Joker (Jack Napier)

Jack Napier, also known as the Joker, is a fictional character introduced in the 1989 superhero film Batman, directed by Tim Burton. Primarily portrayed by Jack Nicholson, the character was based on the iconic supervillain the Joker.[1] His name is a play on the word Jackanapes, also a reference to the names Jack Nicholson and Alan Napier (who portrayed Alfred Pennyworth in the 1960s Batman TV series).[2][3][4] This depiction is notable for being one of the first adaptations of the character to have a distinct first and last name, as well as one of the few instances which show his origins. This iteration of the Joker is a psychopathic mobster who serves as the right-hand man of Gotham City crime boss Carl Grissom, until the latter attempts to have Napier killed. The Joker returns in the 2002–2003 television series Birds of Prey, an alternate continuation of Batman Returns (1992), where portrayed by Roger Stoneburner and voiced by Mark Hamill, he is revealed to have survived the events of Batman, before becoming romantically involved with his former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Following the incorporation of Batman and Batman Returns into the continuity of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) with The Flash (2023) via the plot elements of time travel and the multiverse, retconning the events of Birds of Prey, with the 2019–2020 crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths similarly establishing the latter series to take place on an alternate Earth; whether Napier is still the Joker in place of the DCEU's original Joker (portrayed by Jared Leto) is left unknown.

Jack Napier
Tim Burton's Batman, Birds of Prey, the Murphyverse, and Batwoman character
Jack Napier Joker.jpeg
First appearanceBatman (1989)
Last appearance"Pilot" (Birds of Prey, 2002)
Based on
Adapted by
Portrayed byJack Nicholson
Voiced byMark Hamill (Batman: The Animated Series, Birds of Prey)
In-universe information
Full nameJack Napier
Significant othersHarley Quinn (Birds of Prey)
HomeGotham City

Ever since Nicholson's portrayal in the film, the name Jack Napier has been used by various adaptations of the character, including Batman: The Animated Series and Batwoman, in which he is respectively voiced and portrayed by Mark Hamill and Nathan Dashwood, and the Murphyverse. This interpretation of the character is also responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the parents of Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne, in Batman, and for the paralysation of Barbara Gordon and the apparent death of Selina Kyle, in Birds of Prey.[5][6]

Fictional character biographyEdit

Early lifeEdit

Even as a child, Jack Napier was psychologically unstable, but extremely intelligent, showing an advanced knowledge of chemistry, art and science; he was also in and out of juvenile detention facilities for crimes such as arson, assault, and grand theft auto. Napier was charged with assault with a deadly weapon at age 15.

As a young man, Napier and his accomplice Joe Chill rob and murder Thomas and Martha Wayne in the alleyway behind the Monarch Theatre, leaving their young son Bruce as the only survivor. Napier prepares to kill Bruce as well, saying to the boy, "Have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moon light?" - his favorite thing to say right before killing someone. Chill entreats him to run before the police arrive, however, so Napier spares Bruce and leaves, saying in passing, "See ya around, kid."[7]

Becoming the JokerEdit

Napier prior to his disfigurement

Years later, Napier moves up in the ranks of the Gotham City mafia, eventually becoming the right-hand-man of crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). Napier is noted for having a signature deck of cards, with a bullet hole through each card. Napier privately dislikes Grissom, dismissing him as a "tired old man", and carries on an affair with his boss' moll, Alicia Hunt (Jerry Hall). Grissom finds out about the affair, and sets him up to be killed by Lt. Max Eckhardt (William Hootkins), a Gotham City Police Department cop on his payroll, at Axis Chemicals, where he sends Napier under the pretense of destroying incriminating documents.

Grissom's plan fails, as Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle) intervenes, as does the masked vigilante, Batman (Michael Keaton). Napier kills Eckhart and shoots at Batman, who deflects the bullet with one of his gauntlets, ricocheting it into a gauge, causing glass to fly into Napier’s face. Reeling from the pain, Napier loses his balance and falls into a vat of chemicals. Napier survives, but the chemicals turn his skin chalk white, his lips red, and his hair green, while a botched attempt at plastic surgery leaves him with a permanent rictus grin. Driven insane by his reflection, Napier - now calling himself "Joker" - kills Grissom and takes over his criminal empire.

