early Life

The Joker’s origin is one of the most well-known in fiction. Created by author DC Comics creator Marvin ‘Doc’ Millar and artist–writer Dan Merril, the character first appeared as a minor criminal whom millionaire playboy Jack Travis (later turned superhero Batman’s adversary The Joker) decided to track down and punish. On Halloween night in 1939, Joker pulled a heist that went terribly wrong. As a result, he spent several years in prison, during which time he became a habitual criminal and hardened his tremendous belligerence. (Some versions of the story say that his mother was a murderer and that the murderous acts committed by her and his father were what landed the young Joker in jail in the first place.)

Upon his release in 1952, the self-proclaimed ‘King of Crime’ headed for New York City, where Batman, hoping to be the hero that night to save women and children from robbery and violence, jousted with the villain for several issues. (Batman (Vol. 1) #1–5)

The Joker’s appearance has changed over the years. But the basic idea behind the character has remained consistent. According to Jason Palmieri of the Owens Corning Campus Life blog, ‘The Joker’s M.O. is to confuse and disorientate his enemies so that they cannot track down his trail of crime.’ This approach has served him well since the beginning—he has committed countless robberies, arrested countless people, and killed an undetermined number of his victims. And let’s not forget—this is a character who once insisted that he was indeed the world’s greatest genius and that his mind was far too complex for the average person to fathom.

The Joker in the New 52

In 2005, DC Comics rebooted its entire line of comics as part of a major revamp. One of the most recognizable reboots was the new Batman series, which took the legendary Dark Knight and reimagined him as a grim nihilist whose mission in life is to stop crime and punish his enemies. (Some versions of the story say that Batman is a cynical anti-hero who only pretends to enforce morality as a ruse to sow confusion and chaos among his enemies for his own amusement.)

The new Batman series’ artists, Riley Redlin and Scott Mann, have recreated the character’s design from the very beginning, stripping him of all past identity that might be confusing or inconsistent with the new darker and more cynical Batman.

The Joker’s first appearance in the new Batman universe is not a direct reflection of the traditional Batman (Vol. 1) #1–5 version of the character, but it’s still based on the original design. In a time when traditional art styles and visual representations of pop culture are being questioned and replaced by more contemporary and counter-culture ways of seeing the world, it’s fitting that the new Batman series is refreshing our view of one of the most iconic figures in popular culture.

Why Harley Quinn?

While we’re on the subject of popular culture’s most famous demons and villains, it’s worth mentioning that Harley Quinn, the Harley Joker’s crazy romantic interest in the hero, is one of the most tricky relationships in pop culture. As with the Joker, Harley’s appearance has evolved over the years—she started out as a striking yet harmless devil honey trap, and then, as the series went on, she gained fangs and claw hands, a screaming parrot for a head, and eventually became a complete character unto herself. (Though in the most recent revisions of the character she returned to managing a pet store with her husband, Darling Duke (voiced by James Marsden), for several issues in the first half of the new Harley Quinn series (Harley Quinn (Vol. 1) #1–12, #14–24).)

Who is Racoon Jade?

Racoon Jade, like the other characters discussed so far, is a character whose appearance has changed over the years. But the original Racoon Jade was a black singer who had the lion as a symbol on his album cover—a reference to his song, ‘Jadu Lacoste,’ which means ‘Lion Soothsayer’ in Louisiana Creole.