Joker laughing and going mad

Joker Series Part I: 4 Causes of Joker’s Psychosis (His “Bad Day”)

“I’ve demonstrated that there’s no difference between me and everyone else.  All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.”

-Joker, The Killing Joke

The Joker is not only a serial-killing clown he’s also a mass-murdering terrorist, lurking, grinning at us in the shadows. He’s truly terrifying, but perhaps what’s more frightening is the point he makes. What if the shadows he lurks in are the ones in your mind. What if The Joker is really…


After all, he represents both Jungian archetypes of the trickster and the shadow that are arguably inside us all. But what brings them out? What can make a human being go completely off the rails of rationality and become a psychopath? Here are 4 ways.

1.  Genetics

“The worst day of my life was the day I was born.”

-Scott Pennington, East Carter Highschool Shooter

It has been an age-old question; what does it take to make a serial killer? Is it nurture or nature? Are they made by violence, or are they born with it?

Joker Cosplay by Todd Allen Fischer
Maybe it’s Maybeline?!

Some preliminary studies have shown that the MAOA (sometimes called “The Warrior Gene) “has been linked to increased levels of aggression and violence.” Although, these findings are controversial. Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist, has discovered that not only did he have the gene, but his family tree was full of violent killers (Check out his Ted Talk). However, there was one ingredient missing for him to be a psychopathic murderer, and that was childhood trauma.

2.  Emotional Trauma

Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
-Joker, The Killing Joke

Even if Joker doesn’t remember the events, he remembers the pain, whether he wants to or not. He knows that “something like that” happened to him, and his “bad day” caused him to focus on the random injustices in the world, and turn toward the only coping mechanism that seemed to make “sense,” maniacal laughter.

You of all people should know, there is nothing so cruel as memory!”
-Joker, Arkham Origins

He often talks about how memories are what cause a lot of the anguish in the world, but “madness,” as he says in The Killing Joke, “is the emergency exit.” He prides himself on forgetting the past and indulging in irrationality. This is one of the “avoidance” symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the National Institute of Health. As for the other symptoms, if you have read The Killing Joke or played the Arkham Origins video game, you can see Joker having flashbacks/bad dreams/frightening thoughts.  He even says that acceptance is his favorite stage, with a double meaning of course, but it alludes to the fact that he has undergone some sort of grief, himself, which may have led him to a certain worldview that we’ll discuss in an article about the motivations The Joker has.

Other symptoms include being on edge or prone to angry outbursts, which we see Joker explode into often, and I’m not sure if we have ever seen Joker sleep, other than when knocked unconscious, and even then, we’re pretty sure he’s faking.

“All I have are negative thoughts.” -Joker

Joker definitely has negative thoughts, blaming the world for its own malice.  He even has trouble remembering key features of traumatic events.  How many stories does he have about his scars?

While he may not have lost interest in his enjoyable activities (or he just found newer horrible ones), he checks more than enough boxes needed for the diagnosis of PTSD, but what about the vat of chemicals that he plunged into in the events that replay in many of his memories, however unreliable.

3.  Poisoning

According to Detective Comics #867 and Outer Places, Joker Venom contains strychnine, hydrogen cyanide, methamphetamine (meth), MDMA (ecstasy), and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). The video from The Nerdist below goes into detail about how some form of this was used to create The Joker which he then perfected to use on everyone else.

What it doesn’t say is how it could not kill someone but turn them into a sociopathic silly man with the physical features of a nightmare clown without the need for makeup. Let’s start with the chemicals that have a penchant for causing psychopathy.

The phrase mad as a hatter comes to mind, but can chemicals really twist a brain into something so chaotic?

Drawing of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland
“We’re all quite mad here.”

The idea that mercury from the lining of hats can make a man go bonkers is so prevalent that Lewis Carol made the common place phrase into a character. The symptoms of mercury poisoning detailed in Medical News Today mostly describe things that would impair the body, movement, cognitive functions, etc., and Joker is known to be quite agile.

Lead poisoning, though, is a different story. Not only do tests show that adults who were exposed to lead as children were “associated with total psychopathy,” but studies have shown that lead exposure may be responsible for rises in violent crime.

To get that clown white skin, it’s possible that something caused vitiligo, a condition that causes white patches on skin. There is evidence that part of this is genetic, but can chemicals also be the cause? According to the University of Massachusettes Medical School, “The answer is yes, as other chemicals that have been implicated as vitiligo-inducers include 4-tertiary-butyl phenol (4-TBP, found in adhesives) and 4-tertiary-butyl catechol (4-TBC, found in rubber and other products).”

Remember, the vat he fell in was often described as chemical waste, so it could easily have had these chemicals in there, but why would his lips be red? If they were scarred, and he had an overproduction of collagen when healing the likely burned tissue around his lips, he could have developed a keloid scar, which according to the NHS, can heal with a red color.

As for the green hair, chlorine pools have been known to have this effect, but perhaps there’s another mystery ingredient that helps Joker keep those lushious waves green all year round with only his one-time treatment.

Todd Allen Fischer dressed as Joker at Konsplosion in Fort Smith, AR
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

If Joker was indeed the infamous Red Hood, the memory of his tragic fall (both literally and metaphorically) has been addled in the sea of madness that is his mind.  It may be that he has suffered an impact on his head, permanently damaging his brain.

4.  Physical brain trauma

According to an article by Jeannine Stamatakis in Scientific American, “Recently neuroscientists have identified areas of the brain related to psychopathic behaviors. Subtle damage to the amygdala, a brain region that helps us process our emotions, may explain why psychopaths act so cruelly and cannot express emotions properly. Psychopathic behaviors are also associated with injury to the cerebral cortex, which regulates memory and self-awareness, and the frontal lobe, which is responsible for self-control and judgment.”

So a good hard smack to the amygdala, the cerebral cortex, and the frontal lobe can make someone’s behavior become more like someone who would proudly wear the moniker of the Clown Prince of Crime. Also, pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a condition causing uncontrollable laughter can also be caused by traumatic brain injury.

However, without a super genius IQ, you might as well be the Hulk in the body of a weakling, but we’ll discuss that in an article about Joker’s powers, but not before we delve into the psyche that even The Martian Manhunter couldn’t fix. Just what makes the Joker tick? What would he be diagnosed as in the real world? Is he really insane?

Until then take care that your bad days don’t turn you into a sadistic clown.

“That’s how far the rest of the world is from where I am, just one bad day.” -Joker, The Killing Joke

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