WASHINGTON — Batman is celebrating his 75th birthday this year, which means the Joker is celebrating 74 years of torturing the caped crusader.
Throughout their conjoined history, the two enemies have evolved side-by-side. In certain canons — such as the “Dark Knight” series — both characters are victims of loss and tragedy. But while Bruce Wayne channels his angst and wealth into becoming Batman and fighting crime, the Joker is overcome with grief after his wife leaves him or after falling into a vat of chemicals, depending on which version you’re reading or seeing.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his facial scarring, the Joker succumbs to his anger. It fuels a dark and twisted flame that eventually transforms the man into a warped psychopath.
The Joker was first introduced in 1940 by Batman creators Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane. He started out as a criminal mastermind with a sadistic sense of humor, but was then turned into a goofy prankster in the 1950s after being deemed a bad influence on children.
By the 1960s, the Joker was a household name thanks to Adam West and the hit TV show, which continues to inspire a cult following.
But in the 1970s the character returned to the dark side, and has grown more sinister year after year thanks to Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Tim Burton adaptation.
The Joker’s most twisted on-screen portrayal came in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” courtesy of Heath Ledger, who turned the would-be prankster into a sinister creature determined to destroy everyone in his wake.
Amazingly, the Joker’s current comic book incarnation is even more terrifying than Ledger’s Joker. Thanks to illustrator Greg Capullo, the villain is barely human. In fact, his face has been cut off.
“We had to reattach the face, but how could we do it?” Capullo asks rhetorically.
“First off, it’s no longer on ice, so it’s in a constant state of deterioration. So there’s a belt that wraps around and connects it to the temples and fish hooks that go through the corners of the mouth, go around the ear and connect to everything else.”
If it sounds disgusting, that’s because it is. This is by far the grossest Joker to ever be created. Interestingly, it has also made Capullo a rock star.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. A little bit. A tiny bit,” Capullo jokes at the 2014 Baltimore Comic-Con, where a long line wound throughout the main hall.
It is filled with fans waiting, very patiently, to meet the New York-based artist and get his autograph. Holding court in his characteristic black T- shirt and dark sunglasses, Capullo greets the masses warmly and enthusiastically.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” he says, adding that the Joker will continue to deteriorate.
“As the story progresses, the colors start to look more putrid and start having flies buzzing around,” Capullo says. “He’s really disgusting in a really charming way.”
Some fans fear that the image of the Joker has been tarnished after the character’s name was invoked in real-life murders.
James Holmes called himself the Joker before storming into a Colorado movie theater during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and killing 12 people and injuring 58.
Director Christopher Nolan spoke out after the tragedy, attempting to separate the fictional character from what happened in Colorado.
“I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime,” Nolan told The Huffington Post.
“The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
The Joker’s reputation has since rebounded, and rumors are already spreading that the super villain might make an appearance in the Fox network show “Gotham.” Stay tuned for more mischief from the caped crusader and his arch enemy.
Follow @WTOP and WTOP Entertainment on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.