- "Jack? Jack is dead, my friend. You can call me... Joker. And as you can see, I'm a lot happier."
- ―Joker to Carl Grissom[src]
Jack Napier was a Gotham City gangster and the second-in-command of crime boss Carl Grissom. Napier was disfigured during a confrontation with Batman in Axis Chemicals; he was shot in the face by a ricochet from his own pistol, which severed the nerves in his facial muscles, before falling into a vat of chemicals.
Calling himself the "Joker", he killed Grissom by playing target practice with him and usurped his criminal empire, killing his rival Antoine Rotelli with an electrical joy buzzer and striking down Vinnie Ricorso with a sharp feather pen. His first scheme was to spread terror in the city by creating hygiene products that could kill by fatal hilarity when used together, known as "Smylex." Following the death of a news anchor on-air, the city became paralyzed with fear.
He became Batman's first and greatest foe, and the two shared a secret past that made them greater enemies than either first realized.
- "Tell me, kid... you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight?"
- ―Jack Napier to Bruce Wayne[src]
Born in Brooklyn in early 1937, Napier would come to live in Gotham City. In his school years, Jack Napier proved himself to be emotionally unstable, but highly intelligent, showing aptitude in art, science, and chemistry. He also turned to a life of violent crime. When he was fifteen, Jack was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.
In 1963, as a young man at the age of twenty-six, he and his partner in crime mugged Bruce Wayne's parents, Dr. Thomas Wayne and his wife, Martha. When Thomas interceded to protect his family, Jack stepped from the shadows and shot both him and Martha in cold-blooded murder. Jack pulled the hammer back on his gun and next pointed it at Bruce. Jack inquired "Tell me kid, you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moon light?". Before Jack could fire, his panicked partner urged him to leave with the fear of the police arriving ("Let's go, Jack!"). Jack decided to spare the boy and left, saying, "See you around".
Little did he know that his prediction would come true - that he and Bruce would meet again someday.
Grissom's Number One Guy
Jack Napier became the right-hand man of Boss Carl Grissom. He often toyed with a deck of lucky cards, twirling the cards in small tricks. Napier entered into an affair with Grissom's girlfriend, Alicia HUnt, prompting the jealous crime lord to set his right-hand man up to be killed by the corrupt police officer Lt. Max Eckhardt at Axis Chemicals. When Grissom informed Napier of his entrusted task with stealing incriminating documents from the plant, Napier was again toying with his lucky deck. He turned a random card's face towards him as he inquired "me?". The card happened to be a Joker (which, coincidentally, would be the very thing he would later become).
Grissom's plan went awry thanks to intervention by both Batman and Commissioner James Gordon. After killing Eckhardt, and then catching a ricocheted bullet through his cheeks, in a panic Napier stepped off a catwalk over a vat of a toxic chemical. Though Batman caught Napier's arm and attempted to pull him back up to to safety, Napier's leather glove slipped through Batman's, and he plummeted into the chemical vat below him.
Napier survived, and was washed into Gotham Harbor by a drainage pipe. Still submerged, he stretched an arm upward through the water's surface, where his lucky deck lay floating. Jack Napier's long chemical submersion permanently wreaked a horrible toll: his hair follicles were altered so that they grew emerald green hair, his skin pigmentation was bleached chalk white, his soft flesh, such as his mouth and lips, were flushed ruby red.
After seeing the horrible result of his chemical encounter, Jack turned to a hack plastic surgeon, desperate to have his cheek wounds fixed. Despite going through the long and careful procedure, the surgeon informed Jack that he simply could not fix his face, due to both the sheer extent of the damage sustained and the surgeon's own lack of effective tools. Upset with the result, and reflecting on all that had transpired, Jack, though apparently trying at first to let it go and failing, lost touch with whatever sanity he had left. He began laughing maniacally and convulsively, and then smashes the mirror he held on the table that held the surgeon's tools, and stumbles out of the room, laughing into the night.
With his mind completely snapped after seeing his bizarre new appearance, he assumed the new identity of the Joker. He killed Grissom as revenge for setting him up and took over the crime lord's empire, engaging in a violent, chaotic crime spree, the motive being to "outdo" Batman, who he felt was getting too much press. During a mob summit with the rest of the crime lords, he claims that Grissom was just in hiding, and left him to be the acting president and declared that their action this anniversary is to "run the city into the ground".
