15

In Burton's Batman Jack Nicholson's Joker falls into a vat of chemicals which turns his skin pure white. In a couple of scenes he wears skin-colored makeup to appear more normal.

Burton's Joker with normal skin makeup on white skin

In Nolan's The Dark Knight Heath Ledger's Joker has "normal" skin and wears makeup to create Joker's trademark white skin look. He can just wash off the makeup if he wants.

Nolan's Joker with makeup

Which is the case in the comics? Is his skin deformed, does he wear makeup, or is he just naturally pale?

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    Which comics? There have been literally dozens of versions of the joker, some with makeup and some without – Valorum Jul 16 '15 at 21:29
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    @Richard - just wait an hour and Thaddeus will list all the versions, with accompanying pictures :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 16 '15 at 23:46
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    @DVK - Oh, I've found a few where they conflict. I just can't be bothered to do a half-assed job when I know that his Majesty will be along to do a proper job shortly :-) – Valorum Jul 16 '15 at 23:52
  • @Richard - did someone promote Thaddeus up from moderator while I wasn't looking? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 16 '15 at 23:57
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    @DVK - From mod to king. Yup. – Valorum Jul 16 '15 at 23:59
17

The answer is a qualified "no"; in most of his many origin stories, the Joker looks the way he does because he was permanently disfigured, and his skin and hair were permanently discolored.

As we can see in the following pictures, which are taken from Alan Moore's brilliant masterpiece The Killing Joke, Batman identifies an impostor when the man's makeup rubs off on Batman's glove:

enter image description here

enter image description here

A few quotes from around the interwebs:

The Joker began as a very dark character. Originally, it was unclear if the Joker’s pale skin and green hair was done with make-up or was simply how his skin looked. Over time, it seemed clear that it was his natural state.

Eleven years after he was first introduced, the Joker was given an official origin story. How he got the natural clown look was revealed to be the byproduct of his swimming through a vat of chemicals when he began his criminal career as the Red Hood. The story where this was revealed was actually a great one as it featured Batman looking into just who the Red Hood was and why he disappeared. Actual clues were littered throughout the story and the Joker’s reveal was a real surprise.

Nowhere in this, or any other, story is the Joker given a real name. He is always simply “The Joker” who once went by the name "Red Hood".

Source

enter image description here The first depiction of the Joker's origin story; Moore revisited this idea in his The Killing Joke

"No recounting of the Joker's origin has been definitive, however, as he has been portrayed as lying so often about his former life that he himself is confused as to what actually happened.

As he says in The Killing Joke:

"Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!""

Source

"They've given many origins of the Joker, how he came to be. That doesn't seem to matter—just how he is now. I never intended to give a reason for his appearance. We discussed that and Bill [Finger] and I never wanted to change it at that time. I thought—and he agreed—that it takes away some of the essential mystery."
– Jerry Robinson, the Joker's creator

Source

  • Off topic here but was your first profile picture Oscar Wilde? I always assumed it was but never clicked in to check – Daft Jul 19 '15 at 10:54
  • @Daft - If I recall correctly, my first profile pic was the Irish rebel leader Michael Collins. – Wad Cheber Jul 19 '15 at 11:18
  • Very good, all I could see was a black and white portrait. Always intended on clicking in to see exactly who it was. – Daft Jul 19 '15 at 11:28
  • @Daft - you might talking about my most recent pic - this one – Wad Cheber Jul 19 '15 at 11:30
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    Hahaha, yeah that's probably it... And with that, I shall book an eye test. – Daft Jul 19 '15 at 11:41
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What I think is that when the Joker was first written in the comics, I believe he was portrayed to be naturally pale looking as though he was a clown. Back then they didn't portray their characters as though they were make-believe, they were as real as you and me.

Through time they became people of fiction. In DC comics he actually wore makeup.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 1
    Please try to avoid making your answer too "chatty". The aim is to answer the question. – Valorum Jul 18 '15 at 22:46
  • I assume the answerer means that, in the Batman stories from the 1930s and early 1940s, the events were reasonably possible in the real world (unlike, say, the Superman stories - even if everything else was possible, Superman himself wasn't). Over time, as characters interacted with each other and as writers looked for new stories, more elements of the fantastic were introduced. That said, I'd want to see an explicit reference to a story showing the Joker wearing make-up to achieve his white skin, even in his earliest appearances. Also - clowns aren't naturally pale-looking (for the most part) – RDFozz Apr 19 '18 at 17:27

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