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Inside the Joker’s Evolution: Meet Every Actor Who Has Played Batman’s Main Supervillain Foe

As Todd Phillips‘ Joker breaks October box office records and provides actor Joaquin Phoenix one of the most critically-lauded parts of his career, it also serves as a reminder that as popular as Batman is, his long-standing arch enemy is also being embraced by the public in a major way. In a sense, he always has been — whether in the form of the late Cesar Romero on the Adam West Batman TV series of the 1960s, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, Mark Hamill voicing the character in various animated TV shows and films, the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad or, now, Joaquin. For the most part where Batman has treaded, the Joker hasn’t been far behind.

“I go back to the Stan Lee theory of supervillains, which is that the longest-lasting and most successful superheroes have been those who have had the greatest supervillains,” offers Michael Uslan, comic historian and producer of every Batman movie since the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton in the title role of Gotham’s caped crusader. “Arguably, Batman has the greatest supervillain in history in the form of the Joker. He is inspired by the old silent film from German cinema, The Man Who Laughs. It is that carnival mask of a clown that hides the horror lurking below the surface. To have him pitted against the good guy who is in the mask of the horrific, nightmarish bat is an interesting reversal.”

Warner Bros

The creation of the Joker is generally credited to Batman’s co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger along with Jerry Robinson, the character having launched about a year after the hero was introduced in the pages of Detective Comics in 1939. He’s been through all of the ebbs and flows of Batman’s popularity over the past 80 years.

Writer Paul Dini, who has written extensively for comics and television, and was one of the guiding forces behind Batman: The Animated Series, notes that the Joker “has the malleability that Batman does. You can put him in any situation, whether it’s a lighthearted story or a very dark, pitch-black type of story and his sense of humor and cutting cleverness will shine through. It’s only when you mock the character, as it is with Batman, that you lose a sense of who the character is. My own theory is that the Joker likes bringing the laughter, but he hates being laughed at or mocked. Like with Batman, when you mock him, you make him silly.”

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