However, most of the mob bosses, including Antoine Rotelli and Vinnie Ricorso, were suspicious of Jack Napier's apparent orders from Grissom, and Rotelli wondered what would happen if he said "no." Jack Napier then responded with a handshake and that would be it. Unfortunately for Rotellei, Jack Napier meant by that statement that it would be it for Rotellei, as he fried and electrocuted Rotellei with a lethal joy buzzer, horrifying the rest of the Mob bosses and with Jack Napier joking about his demise and laughing at it. After which, Rotellei thugs were taken control by the joker.
Jack then dismissed the mob as his own gang rushed in and held them at gunpoint. Joker then orders Bob the Goon to tail Alexander Knox, and then decides (by talking to Rotellei's charred corpse as if he were still alive) to "grease" all of the mob bosses at the summit. He then arrives at the City Hall and, after claiming that the check was written with a dead hand, murders Roscoe (who was claiming that Grissom landed him with the check with his signature) with his quill after claiming that he was his "Uncle Bingo" and has his mime faction of his gang open fire at the City Hall. And the he took control of Roscoes men.
Later on, the Joker and his gang defaced many of the paintings at the Flugelheim Museum. He also tried to woo Gotham Globe reporter Vicki Vale, Bruce Wayne's love interest. When Bruce learned about Joker, he was shocked about Jack Napier's survival, but when he attempted to protect Vale the next morning, upon hearing the Joker state "Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight" and surviving the Joker's gunshot with an impromptu bulletproof vest, he recalled the night of his parents murder and realized that Jack Napier was the gunman who murdered his parents, and that Napier was responsible for his oath to protect the innocent of Gotham as Batman.
Duel of the Freaks
Announcing on the television that he would be reigniting the previously cancelled Gotham City's 200th Anniversary Parade, The Joker threw twenty million dollars into the crowd. After that, he released a gas form of Smylex out of his balloons. Batman arrived in the Batwing and took away the balloons, releasing them in the night sky. Batman then made a strafing run on The Joker, but the crazed clown blew up the Batwing with explosive rounds fired from his long barreled gun. He then took Vicki Vale into Gotham Cathedral and forced her to dance with him. After walking up to the belfry, Batman, after defeating a small army of The Joker's men, confronts The Joker, and vows to kill him for murdering his parents years ago.
During their confrontation, Batman repeately beats up the Joker and manages to knock him off the balcony, but the Joker reached both his arms up, and managed to pull Batman and Vicki down, themselves holding on for life from a narrow ledge. Joker's helicopter arrived to retrieve him to safety. Batman used a grappling hook to tie Joker's ankle to a large, heavy gargoyle. Batman sealed The Joker's fate when he broke it loose.
Unable to break free from the heavy burden of the gargoyle, The Joker lost his grip on the helicopter's rope ladder and fell to his death, hitting the cathedral's flight of steps below hard, breaking every single bone in his body. He was 52 years old. Ironically, just a few seconds beforehand, he said "Sometimes I just kill myself!" Commissioner Gordon came upon the Joker's body, hearing a repetitive laugh. He reached into The Joker's coat and pulled out a laugh box that had been activated by the landing. After dying, his thugs were all arrested, and all of the remaining mob bosses struggled to regain power and by 1993 were all locked away.
For the next several years, Bruce continued to have bad memories and nightmares of Jack Napier killing his parents despite having avenged his parents' murder. These nightmares would eventually lead Bruce to seek help from Dr. Chase Meridian, who would help him to overcome his fears and give him the confidence to realize being Batman was a choice and not just a necessity.
- "Wait till they get a load of me."
The Joker was a sociopathic criminal. According to his psychological profile, he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon at age 15. It also states that he exhibits violent mood swings, was highly intelligent, and emotionally unstable.
- Master tactician: The Joker was a master strategist, and was noted by Carl Grissom for his "smart thinking" during his time as the latter's number one. When Harvey Dent threatened to make a connection with Grissom and Axis Chemicals, Joker suggested that they break into the place, trash the office, steal the records and say it was industrial espionage. Following his disfigurement, he took over Grissom's criminal empire and terrorized Gotham City through the use of hygiene products laced with Smylex. When Batman cracked the code to his poison, he lured Gotham's citizens to a parade with the promise of free money, in order to dose them with Smylex gas held within giant parade balloons.
