The Joker is a fictional Supervillain created by 3 men: Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson. The caped crusader's greatest foe first appeared in the debut issue of DC's comic book Batman: April 25th. 1940. Credit for The Joker's creation is hotly disputed between the 3 artists but I believe all 3 of these talented, game changing gents deserve intellectual ownership of The Joker itself. To Kane & Robinson's design and look of the arch trickster, to Finger's chilling depiction of a twisted character psychology, which allowed his peers imagery to come to life.
So The Joker began his life in comics as a criminal mastermind. He was as shocking as he was alluring and introduced new levels of narrative possibilities and conceptual universes colliding. The Joker's main characteristic was insanity but it was never diagnosed and furthermore, never has been.
He shows all of the attributes of a true psychopath: a complete lack of empathy, no conscious remorse for his actions and no moral compass to determine between white and black, good and evil, right and wrong. The Joker has also shown to process new stimulus and information by adapting his personality to it. This allows him to create a new persona for each situation to suit his ends. This is part of the reason why he is presented as either a mischievous clown or a devious psychopath. The character matrix of The Joker is so in-depth and nuanced that he was awarded a place in The Top Comic Villains of all time. As well as a place in the top, literary villains of history. The Comics Code Authority of the 1950's put a stop to the trickster's violent and villainous fun however.
The Comics Code Authority, or The Comics Code, was formed in 1954 as an alternative to government regulation, which allowed comic publishers to self-regulate the content of comic books in the United States. Commonly referred to as “The Code”, it held influence over comic-book content up to the early 21st Century. By the early 2000's more contemporary publishers were by-passing the CCA and in 2001 Marvel Comics had forgone its guidelines completely. By 2010 only DC Comics, Archie Comics & Bongo Comics were the only major publishers that still adhered to The Code.
Government regulation, in partnership with the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA), came about due to widespread concern over the gory, horrific and sexual nature of comic-book content in the 40's & early 50's. This 'code of moral content' banned graphic depictions of violence and gore in crime and horror comics. Friedrick Wertham's 1954 book 'Seduction of the Innocent' boosted this campaign of moral indignation, arguing that the general content of comic-books was harmful to children; who at the time were the audience for comic-books.
The Senate Sub-Committee on Juvenile Delinquency held hearings in court during 1954 and focused specifically on comic-books. This naturally had many publishers concerned and it compelled them to form a self-regulatory body instead. - The “Comic Codes Authority”.
Before the CCA was certified, some cities had already staged burnings of comic-books and had banned them from the shelves of comic-book stores and news-agents alike. So the CCA came about not to bow down to censorship but to allow comic-book artists to continue to practice and live off their craft. And, considering the fact that most distributors reused to carry titles that did not bear the CCA official seal, they really had no choice but to adhere to The Code.
Crime and Horror comic-books were the main victims of The Code's oppression. The CCA's main tenant for appropriate content was that “in every instance good shall triumph over evil”. Also, the Code was highly opposed to “instances of law enforcement officers dying as a result of a criminal's activities”. Sexual innuendo and the depiction of sexual violence was also banned outright and echoing the “Hollywood Production Code” love stories emphasising 'the sanctity of marriage” were highly encouraged.
In 1971, The Code was revised a number of times, eventually allowing the “sympathetic depiction of criminal and corruption of public officials” as long as the instances were cited as rare and the culprit(s) were punished in a satisfying manner. Essentially, The Code eventually allowed comic-books to portray crime, violence and sex as long as it was displayed as aberrant behavior and the perpetrators were punished by the powers-that-be thus upholding and maintaining the status-quo.
During the 80's & 90's the influence of The Code heavily waned and by the 2000's, with the help of Underground Comics enjoying artistic freedom since the 60's & 70's and the introduction of comic-books for “Mature Readers” i.e. Graphic Novels (Neil Gaiman's the Sandman leading the charge) by comic giants such as DC's Vertigo & Marvel's Epic Comics, The Code had reached its final days of moral authority. Marvel Comics abandoned The Code entirely in 2001 in favour of its own, age-based rating system. In 2011 DC Comics followed suit and with Bongo Comics having already abandoned The Code and Archie Comics following suit a day after DC Comics, the CCA code and its official seal, was now officially and thankfully defunct.
And how did The Joker fare during these oppressive times to comic-book entertainment? He adapted of course. He adapted to the new information and stimulus of each new scenario he found himself written into and used it towards his unending goal of challenging Batman, not killing him, but challenging him. It is important to realise the fact that The Joker can never actually die while Batman, itself, exists. As co-creator Jerry Robinson points out, he conceived The Joker as an “exotic, enduring arch-villain who could repeatedly challenge Batman.” The Joker is not interested in killing Batman at all, because he sees him as Batman and nothing else; as he knows he himself is The Joker and nothing else. Masked or not, he knows that Batman is the counterpoint to his existence and without the 'game' that they have played and shared for decades, The Joker knows that his or 'its' existence is without purpose without the caped crusader attempting to foil his insane plans and so do the authors who have brought The Joker to life over the years. From the psychopath of the formative years, to the prankster clown of the TV series (1966-68), to the darker, more esoteric representations of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Series and Grant Morrisons & Dave Mckean's Arkham Asylum: A serious House on Serious Earth, the initial concept for The Joker, an ever-changeable, enduring villain, has been maintained to suit the cultural tastes and foibles of the time. Whether he is an aristocratic clown, a slit-faced psycho with a penshun for chaos or a tatted up gang boss with an equally psycho partner, The Jokeer will continue to adapt to the time he was written into and use this new information and stimulus to change himself to suit his own ultimate and perpetual end – make Batman's life a living hell!
Gene Von Banyard's The Joker
by Gene Von Banyard