The Batman Who Laughs And The Origin Of The Joker

The Batman Who Laughs, the mashup between Batman and the Joker, for the current Metal event and storyline, debuts in Dark Nights: Metal #2 in 10 days.

And he’ll be popping up with his Dark Robins in Teen Titans #12 to start the Gotham Resistance crossover on the same day…

Then, on November 15th, he’ll be getting his own one-shot, The Batman Who Laughs #1.

But why the name, other than it’s a Batman/Joker mashup?

It’s a reference to the Victor Hugo novel from 1869, L’Homme qui rit, adapted into a 1928 movie directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, and Olga Baclanova — and again in 2012 directed by Jean-Pierre Améris and starring Gérard Depardieu, Marc-André Grondin, and Christa Theret.

And it was Conrad Veidt’s performance that struck home for Bill Finger, who used photographic reference of the actor’s performance when designing the Joker.

Directly translated as “The Man Who Laughs”, it tells the story of a homeless boy named Gwynplaine in late 17th-century England who rescues an infant girl during a snowstorm, her mother having frozen to death whilst feeding her. They meet an itinerant carnival vendor who calls himself Ursus, and his pet wolf, Homo. Gwynplaine’s mouth has been mutilated into a perpetual grin. Ursus and his surrogate children go on to earn a meagre living in the fairs of southern England, with Gwynplaine keeping the lower half of his face concealed. In each town, Gwynplaine gives a stage performance in which the crowds are provoked to laughter when Gwynplaine reveals his grotesque face…

The book — and film — have been cited as direct inspiration for The Joker.

As a result, it also titled Batman: The Man Who Laughs, a one-shot comic book by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke in 2005, as a successor to Batman: Year One.

But more importantly on a cultural level, it also inspired the name of a popular spreadable cheese in France.

And yes, the Batman Who Laughs also looks a bit like Judge Death. There’s a lot of that going around…

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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