- Expert marksman: The Joker was an expert in the use of firearms, particularly revolvers and flare pistols. He shot and killed Max Eckhardt from a long distance, as well as Carl Grissom from a short distance. Joker even managed to shoot down the Batwing.
- Colt New Service/Smith & Wesson Model 14: Joker used a revolver to mug Thomas and Martha Wayne in an alley, and proceeded to murder them. He later brought it to Axis Chemicals, where he was briefly disarmed by Batman. Joker later gave the revolver to one of his goons.
- Smith & Wesson Model 1: Joker used a revolver to shoot Bruce Wayne, but he survived due to a serving tray under his shirt.
- Smith & Wesson Model 15-3: Joker used a revolver with a 21-inch barrel to shoot down the Batwing. He later used it to hold Vicki Vale at gunpoint.
- Krieghoff Model L: Joker used a flare pistol to shoot his television, then handed it to Bob.
Behind the scenes
In Sam Hamm's version of the story, Joker was supposed to let go from the helicopter ladder to his death due to bats swarming on him from the Bell Tower and not from a gargoyle being tethered to his leg. A similar fate was eventually used for the Penguin in Batman Returns, due to the advancement of computer animation by 91.
A multitude of actors were considered for the role of The Joker before Nicholson's casting. David Bowie, Tim Curry, Brad Dourif, Willem Dafoe, Robert DeNiro, Crispin Glover, Ray Liotta, Robin Williams and James Woods were all considered. John Lithgow auditioned for the part, but during his audition, attempted to talk Tim Burton out of casting him, which would be something he would later regret. Lithgow was also director Joe Dante's first choice for the role of The Joker when he was attached to direct the film in the early 1980's.[
When Warner Bros. approached Nicholson for the Joker, he originally was very hesitant. Afterwards, Warner Bros. approached Robin Williams, but it turned out that it was just a trick, trying to get Nicholson to accept.
- In two 1992 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker's name is positively identified by lawful authorities as Jack Napier. The first was "Dreams in Darkness", in which a doctor at Arkham mentions the name among several other notable patients, like Harvey Dent. The second was "Joker's Wild", which showed Batman looking through a file on him with his name shown next to some headshots.
- Later in the 1993 film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it is revealed that Napier was a mob hitman like the film. Napier is shown in flashback as the murderer of Bruce's love interest's father, causing her to seek him out as a murderous vigilante.
- In a 1993 Legends of the Dark Knight story by Denny O'Neil, titled "Images", the Joker's cousin Melvin Reipan is introduced. "Reipan" is "Napier" spelled backwards.
- In 2001's Gotham Noir, the character is referred to by the name Jack Napier exclusively.
- In the 2007 Countdown to Final Crisis #31, Mark Waid and Brian Bolland did a two-page feature called "The Origin of the Joker". The pages recount Joker's origins, with Joker holding up three cards to reader displaying a different identity. A image of Jack Napier in Axis Chemicals is on the second card, and he is referred to as a "killer named Napier." The first card presents Joker as Alan Moore's unnamed failed comedian and the third simply as the leader of the Red Hood gang as in the original origin. DC later used this as the official origin presented on their various websites, and is distributed for free.
- In the 2019 Batwoman episode "I'll Be Judge, I'll Be Jury", the presumed deceased Joker's name is given as Jack Napier.
- According to the wanted posters handed out by Lt. Eckhardt at Axis Chemical Co, Jack Napier was born in Brooklyn. It also states that he is 6'0" tall
- In the canceled sequel to Batman & Robin, named Batman Unchained the Joker would have returned as a hallucination caused by the Scarecrow's fear toxin. Harley Quinn would have also appeared as his daughter trying to get revenge on Batman for his role in his death.
- The Joker's line "Take thy beak from out my heart" (said at Vale's apartment) is from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". The full line is Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! (the "beak" being of the raven)
- The Joker (as Jack Napier, the mugger of Bruce Wayne's parents) appears in Batman Forever as part of Bruce Wayne's nightmares. These nightmares lead to Bruce getting help from Doctor Chase Meridian.