Sometimes a mystery is so strong that you don’t even realize it’s a mystery. That’s the beauty of “Joker: Year One,” a storyline that just wrapped up in Batman #142-144. Not only does the storyline resolve the three Jokers mystery (which has been around since 2016), but it also reveals the answers to some questions about the Joker’s villainous beginnings.

If you’re skeptical, I’ll admit that I was too. When “Joker: Year One” was announced, I wasn’t sure if we needed to explore the Joker’s origin again. We had the first version in 1951’s Detective Comics #168, the definitive version in Batman: The Killing Joke, an alternative version in “Batman: Lovers and Madmen,” and then another chemical bath in “Zero Year.”

(This is in addition the other media versions like Tim Burton’s Batman, Gotham and Joker.)

People like to say that the Joker’s past is mysterious, but in reality, it’s territory that has been explored many times over. So why do we need another look at his origin? I’d now suggest it’s because there is an important piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been revealed. In fact, I feel like a fool for not noticing it sooner.

First, let’s look at The Killing Joke, which is widely accepted as the gold standard for the Joker’s origin. The man who became the Joker was a cowardly unemployed comedian. He was easily manipulated by the Red Hood gang and never stood up for himself. We’re told he was a lab assistant at Ace Chemicals, but that doesn’t mean he had a mastery of science.

How did a man like that become the criminal mastermind we know the Joker to be today? Remember, the Joker has created lots of chemical concoctions, including the iconic Joker Venom. The Clown Prince of Crime is an evil genius who has planned grand heists and yearslong operations. He’s manipulated some of the smartest people in the world and has been able to fight Batman to a standstill on numerous occasions.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The Killing Joke was point A and the current Joker is point C. What was point B? How did we get from A to C? Prior to reading “Joker: Year One,” I had never considered this. I assumed that the Joker’s insanity and his “one bad day” were enough to create the classic criminal.

“Joker: Year One” fills in the missing gap I never realized was even there. In fact, it begins with the Joker laughing at his reflection, picking up immediately where the flashback in The Killing Joke left off. The Joker is disoriented, broken and clearly insane. But at his core, he’s still the same cowardly man Alan Moore and Brian Bolland introduced us to.

Then along came Dr. Daniel Captio.

If you haven’t read Batman: The Knight #8, Captio was one of the many individuals who trained Bruce Wayne during his global pilgrimage. Captio taught Bruce how to withstand physical pain and manipulate his brain like a machine. This training gave Bruce the ability to create his alternate personas, like the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Captio sought to make Bruce more cold-blooded, but the young trainee resisted. They parted on bad terms, with Bruce knocking his former teacher out in one punch.  

Unbeknownst to Bruce, Captio followed him back to Gotham. After the Joker emerged from the vat of chemicals, Captio followed the criminal, sensing his potential. At this point, the Joker was still fearful of Batman, just as he was in the Killing Joke flashbacks. But Captio sensed what he could become.

“Oh, Bruce,” he writes in his journal. “You shouldn’t have left me like that. I made you better and you disrespected me. So now I’ve found your opposite. And once I’ve cured him, expanded his mind, he’ll be unstoppable.”

Captio expands on this when he makes his pitch to the Joker: “I’m a scientist of human behavior. Batman, wrongly, thinks he can be a force for order. I’m interested in what happens when he meets an equal force for chaos.”

Captio trains the Joker, just as he trained Batman. He teaches the Clown Prince how to withstand pain, how to work through his emotions and how to turn his body into a weapon. Captio also teaches Joker how to create multiple personalities, which is where the three Jokers come in.

It’s been a while since we last discussed those guys, so let’s rewind for a moment…

Back in 2015’s Justice League #42, Batman sat in the Mobius Chair, which granted him all the knowledge in the universe. He asked the Chair what the Joker’s real name was and the answer left him stunned. In DC Universe: Rebirth #1, we learned that the Chair had told Batman there were three Jokers.

This revelation provided a new context for the Joker’s different characterizations over the years. There was the Criminal, the cold and calculated no-nonsense villain seen in some of the Joker’s earliest appearances. The Clown was meant to be the theatrical, flamboyant and over-the-top lunatic seen in the Silver Age and many modern stories. Finally, the Comedian is the sadistic serial killer who embraces chaos.

For some time, it looked like the prestige limited series Batman: Three Jokers was going to settle this mystery, but that comic was published as a Black Label book, set outside of continuity. Now, thanks to “Joker: Year One,” we know what the Mobius Chair was talking about—Captio had trained the Joker’s mind to split into the three distinctive personalities. In other words, Batman has the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, while the Joker has the Comedian.  It’s another way the longtime enemies are dark mirrors of one another.

Over the years, many people have commented on how the Joker is Batman’s dark reflection, or the Yin to his Yang. Now we know that this is deliberate. Captio engineered Joker to be Batman’s evil counterpart. And the twisted thing is, Batman never learns the truth! To this day, the Dark Knight is completely unaware of Captio’s influence.

All of this has left the gears turning in my head. If the mystery of the Joker’s origin was something I didn’t even realize was a mystery, then what else has been hiding under my nose?

I’m just scratching the surface of why “Joker: Year One” is a great storyline. There is also some great GCPD intrigue, picking up where Batman: Year One left off.  Chip Zdarsky, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Sorrentino have put together an unforgettable story that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about the Joker, his past, and his relationship with Batman.

“Joker: Year One,” by Chip Zdarsky, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Sorrentino, can be read in Batman #142-144 and is now fully available in print and digital.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.