THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE JOKER’S FACE

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I thought DC’s massive multiverse reboot in 2011 would restore Joker’s face back to normal. Instead, they ripped the damn thing off his skull! And though we haven’t seen a whole lot of the Joker himself, that limp white flap of skin keeps coming back.

The Joker has always been a disfigured character, but in the most beautiful way. We don’t know exactly who he was before falling into a vat of chemicals, but when he stepped out he had immaculately white skin and a full head of green hair. Don’t scratch your head over the biology or chemistry, they’re comic books! He was a perfect effeminate foil to Batman, a seemingly harmless clown to a hero dressed like a villain.

But leave it to comic book maverick Grant Morrison to take things too far. In Batman and Son he had a deranged policeman shoot the Joker in the face. Don’t worry, the Joker survived, but his restorative surgery contorted his face into a permanent smile. Also, the bullet hole never fully healed. As if that wasn’t enough, in Batman R.I.P. Morrison gave him a Glasgow Smile and a forked tongue he acquired while licking sharpened shaving razors. Otherwise, I really do love how Grant Morrison’s depiction of the character.

In September 2011, I eagerly picked up Batman: Detective Comics #1 because the cover featured the Joker with a fully in tact face. I was in for a very unpleasant surprise.

 

Batman: Detective Comics – “The Dollmaker”

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What could be more spine-tingling than the image of the Joker smiling and emerging from a pile of baby doll heads? Certainly not the actual contents of Batman: Detective Comics #1. The climax of the book, where the Joker’s face is removed, read like a desperate reach for shock value.

Leading up to the defacing, the comic had some pretty decent Joker moments, particularly when the villain created an explosive mannequin of himself to throw the Gotham Police off his trail. But the first issue of the newly rebooted Batman: Detective Comics was just a vehicle to introduce a new and very lackluster villain named the “Dollmaker.” The Dollmaker takes his victims’ skin and fashions new dolls out of them. Unlike my favorite Batman villains, the Dollmaker does not have an intriguing psychological profile to back up his strange behavior.

The issue ends with the Dollmaker meeting the Joker in his cell in Arkham Asylum where he cuts the Joker’s face off. The Dollmaker then declares “Tonight we will both celebrate our rebirth.”

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Suicide Squad – “The Hunt for Harley Quinn”

While the Joker himself was benched, his face was up for grabs! And the first comic it reappeared in was Suicide Squad, a series about Task Force X, a group of supervillains reducing their prison sentences by performing top-secret missions for the government. It just so happens that Harley Quinn, the Joker’s on-and-off girlfriend, is currently part of that team. When she heard the news of the Joker’s defacing and disappearance, she incites a riot at Belle Reeve Prison to create an opportunity to escape to Gotham, where she purposefully gets arrested. That way, she can search the Gotham City Police Department for the Joker’s face… because why wouldn’t they want to hold onto it?

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When her teammate, Deadshot, catches up with her, she knocks him out and ties him to a chair. When he wakes up, Harley forces him to wear the Joker’s moist face over his own and then starts addressing him as “Mister J.” Deadshot plays along, responding back as the Joker. Harley then kisses the Joker’s dead lips and pulls back to reveal the Joker’s blood now on her face. Deadshot then shoots her and brings her back to Belle Reeve.

This oddly worked for me. Previous issues of Suicide Squad established sexual tension between Deadshot and Harley, and the moment she tied the poor guy to a chair and made him wear her ex-boyfriend’s face was a huge payoff – not in a sexual way, mind you… just so we’re clear. I squirmed when I read it.

And no appearance of the Joker’s face has been so horrific since then.

 

Batman – “Death of the Family”

In Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family story arc in Batman, the Joker returns for his face, which he wears as a stretchy mask, held in place by hooks and strings. Now it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention that many of my friends really dug this new horror movie look. For me, it was the Joker’s deeds and words that supplied the terror, and the mask was just a distraction from an otherwise good storyline.

There was one moment when I thought they made good use of the Joker’s detachable face. In Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman and Robin #15, a tie in to the main arc, the Joker appears before Robin with his mask on upside down and then adjusts it saying, “I’m so happy to see you… that I’ve turned my frown upside down.”

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By the end of the arc, the Joker’s face starts turning a hue of yellow and attracts flies. Following a showdown in a cavern, the Joker plummets into one of Gotham’s underground rivers and his face/mask falls off in mid-air. I was hoping that would be the last we’d see from the face/mask, but you know comic books…

 

The Joker’s Daughter

Why do I read these awful comics? Oh right, to give me something to write about for the Geek League of America!

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So, the Joker’s face resurfaced in the Joker’s Daughter’s villain one-shot last September. Fans may remember Duela Dent as a character who has claimed to be the daughter of several Batman villains, including the Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face… basically everyone in Arkham Asylum. In the New 52, she’s a psychotic young woman who scarred her face up with razor blades before retreating from society to live in the underground of Gotham. And that’s where she found the Joker’s face floating in water. So naturally she decided to wear it like a mask, claiming that the Joker’s lending it to her.

Remember how I said that by the end of Death of the Family the face was yellow and attracting flies? Well, I might consider bathing in the rejuvenating sewers of Gotham because that face is back to its healthy ghost white complexion! Although, Catwoman does mention that the face is smelly and rotting in Catwoman #23 and #24. Looks can be deceiving.

 

How I’d restore Joker’s Face:

So have the writers written the Joker into a corner? There’s no such thing in comic books! Here’s how I would restore the Joker back to his original look: give him a face transplant. And Evil Alfred from Earth 3 would be the perfect donor for the following reasons:

  • His skin is already bleached white. That would save Joker the trip to Ace Chemical Factory
  • The Joker of Earth 3 was Evil Alfred’s enemy. In fact, he’s the guy who turned evil Alfred white.
  • Let’s face it, after Forever Evil, he’ll be very expendable.

For those of you just tuning into the New 52, Earth 3 is basically the evil version of Earth 1, which is where most DC stories take place. They have their own version of the Justice League called the Crime Syndicate, which includes an evil version of Batman named Owlman. On Earth 3, Alfred was Owlman’s butler, and the two butted heads with the Joker of their universe, who was sort of good but also still a terrorist. Earth 3 Joker doused Alfred with a Joker venom that turned him white. Owlman then picked the Joker up and threw him off a building.

Recently, the denizens of Earth 3 have taken over the main DC Universe in the mini-series Forever Evil. In the first issue, they called an assembly to forge an alliance between them and some of Earth 1’s greatest villains. The Joker, however, is not to be seen, probably because he went missing at the end of Scott Snyder’s “Death of the Family.”

However, the Penguin is suspicious. “The Joker’s here somewhere. He’s just wearing someone else’s face. He’s going to start trouble, Bane. That maniac hates structure.”

That sounds an awful lot like foreshadowing to me.

And if DC is using Forever Evil to highlight their villains, wouldn’t it make sense for them to bring back the most notorious of all of them?

Of course, I’m not one of their writers. They probably have their own plans on how to bring back the Joker. One hopes.

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About Author

Paul de Vries

Paul de Vries was raised by a pack of wild Dutch immigrants in pastoral Western Massachusetts. Having trouble connecting with the other kids in his neighborhood, he sought refuge in Greek Mythology. As he matured, superheroes started replacing gods and now he observes each new comic book day religiously. He currently lives in New York City where he performs stand up comedy.