"I think the Joker isn’t so much a single person as he is an ideology, an idea that we can all live without fear and we can all be free and we can all not live within the world’s restrictions and not live within the rules at all."
Danny Cannon, 5 October 2015[1]
Joker Man Who Laughs

The Joker, as he appears in Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Gotham Season 5 "From Jerome to Jeremiah" Teaser (HD) Final Season

Gotham Season 5 "From Jerome to Jeremiah" Teaser (HD) Final Season

The Joker is a DC Comics supervillain and the arch-nemesis of Batman, first appearing in Batman #1 in Spring 1940. Modeled after "Gwynplaine" from "The Man Who Laughs" and themed around the Joker playing card, the character has been subject to numerous interpretations and reinventions, having been portrayed at various times as a murderous clown, harmless prankster, chaotic anarchist, intelligent psychopath, nihilistic serial killer, and even as an undying boogeyman. The Joker has no definitive origin story in the comic books. He prefers to keep his past "multiple choice" and shrouded in mystery, although a recurring motif among many writers involves a character of some sort falling into a vat of chemicals, altering his physical and psychological state to become the Joker. He is defined by his relationship with Batman, who he is infatuated with and believes to be his necessary opposite.

Gotham co-creator Bruno Heller originally didn't plan on approaching the Joker's origin until later in the series, but eventually opted to introduce a precursor to the supervillain, the nihilistic cultist Jerome Valeska. Since then, various "Proto-Jokers" have taken on the Joker's likeness and personality, depicting the Joker as a philosophical and ideological lineage as opposed to an individual. The fourth season saw the introduction of Jerome's twin brother Jeremiah, an obsessive and methodical narcissist who destroyed Gotham City's infrastructure and set the stage for Season 5. The fifth season served as the concluding chapter for the show, with Jeremiah undergoing a substantial transformation that carried into the series finale. Although Jeremiah's identity was completely transformed, his obsession with Bruce Wayne was left unchanged. His current status is alive, and so he lives on as one of the most feared criminals in Gotham.


Conception and Season 1

"The Joker didn't think of his shtick all by himself. There must have been someone before who The Joker saw and thought, 'Oh, that's a good shtick. I could work with that and make it better.' It's the same with Batman. There must have been other vigilantes before him who didn't pull off such a good act. We'll play around with those ideas in Gotham."
—Showrunner Bruno Heller, September 2014

In its earliest stages, Gotham wasn't meant to be a superhero show. Executive producer Bruno Heller explained that the intention was to focus more on human characters before the emergence of colorful personas, "Human beings are diminished as soon as a superhero walks onto the screen. As soon as the superhero walks out of frame, you're waiting for them to come back. Our show is a little different because we have Jim Gordon as the moral center." Believing that some villains should precede Batman and some shouldn't, the showrunners wanted to wait until the series found its footing before approaching a full-fledged Joker. However, Heller did express an interest in playing with the audience's expectations should they do the Joker's origin story.[2]

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Promotional banner depicting the arrival of Jerome as "No joke"

In July 2014, Heller stated that the Joker shouldn't exist before Batman. Rather than directly depicting the Joker's beginnings, Season 1 originally opted to subtly introduce multiple characters that might one day become the Clown Prince of Crime.[3][4] Among these included a stand-up comedian in the pilot episode,[5][6] a man falling into a chemical pipeline in the second episode,[7] and a child donning the mask of the Red Hood gang.[8] Despite initially planning to hold off delving into the Joker's backstory directly, Heller later decided to touch upon it before the end of the season because "this is America — nobody wants to wait."[9] In "The Blind Fortune Teller", a "Proto-Joker"[10][11] character named Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) was introduced as the son of a sexually-promiscuous circus performer, who kills her out of spite and then breaks down in laughter while admitting to the act.[12] He was sent to Arkham Asylum as a result.[13] Monaghan avoided imitating the previous live-action actors who had played the Joker, but was influenced by Mark Hamill's portrayal.[14]

Season 2

"It's less of a "he" and more of an idea. It’s not about a man. It’s about the ideology of a man, what that represents and how it affects other people."
Cameron Monaghan, October 2015[15]

Jerome returned for a three-episode arc in the show's second season, leading a group of Arkham escapees under the orders of cultist Theo Galavan. This arc was intended to show how Jerome relates to the Joker himself, with Heller explaining that in a prequel to an established property, it is necessary to subvert expectations.[16] The third episode "Rise of the Villains: The Last Laugh" concluded with Jerome betrayed and murdered by Galavan, after which his violent acts are broadcast on television and various pedestrians begin following in his footsteps. Narration proclaims that Jerome's legacy will be "death and madness".[17]

Jerome Valeska's smiling dead corpse

Jerome's demise inspires a new generation of crazy in Gotham.

