Joker (Jack Napier) - Wikipedia

Joker (Jack Napier)

Jack Napier, also known as the Joker, is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the 1989 superhero film Batman, directed by Tim Burton. Portrayed by Jack Nicholson, the character was based on the iconic supervillain the Joker.[1] His name is a play on the word, Jackanapes.[2] 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 that shows 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. When he encounters the city's new vigilante superhero Batman amid surviving the assassination attempt, Napier ends up falling into a vat of acid at Axis Chemicals. This consequently results in his skin being bleached white, his hair turned green, and a macabre smile created on his face due to a ricocheted bullet off Batman's armour. Soon afterwards, Napier becomes "the Joker" and kills Grissom to takeover the city's gangland underworld and also wage war on Batman. Ever since Nicholson's portrayal in the film, the name Jack Napier has been used by various adaptations of the character. 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.[3][4]

Jack Napier
The Joker
Tim Burton's Batman character
Jack Napier Joker.jpeg
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier in Batman
First appearanceBatman (1989)
Last appearanceBatman (1989)
Based on
Adapted by
Portrayed byJack Nicholson
Hugo Blick (young)
David U. Hodges (young)
In-universe information
Full nameJack Napier
HomeGotham City

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.

When Napier is 26 years old, he 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 at first 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."[5]

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 in addition of knowing that Napier is staging a coup, sets him up to be killed by Lt. Max Eckhardt (William Hootkins), a GCPD 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 had two chances to escape unharmed, but he squandered them for attempting to kill Gordon and then kills Eckhart. He then shoots at Batman, who deflects the bullet with one of his gauntlets, ricocheting it 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 operations.

Styling himself as a "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 multiple 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. Batman arrives in the Batwing and dispatches of the balloons before Joker shoots the plane out of the sky with a grenade launcher that disguised as a comically-long prank gun, 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. Thus, this reveals he knows his victims' identities and this leads him to realize Batman and Bruce Wayne are one in the same. Batman manages to knock Joker off the balcony, only for him to drag Batman and Vale down with him, causing them to dangle 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. Commissioner Gordon finds Joker's corpse, with an activated laugh-box in his pocket.[6]



A multitude of actors were considered for the role of the Joker before Nicholson's casting. Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, Ray Liotta, David Bowie and James Woods were all considered. Tim Burton initially wanted to cast character actor John Glover, who would later appear in Batman & Robin as Dr. Jason Woodrue. but the studio insisted on using a movie star.[7] 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.[8] 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 aquatinted 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.[9][10][11][12][13]


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 achieve 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 required Nicholson to smile in the makeup to take full effect, but wanted to ensure that the prosthetics didn't dilute Nicholson's face.[14][15]

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.[16][17]

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.[18] 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.[19][20]

In other mediaEdit


  • 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 of 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.[22]
  • In the Batwoman 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.[23] The episode "A Narrow Escape" implied that Joker died in battle against Batman.[24]


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.[25] 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.[26] 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. Ironically, Michael Keaton's Batman placed as the 46th greatest hero on the same list.[27][28][29][30]

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."[31] 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.[32][33][34][35]

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 synoymous 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.[36][37] 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".[38][39][40][41][42][43]


Since the film's release, many different interpretations of the character of the Joker have featured Jack Napier as his real name.[4][44]

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.[45]


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External linksEdit