Styling himself as " The World’s First Fully-Functioning Homicidal Artist", Joker becomes obsessed with "outdoing" Batman, who he believes is stealing the spotlight from him. Aided by his right-hand man Bob (Tracey Walter), Joker begins poisoning cosmetic products with "Smylex", a chemical agent that causes its victims to laugh hysterically as they die, leaving their corpses with a permanent smile. He also turns Alicia into one of his "masterpieces" by disfiguring her face and drugging her into submission; she eventually commits suicide.

Joker also becomes obsessed with photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), and attacks her while she meets with her boyfriend, billionaire Bruce Wayne - Batman's alter ego. Believing Wayne to be harmless, Joker taunts him with his signature line and shoots him. Wayne had been wearing body armor, however, and survives; he also recognizes Napier as his parents' killer.

Downfall and deathEdit

Joker announces via television broadcast that he plans to give out $20 million at Gotham City's 200th anniversary parade, and challenges Batman to meet him there. Joker keeps his promise of giving away the money, before releasing an airborne toxic version of Smylex onto the crowd via parade floats, killing dozens of people. Batman arrives in the Batwing and dispatches of the balloons before Joker shoots the plane out of the sky with a revolver with a custom 21-inch barrel,[8] causing it to crash on the steps of the Gotham Cathedral.

Joker kidnaps Vale and takes her to the belfry of the cathedral, where Batman confronts him; during the ensuing struggle, they admit that they "made each other" after Napier remembers that night in the alley and realizes Batman is Wayne. Batman manages to knock Joker off the balcony, only for him to drag Batman and Vale down with him, leaving them dangling off the ledge. Joker taunts the two of them as a helicopter piloted by his henchmen arrives to take him to safety. Batman fires a grappling hook around Joker's leg, tying him to a gargoyle. The gargoyle eventually breaks free from its foundations, sending Joker falling to his death. Gordon finds Joker's corpse, with an activated laugh-box in his pocket. In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the reality Joker lived on is dubbed "Earth-89".[9]

Alternate versionsEdit

War with BatmanEdit

In a parallel universe, the Joker survived his fall and was imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, where he is put under the care of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara), who after attempting to "cure" him of his insanity over several years, before falling in love with him and breaking him out of prison, where the Joker and Batman continued their "secret night war" in what would become "New Gotham City" for many years. After Batman manages to have Joker was taken into police custody instead of Arkham, and successfully dissolving his criminal empire, the Joker decides to seek a final night of "Joker's Revenge" (planned by Quinzel) before retiring, escaping from custody again and hiring Clayface (Kirk Baltz) to kill Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), before going to the apartment of Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (Dina Meyer) and personally shooting her in the spine, paralysing her. As Batman retires in grief, the Joker happily gives himself up to be incarcerated in a maximum security prison far away from New Gotham. Years later, Quinzel returns to New Gotham to seize control of the criminal underworld in the name of "Mr. J" as "Harley Quinn", while attempting to destroy the newly-formed crimefighting vigilante group known as the Birds of Prey, consisting of a wheelchair-bound Barbara (now going by Oracle), Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), and Batman's and Catwoman's daughter Helena Kyle / Huntress (Ashley Scott).

In Crisis on Infinite Earths, this alternate future of "Earth-89" is dubbed "Earth-203".



Several actors were considered for the role of the Joker before Nicholson was cast. Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, Ray Liotta, David Bowie, and James Woods were all considered. Burton initially wanted to cast character actor John Glover (who would later appear in Batman & Robin as Dr. Jason Woodrue and work in Batman: The Animated Series as Riddler). Burton also considered Brad Dourif;[10][11] but ultimately the studio insisted on using a bankable movie star.[12] John Lithgow met with Burton about the part, but during their discussion attempted to talk the budding director 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 1980s.[13] Jack Nicholson had been the studio's top choice since 1980. Jon Peters approached Nicholson as far back as 1986, during filming of The Witches of Eastwick. Peter Guber took Burton and Nicholson on a horseback riding excursion in Aspen to get the pair acquainted and convince him to take the role. Nicholson's contract featured an "off-the-clock" agreement, specifying the number of hours he could have off, and allowed him to take time off to attend Los Angeles Lakers home games.[14][15][16][17][18]