The introduction and subsequent death of Jerome were meant to be the beginning of a larger secret origin story for the Joker, leading to more plot twists down the road. They wanted to unravel an ancestry and philosophical lineage for the supervillain, rather than him being someone who builds himself without outside influence. Heller stated, "Sometimes backstories are more complicated and interesting than, you know, falling into a vat of toxic chemicals... There's a tradition in forebears and ancestors of those characters that went into creating them. So, to me, Jerome is genuinely the mother and father of the Joker." They avoided waiting until a finale to kill him, thinking that it would add too much weight to his character and make viewers feel ripped off. Heller also stated that, as of October 2015, the actual Joker had not been cast.[18]

On October 6, he revealed that they had been discussing the possibility of introducing a female Joker.[19] Episodes throughout Season 2 continued to subtly hint at Jerome's legacy of growing insanity in Gotham City, with easter eggs (such as graffiti) planted in the background of scenes.[20] In "Wrath of the Villains: This Ball of Mud and Meanness", a female successor to Jerome named Jeri debuted as the head of a nightclub catering to his sympathizers. However, this marked her only appearance on the show.[21] Jerome's corpse was later seen in the laboratories at Indian Hill,[22] and his laugh was inserted in the season finale to hint at a possible resurrection and to keep the threat of the Joker alive.[23]

Season 3

Jerome Valeska clone

Jerome's return was vaguely hinted at in the Season 2 finale.[23]

In the show's third season, Jerome returned for another three-episode arc beginning in "Mad City: Ghosts". According to showrunner Ken Woodruff, they brought the character back to return to the Joker mythology, particularly "characters that may or may not be the Joker -- but more likely characters that are an amalgamation of what we'll come to know as the Joker."[24] During the arc, it is shown that Jerome's imitators and sympathizers had ultimately culminated into a cult bent on resurrecting him. After stealing his corpse from an Indian Hill warehouse, they attempt several times to bring him back to life before finally succeeding. The newly-revived Jerome shuts off all power to the city to cause chaos on the streets, but he is ultimately stopped by Bruce Wayne and sent back to Arkham.

Season 4

"What we've always gone with is that Joker is somewhere out there, anonymous and unformed, he's watching the actions of Jeremiah and Jerome and possibly even another one, and he's adopting them as inspirations as the person he'll one day become."
—Showrunner John Stephens, April 2018
No Man's Land - Jeremiah Valeska smiling

Jeremiah Valeska enters the fold

Jerome returned for a larger role in Season 4, serving as the main antagonist in the second half.[25] Monaghan had pitched a storyline at the beginning of the season, which the showrunners rejected but borrowed ideas from to create their own plot.[26] Jerome appeared among several other of the show's villains who had been incarcerated at Arkham, leading a mass breakout before gathering a team of supervillains to wreak anarchy on Gotham.

Five episodes in, the character was written off and killed once again however. This time, he warned that he's not just a man, but an idea, and that other characters would follow in his footsteps. His twin brother Jeremiah (also Monaghan) was also introduced, having been exposed by Laughing Toxin sent to him posthumously by Jerome as his "ultimate revenge". The toxin caused him to undergo a Joker-like transformation, with white skin and red lips.[27] Jeremiah then became a major villainous presence on the show, with his introduction and Jerome's exit marketed with the teaser "Who. Is. The Joker?."

