No one embodies all that is noble and good as the iconic Dark Knight more than the brilliant British comic book creator, writer, and artist, Alan Moore. His influence can be seen in films like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and upcoming Batman vs. The Joker. But what was Moore’s connection to Batman? How did he contribute to the legend? Where did he come from?
Alan Moore: Creator Of The Dark Knight
It was in the pages of the groundbreaking comic books The Outsiders and V for Vendetta that Alan Moore first showed the world what was supposed to be Batman’s famous fight against the Joker. Moore’s take on the iconic villain was far from the typical depiction we know today. In fact, Moore redefined what it meant to be a ‘Joker’ or a ‘Batman villain’ altogether.
The creator of Miracleman and The Watchmen was inspired by a desire to put a “spin on the Batman mythos” and to reimagine what a Joker might look like in the 21st century. Moore described his vision for the Clown Prince of Crime: “I wanted to take the idea of the Joker and the idea of Batman’s fights and put them together, but with a twist – that the Joker would be a force for good and the Batman an agent of chaos.” It’s a bold assertion that the greatest comic book villain of all time is, in fact, a hero. And it was an assertion that would resonate with audiences around the world.
With the exception of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight III: The Master Plan, Moore’s work on the character established a precedent for other creators. In 2006, Moore famously referred to the character as a “lionized sheep” in an interview with The Guardian.
The Birth Of The Villain
Like many great comic book characters, the Joker emerged from the gray area between good and evil. Depending on which version you read, he was either the illegitimate child of Edward Nygma and Alice B. Toklas, or the result of a military experiment. There was also a story in which the Joker was created out of a combination of arsenic and mustard gas.
The story, which initially appeared in the 1967 Batman: The Movie serial, was that of a Gotham City doctor, Dr. Phillip Potter. After performing an appendectomy on a robber named Jack Napier (modeled after the infamous “Jack the Ripper”), the foolhardy doctor took a drink and fell into a drunken stupor. While in this state, the Joker – Napier’s accomplice in crime – cut the helpless doctor’s throat, killing him. However, in the next scene, Dr. Potter is shown to be alive, albeit brutally disfigured. While he’s recovering, other patients at the hospital become afraid of him, and one tries to strangle him.
This version of the Joker is very different from the rest. He is not motivated by spite or anger, but by a desire to help those who fear him. Although he is not above harming others to further his goals, he sees it as a last resort.
This interpretation of the Joker would be the basis for the majority of the stories that followed. The character’s next appearance was in the story arc, “A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” from Batman #233 to #236 (May 1969 to October 1969). At this point, the Joker was characterized by writer Bill Finger as “a hunchback with [a] withered left arm…[and an] affliction with laughter.” As the character continued to develop, however, he became a far more complex figure.
In general, the early versions of the Joker were more sophisticated, often appearing in full-length evening gowns and sporting pearl neckties and diamond Studs. Later, in a nod to his circus background, Joker would sport circus-themed clothing and wield a whip (also referred to as a “bone”).
The Rise Of The Clown Prince
The concept of the “Clown Prince of Crime” is as old as Batman himself. In the early days, the Caped Crusader battled a veritable army of cartoonish villains, including two-headed monsters, cavemen from the Stone Age, and Frankenstein’s monsters. The villainous cast of these comics was sometimes referred to as the “Sauron Guard.”
This early version of the Joker, called the “Grand Comic Book Theory,” was developed by artist Dick Giordano and writer Bill Finger. He first appeared in Detective Comics #45 (December 1943). This was later confirmed to be the same character that appeared in Batman’s early days, leading to the moniker, “The original heart-eyed monster.”
The Dark Knight
The first live-action adaptation of Moore’s brilliant comics was, in fact, a television movie that aired in Japan in 1969. Described as a combination of Akira and The Omega Man, the film, called Villainy, featured Japanese actor Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the Joker. The rest is history.
The first theatrical installment of Batman came out just two years later, in 1971. The film was directed by Bob Kane and stars Kirk Douglas as the Caped Crusader and Yvonne Blake as the Joker. Like many great DC Comics characters before him, the Joker was originally based on a personality disorder. In this case, the disorder was known as “sadistic personality disorder.”
When the movie was released, it was met with positive reviews and became something of a box office hit. However, the same could not be said for Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is considered by many to be the franchise’s true beginning. This is largely thanks to its controversial take on the Batman character and the addition of blood and gore as a regular feature, both present in the upcoming Batman vs. The Joker.
The Decline Of The Clown Prince
Shortly after the release of The Dark Knight in theaters, the Joker’s popularity began to decline. This was largely because of the film’s controversial graphic novelization, which hit stores exactly one year after the theatrical release. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, Batman: The Killing Joke details one of the most iconic scenes from the movie. In it, Batman unmasks the Joker as he attempts to assassinate him. With each successive reveal, the artwork becomes more and more bloody as the Joker continues to suffer from his own personal vices: whisky, pills, and prostitutes. The Killing Joke would become Moore’s final work on the character. He has since acknowledged that he was very dissatisfied with the way the Joker was written in this adaptation, saying it “wasn’t anywhere near as interesting or witty as the original version.”
This graphic novel version of the Joker is very different from the early TV series or the comics that came before it. While some saw it as a gritty exploration of a character’s descent into madness, others saw it as a betrayal – not only of Moore’s work, but also of the fans’ trust in him. This divergence of opinion is emblematic of how complex the Joker really is.
Even today, the Joker remains one of the most recognizable – and controversial – characters in all of comic book history. He was the inspiration for the PlayStation game, The Last of Us, due in part to his “unique blend of menace and humor.” In the games, the player takes on the role of an animated version of the Joker, recruiting various animated characters to join their team before ultimately facing off against the player, who becomes the animated version of Batman.
In short, whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that the Joker had a massive impact on pop culture. And while his importance may seem to have been overshadowed by that of his arch-nemesis, Batman, it has, in fact, fueled his popularity and continue to do so even today.