As a part of Nicholson's contract, he was allowed to have approval over the makeup designer to create the look of the character. Nicholson chose Nick Dudman as his makeup designer. Dudman used an acrylic-based makeup for the bleached white face. Dudman cited the scene in the art gallery where Napier gets splashed with water by Vicki Vale as being the most difficult effect to achieve. To create the smile, Dudman did a regular face cast of Nicholson with a relaxed face, then asked him to do another one while pulling the largest grin he could muster. Dudman attempted to sculpt a smile that was always there but would take full effect when Nicholson smiled in the makeup; he also worked to ensure that the prosthetics wouldn't dilute Nicholson's face.[19][20]

The character's origin in the film of falling into a vat of chemicals was inspired by the then-recent graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore. However, certain elements of the character's origin were changed, including making him having been a gangster rather than a failed stand-up comedian, and cutting the Red Hood persona from the character. Napier is seen to have always been a criminal, having been responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, rather than Joe Chill, who instead serves as his accomplice.[21][22]

Planned returnEdit

In the cancelled fifth film in the series, titled Batman Unchained, Nicholson was intended to return as the character via hallucinations from Scarecrow's Fear Toxins. The character of Harley Quinn was also rumoured to have been involved in the story, and this adaptation was supposed to be the character's daughter, rather than girlfriend, who was seeking revenge on Batman for the death of her father.[23] However, due to the critical and commercial failure of Batman & Robin, the project was cancelled. The Batman series would be rebooted in 2005 by director Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins. The sequel to the film, The Dark Knight, featured the Joker portrayed by actor Heath Ledger. Ledger died before the film's release, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor posthumously.[24][25] Nicholson was among many who praised Ledger's performance.

In other mediaEdit

  • Batman: The Animated Series, which was partially modeled after the 1989 film, implies that Jack Napier, could be either an alias or Joker's actual name as seen in the episode "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne". The New Batman Adventures episode "Beware the Creeper" also hints at the same possibility when reporter Jack Ryder is at Ace Chemicals, during the seventh year anniversary of Joker's birth at Ace Chemicals giving an account of his history.[citation needed]
  • Birds of Prey, an alternate continuation of Batman Returns (1992), reveals Napier (now portrayed by Roger Stoneburner and voiced by Mark Hamill) to have survived the events of Batman, becoming romantically involved with his psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel in prison, before on the night of "Joker's Revenge", escaping prison and orchestrating the apparent assassination of Bruce Wayne / Batman's wife Selina Kyle (the former Catwoman) in front of their daughter Helena and personally paralysing Wayne's protégé Barbara Gordon, ending her career as Batgirl, and causing Wayne to retire as Batman. By the time of the main events of the series, Napier is imprisoned in a maximum security prison outside of New Gotham, while Quinzel (now going by "Harley Quinn") returns to the city to secretly oppose the vigilante group known as the Birds of Prey who have formed to protect Gotham in Batman's absence, consisting of Helena (as Huntress), Barbara (as Oracle), and Dinah Redmond, a touch-telepath metahuman drawn to New Gotham and to Helena and Barbara by visions of "Joker's Revenge".
  • The design of the character was also used as an inspiration for Jeremiah Valeska, portrayed by Cameron Monaghan on the television series Gotham up until the series finale episode "The Beginning...".[26]
  • The Jack Napier version of Joker is featured in the TV series set in the Arrowverse portrayed by Nathan Dashwood.
    • In the Arrowverse television crossover "Crisis on Infinite Earths", establishing that the setting of Batman and its sequel Batman Returns as existing on a parallel Earth to the Arrowverse series. During the first part of the crossover, it is stated on the headline of a newspaper read by Alexander Knox that "Batman Captures Joker" despite the latter supposedly having been dead for years since the film's events, implying either that someone may have succeeded Napier as the Joker, that Napier has been resurrected, or that Napier never actually died.[27]
    • In the pilot episode of Batwoman, Joker was responsible for the bus hijacking that was responsible for running Gabi Kane's car off the bridge despite Batman's attempt to save them. In the episode "I'll Be Judge, I'll Be Jury," a television news report makes a passing reference to Jack Napier as the real name of The Joker where he was prosecuted by assistant district attorney Angus Stanton.[28] The episode "A Narrow Escape" implied that Joker died in battle against Batman.[29] In the episode "Bat Girl Magic," an image on Kate Kane's salvaged cellphone shows a portrait that was defaced with Safiyah Sohail's name. Jacob Kane finds that the portrait was made by Jack Napier. The episode "A Lesson from Professor Pyg" revealed that Jada Jet's son Marquis was attacked in the head by Joker's joy buzzer during his bus hijacking which caused Marquis to develop some sociopath tendencies. The episode "Broken Toys" revealed that Joker had a toymaker minion named Kiki Roulette (portrayed by Judy Reyes) who built Joker's joy buzzer as she allies with Marquis. In the episode "We're All Mad Here", Joker was finally seen when Marquis recaps his encounter with Joker and Alice recalls the hijacked bus running Gabi's car off the bridge. Marquis quoted to Alice that fate brought them together.
  • In the comic book series Batman: White Knight, the Joker uses the name "Jack Napier" after regaining sanity.[30]