Despite Jerome's intentions to turn Jeremiah into a copy of himself, Jeremiah decided to ultimately go down his own path. Whereas Jerome was depicted as brash and anarchistic, Jeremiah is more calm and calculating.[26] Neither Jerome and Jeremiah were created to be the Joker himself. Executive producer John Stephens stated in April 2018 that the man who becomes the Joker is somewhere in the shadows, observing the actions of Jerome, Jeremiah, and potentially another, adopting them as inspirations for his future supervillain persona. Another precursor was introduced so that they could represent other aspects of the Joker not present in Jerome, as well as someone with a personal connection to Bruce Wayne. Rather than go with another maniacal anarchist, they wanted a quieter and scarier lunatic in the vain of Hannibal Lecter.[28] To differentiate Jeremiah from the Joker, pure green hair was made off-limits by the the studio.[29]

Executive producer Danny Cannon also explained that the philosophy of the Joker isn't contained to a single character, "If the opposite of good, the opposite of Bruce Wayne, is somebody who just wants to destroy, then that could be anyone, because you are literally just going the opposite of your main character and take it as far as you can go. I don't think that's just one person. I think that is a way of life, it's an ideology."[30] Executive producer Bryan Wynbrandt added "When it comes to Joker, he's so iconic to that Batman character that it feels like we don't want to get to Joker ever. Jerome feels like he is that origin of that... The Joker, in our hearts, is his own character. Obviously, Cameron [Monaghan] just embodied the character in such an incredible way. I think that's what makes him so exciting is that he's not the Joker. He is Jerome."[31]

Season 5

"I think when we first started talking about it, and we wanted to do what we were calling the Proto-Jokers, the idea was if we can’t do the Joker, maybe there’s a character who existed before him. A character that seeded those ideas, like in the subconscious of Gotham. So what we started to do was to parse out all of the qualities of the Joker, and just dole them out, one by one, through various iterations of Cameron’s character."
John Stephens, 25 April 2019[32]

Jeremiah returned in the fifth and final season, having grown more egotistical and unhinged after decimating the city to ruins the previous season. He is now viewed as a boogeyman figure by Gotham's remaining denizens and is prideful of his actions, but remains obsessed with Bruce.[33] As a result of the character development, Monaghan played the character less stoic, more eccentric, and flamboyant than in Season 4, taking inspiration from actor/singer David Bowie and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He also stated he would be playing a third character in the series finale.[34] Monaghan and Stephens later clarified that the "third" character wasn't a literal third character, but rather Jeremiah having undergone a radical transformation that results in him becoming an "amalgamation" encapsulating Jerome, Jeremiah, and everything Joker-related seen on the show (with an added dose of insanity). Stephens added that, while Jeremiah undergoes another transformation, there still wouldn't be a final transition into the Joker in the final season.[35][36][37]

Ever since the show was renewed for a final, shortened fifth season, the showrunners have remained intentionally vague as to whether or not Jeremiah will become the Joker later in the continuity, or birth another character down the road as originally intended. Stephens explained, "We all know the character that some people think he is, some people say he's not--that he's supposed to be a precursor to at the very least. So, when you look at the Joker, and you break down elements of his personality and cleave off certain character traits. Some of those character traits we gave to Jerome. Some to Jeremiah. But, there were still some leftover character traits that we haven't used yet." The final iteration of Jeremiah was written to be nightmarish and terrifying, reflecting the darker iterations of the Joker from the comic books. Stephens also compared the various precursors seen on the show to the continuous reinventions of the Joker from the source material.[38]


Allusions to the Joker's history

Although the Joker doesn't officially appear, the series is riddled with homages and references to the character's comic book history:

Joker card Season 4

Jerome's use of a joker card in Arkham foreshadows his nightmarish legacy.

