Writers have disagreed throughout the years over what makes the Joker the Joker. (Read about the history of the Joker, from "Batman" #1 to Heath Ledger here.) Is it his laugh, his menace, his ironic absurdity? But few today argue over who did it the best:
"Bruce Timm and Paul Dini," comic-book legend Jeph Loeb said of the work done by the co-creators of "Batman: The Animated Series," who, for the first and only time in history, made the Joker equal parts menacing and comical, combining the very silliest and scariest aspects of the character.
"Virtually flawless," Loeb added, "which is really extraordinary, given the times, that they rethought how Batman should be presented in an animated way and wound up telling some of the best Batman stories that have ever been told."
What went into their creation? Would you believe everything but the kitchen sink?
"He's kind of an amalgamation of all the previous Jokers that there have been... Everything from the Cesar Romero version from the Adam West show to even the more comic-book-oriented one that used to be in the old Filmation cartoons and a little bit of Jack Nicholson too," Timm said to MTV News. "The thing with the Joker was we really wanted to try to make him kind of as dark and psychotic and scary as we possibly could within the limitations of a children's program. But at the same time, we didn't want to make him so dark and scary that he ceased to be fun, because he's a joker. He's kind of a scary clown, so that means he's got to be scary and he's got to be funny.
"Even as his sense of humor isn't what we'd normally think to be gut-busting humor, we still wanted to keep the sense that he's entertaining to watch," Timm added. "Even at his most homicidal."
Unable to show the Joker killing people on the cartoon series, Timm and Dini instead had him paralyze people with a toxin that would fix a permanent grin to their faces — in many ways, more terrifying than actual death.
Integral to their portrayal, of course, was the voice acting of Mark Hamill, whose Joker was a delicate mix of psychosis and manic glee, just as ready with a gun as he was with a gag. Fans of the character still give Hamill credit for the most definitive take yet.
"And he didn't even have to try hard!" Timm exclaimed. "He can put the Joker on like that, just instantaneously. He doesn't have to stop and do the whole Method acting thing, like, 'OK, now, what's the Joker like?' He can do it at the drop of a hat. He can do it in the middle of a sentence. He can be talking about something and go right into the Joker voice and it's just, he's there. It's, like, yikes. It's actually kind of frightening."
So who is your favorite version of the Joker? Ledger? Nicholson? Romero? Hamill? Or is it one from a specific comic? What qualities must your Joker have? Do you prefer him to be a prankster or a maniac? Sound off on all things Joker below.