Nicholson's portrayal as The Joker was acclaimed by fans and critics alike. For his performance as the character, Nicholson was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but lost to Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy.[31] Nicholson was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts but lost to Ray McAnally in My Left Foot.[32] Nicholson's adaptation of the character was placed as the 45th best movie villain of all time on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Heroes and Villains; Michael Keaton's Batman placed as the 46th greatest hero on the same list.[33][34][35][36]

Praises from future successorsEdit

Heath Ledger, who portrayed the character in Christopher Nolan's 2008 film The Dark Knight, has cited Nicholson's portrayal as an influence on his interpretation of the character, stating "This character was too good to turn down. And yes, it would be a crime to attempt to [step in or to] follow Jack Nicholson's footpath that he so heavily stands into my memory of The Joker. I mean, I adore what he did and him in general."[37] Mark Hamill, who voiced the character in Batman: The Animated Series, as well as in the Batman: Arkham video game series, has also cited Nicholson's adaptation of the character as an influence, but was told by show producers to avoid using Nicholson's Joker as a direct source of inspiration.[38][39][40][41]

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?Edit

The character's quote "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" has become synonymous with the character as well as one of the character's most iconic phrases. The quote was nominated for the American Film Institute's 100 Movie Quotes list, but did not make the list.[42][43] The quote was the title track for the unreleased song written by Prince for his soundtrack for the film. The track, titled "Dance with the Devil", was cut by Prince due to the darker tone of the song not fitting in with the rest of the upbeat songs on the soundtrack. It was replaced at the last second with "Batdance". Throughout the music videos for the singles released from the album, Prince was dressed as an amalgam of Nicholson's Joker and Keaton's Batman in a persona he titled Gemini. Nicholson's Joker can be heard in soundbytes during songs like "Batdance" and "Partyman".[44][45][46][47][48][49]


Since the film's release, many different interpretations of the character of the Joker have featured Jack Napier as his real name.[6][50]

Batman: The Animated SeriesEdit

Two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, which was first produced in 1992, gave the Joker's real name as Jack Napier: "Dreams in Darkness", which depicted Dr. Bartholomew citing Jack Napier, Harvey Dent and Pamela Isley as the real names of the Joker, Two-Face and Poison Ivy; and "Joker's Wild", where businessman Cameron Kaiser's dossier about the Joker contained criminal records with the name Jack Napier. In the sequel series, The New Batman Adventures, the Joker was shown to adopt a multitude of aliases, hinting that in the DC Animated Universe continuity, "Jack Napier" was merely one alias, a reference to the comics where the Joker's real name is unknown.

Batman: White KnightEdit

Most notably, the alias was used in the comic series Batman: White Knight, where The Joker is seemingly cured of his insanity, and takes up the civilian name of Jack Napier.[51]


The Jack Napier alias is also used in the first two seasons of Batwoman. The Joker was said to have been killed by Batman prior to the events of the first season, although it is believed by most people that he remains locked up in Arkham Asylum. Batman left Gotham sometime after that, leaving his cousin Kate Kane took on the mantle and became Batwoman. In season two, it was discovered that Jack Napier worked on a painting using intestinal blood from one of his victims as it is discovered that it contained the map to Coryana where Jacob Kane suspects that Kate is being held prisoner in. While the painting that Jacob took off a defeated Wolf Spider was a fake, the real one is in the possession of Safiyah Sohail's former minion Ocean. In the third season, the Joker (portrayed by Nathan Dashwood) is revealed to have been driving the bus which caused Kate and Beth Kane's accident, also giving a young Marquis Jet (portrayed by Kendrick Jackson) brain damage instilling a psychopathic mindset, leading to him taking on the mantle of Joker 2.0 in the future (portrayed by Nick Creegan).


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External linksEdit