  • In "A Dark Knight: A Beautiful Darkness", Jerome pulls out a joker playing card, foreshadowing the future emergence of the Joker (Who has also been associated with using joker cards as weapons or calling cards).
  • Jerome's gang the Legion of Horribles was inspired by a panel from Batman: The Long Halloween.[43]
  • Jerome's philosophy that it only takes "one bad day" to drive the sanest man to madness is pulled directly from the Joker's monologue in Batman: The Killing Joke. Similarly, the episode "A Dark Knight: One Bad Day" loosely adapts the events of The Killing Joke.
  • Ecco refers to Selina Kyle as "puddin'" and Jeremiah is called "Mr. J" in promotional material, both nicknames that Harley Quinn has for the Joker in the comics.
  • Jeremiah's transformation in "Ace Chemicals" mirrors the Joker's various potential origin stories from the comics that involve him falling into a vat of chemicals.
    • The exchange that Jeremiah has with Bruce, about their fight at the chemical plant being "only just the beginning", was pulled from Batman: Zero Year.
  • When Bruce Wayne refused to be his friend, Jeremiah decided that it was because Bruce was defined by his childhood trauma. Consequently, Jeremiah created duplicates of Bruce's parents with the intention of murdering them in front of him so that they could be bonded as mortal enemies. In the original series of Batman films, the Joker actually was the man who originally killed Bruce's parents, which is his reason for being Batman's nemesis in that continuity. In that continuity however, Joker is only made aware of his connection to Batman in the last few minutes of his life, with the movie making it unclear if he even takes Batman's words seriously or even makes the connection to the murder of the Waynes. 
    • The name of the theater that Bruce and his family left on the night of the murder is revealed in the episode to be the Monarch Theatre, a name that was first established in the same 1989 film as the theater the Wayne family left right before they were ambushed by Jack Napier and his accomplice.
    • A year prior to the episode's release, the tie-in novel Gotham: City of Monsters by Jason Starr also alluded to the Burton film's idea of Joker killing Bruce's parents when it showed a dream sequence featuring Jerome Valeska standing in place of Matches Malone in Crime Alley, while Alfred Pennyworth and Selina Kyle stood in place of his parents.
  • In "The Beginning...", Jeremiah finally reveals that his catatonic state was an act. He dropped it as a result of Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham City. This is similar to the Joker's role in The Dark Knight Returns, where he goes into catatonia when an aging Batman retires for 10 years and comes out of it when he returns to save Gotham City.
  • In the same episode Commisioner Gordon asks the awakened Jeremiah what he would like to be called, to which Jeremiah listed off the names Jack, John, and Joseph. Jack Napier was the name used by the iteration of Joker played by Jack Nicholson in the Batman film, which also led to the name being used for the Joker in The Batman animated series and later, for the 2001 comic Batman: Gotham Noir and the 2003 comic Batman: Detective No. 27, and most recently for the 'reformed' Joker in the comic book miniseries White Knight. The name John was most recently used for the "Telltale Games" version of the character who was called "John Doe". Meanwhile, "Joseph Kerr" was an alias the Joker would use multiple times throughout different iterations of the character.
  • Make-up tests for Jeremiah's appearance in "The Beginning..." strongly resemble the Batman: Endgame and Joker interpretations of the Joker:


  • Whether Jeremiah becomes the Joker or not is mainly left up to interpretation, as the character never fully appeared on the show. The reason for this has not been made official, however the producers of the show and Cameron Monaghan himself have heavily suggested that certain elements of Batman and all related characters are off-limits to DC Comics television shows in fear of "diluting the brand".[29][44][45] 
  • Cameron Monaghan cited the transformed version of Jeremiah in "The Beginning...", also known as "J",[46] as his favourite character he has played on the show.[34]
  • Actress Francesca Root-Dodson was so disturbed by Jeremiah's final transformation that she didn't even recognize him on first sight.[47]

See also


  7. [1], Archive
  8. Red Hood
  10. McMillan, Graeme (May 4, 2015). "'Gotham' Boss: Season 2 to Focus on the Joker Hollywood Reporter.
  11. Mueller, Matthew (July 11, 2017). "Gotham: David Mazouz Calls Jerome 'Proto-Joker'"
  13. Heller, Bruno (writer) & Cannon, Danny (director) (September 21, 2015). "Rise of the Villains: Damned If You Do...". Gotham. Season 2. Episode 1. FOX.
  16. [2]
  17. Stephens, John (writer) & Egilsson, Eagle (director) (October 5, 2015). "Rise of the Villains: The Last Laugh". Gotham. Season 2. Episode 3. FOX.
  23. 23.0 23.1
  26. 26.0 26.1
  27. Cannon, Danny (writer) & Copus, Nick (director) (April 12, 2018) "A Dark Knight: That's Entertainment" Gotham. Season 4. Episode 18.
  29. 29.0 29.1
  34. 34.0 34.1
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