The Joker was the chosen alias of Jack Napier, a hood whose appearance and was radically and permanently altered by chemicals. He became Batman's first, and greatest foe, and the two shared a secret past that made them greater enemies than either first realized.
A young Jack Napier in Batman Forever.
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Born in Brooklyn, Jack Napier would come to live in Gotham City. In his school years, Jack Napier proved himself to be emotionally unstable, but highly intelligent, and showed 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. He at one point implied that he may have also have been murdering people, including those who were parents, since he was a kid.
Years later, as a young man, Jack 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-blood. Jack inquired to young Bruce Wayne: "Tell me, kid, you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moonlight?". Jack cocked the hammer of his revolver and was about to shoot him, but before he could fire, his panicked partner urged him to leave: "Let's go, Jack!". Jack uncocked his gun, decided to spare the boy and turned to leave while saying: "See you around, kid".
Little did Jack know that his prediction would come true — that he and Bruce would meet again someday.
Grissom's Number One Guy
"He can't run this city without me..."
As Jack Napier aged, he worked his way up in the Mafia ranks, and eventually became the consigliere of Mob Boss, Carl Grissom. Jack often toyed with a deck of lucky cards, which most likely saved his life on one occasion due to a bullet hole being in between each card. He would often twirl the cards in small tricks. In stark contrast to his later hilarious attitude, Jack Napier's persona was rather sarcastic and grumpy
Jack Napier as Carl Grissom's right-hand man.
Jack doubted the competence of Grissom's leadership of the crime family, and also snidely retorted to a news broadcast of Harvey Dent's speech about decent people living in Gotham: "Decent people should live somewhere else".
Napier entered into an affair with Grissom's girlfriend, Alicia Hunt, which prompted the angry crime lord to set his right-hand man up to be killed by the corrupt police officer, Lt. 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. Napier 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 that he would become).
Jack Napier meeting Batman for the first time at Axis Chemicals.
Grissom's plan went awry thanks to intervention by both Batman and Commissioner Gordon and some other police officers. After he killed Eckhardt, and then caught a ricocheted bullet through his cheeks, in a panic, Napier lost his balance, and fell off the catwalk. Though Batman caught Napier's arm and attempted to pull him back up 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 was floating.
Jack reaching for escape from his chemical submersion.
Jack's long chemical submersion permanently wreaked a horrible toll: his hair follicles were altered from grey to emerald green, his skin pigmentation was bleached chalk white and his soft flesh, such as his mouth and lips, were flushed ruby red.
Joker is Born (1989)
Jack Napier as the Joker in Carl Grissom's office.
"Jack? Jack is dead, my friend. You can call me... Joker! And as you can see, I'm a lot happier!"
―The Joker to Carl Grissom, moments before he murdered him.[src]
After he saw the horrible result of his chemical encounter, Jack turned to a hack plastic surgeon, and was desperate to have his cheek wounds fixed where the ricocheted bullet had injured him. 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 severed nerves sustained and the surgeon's own lack of effective tools resulting in a permanent smile. 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 that he had left. Jack began to laugh maniacally and convulsively, then smashed the mirror that he held on the table that held the surgeon's tools, stumbled out of the room, and laughed into the night.
With Jack's mind completely snapped after he saw his bizarre new appearance, he assumed the new identity of "The Joker". Joker killed Grissom as revenge for setting him up and took over the crime lord's empire. The Clown Prince of Crime engaged in a violent, chaotic crime spree, with the motive being to "outdo" Batman, whom he felt was getting too much press. During a mob summit with the rest of the crime lords, Jack claimed that Grissom was just in hiding, left him to be the acting president, and declared that their action this anniversary was 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 Rotelli, Jack Napier meant by that statement that it would be it for Rotelli, as he fried and electrocuted Rotelli with a lethal Joy Buzzer, which horrified the rest of the Mob bosses and with Jack Napier joking about his demise and laughing at it. Jack Napier then dismissed the mob as his own gang rushed in and held them at gunpoint. Joker then ordered Bob the Goon to tail Alexander Knox, and then decided (by talking to Rotelli's charred corpse as if he were still alive) to "grease" all of the mob bosses at the summit. Joker then arrived at City Hall and, after he claimed that the check was written with a dead hand, murdered Ricorso (who was claiming that Grissom landed him with the check with his signature) with his quill pen after he claimed that he was his "Uncle Bingo" and had his mime faction of his gang open fire. 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, Batman's love interest. When Bruce Wayne 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 survived the Joker's gunshot with an impromptu bulletproof vest, Bruce 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 lives of innocent people as Batman.
Death and Legacy
"Sometimes I just kill myself!"
―Joker, prior to his death[src]
After he announced on television that he would be reigniting the previously cancelled Gotham City's 200th Anniversary Parade, the Joker threw twenty million dollars into the crowd (the comic adaptation of the film as well as a deleted scene revealed that this money was fake one dollar bills with the Joker's face on them). After that, Joker released a gas form of Smylex out of his balloons. Batman arrived in the Batwing, took away the balloons, and released them into the night sky, which causing Joker to kill Bob to vent out his frustration. Batman then made a strafing run on the Joker, but the crazed clown blew up the Batwing with an explosive round fired from his long barreled gun. Joker then took Vicki Vale into Gotham Cathedral and forced her to dance with him. After he walked up to the belfry, Batman, after he defeated a small army of the Joker's men, confronted Joker, and vowed to kill him for murdering his parents years ago.
The Joker confronted by Batman at the Gotham Cathedral.
During their confrontation, Batman repeatedly beat up the Joker and managed to knock him off the balcony, but Joker reached up with both of his arms, pulled both Batman and Vicki down. Batman and Vicki held on for dear life from a narrow ledge. Joker's Helicopter arrived to get Joker to safety. Batman used a grappling hook to tie Joker's ankle to a large, heavy stone gargoyle. The Joker sealed his fate when it broke loose.
Unable to break free from the heavy burden of the gargoyle, the Joker lost his grip on the helicopter's rope ladder, fell to his death, and hit the Cathedral's flight of steps below hard, which broke every bone in his body.
The Joker, smiling eternally in death.
Ironically, just a few seconds beforehand, Joker said: "Sometimes I just kill myself!" Commissioner Gordon came upon the Joker's body, and heard a repetitive laugh which drew him ever so slowly. He reached into the Joker's coat and pulled out a laugh box that had been activated by the landing.
Bruce Wayne would continue to have bad memories of Jack Napier slaying his parents for several years.