Warner Brothers' foray into the Batman universe, Joker, put a new spin on the famous arch-villain. It proposes that the Joker and Batman's relationship is more twisted and connected than initially believed. Could the two characters be half-brothers? Is Thomas Wayne Joker’s father? The mystery of who is Joker’s father hangs over much of the film.
Joker is Warner Bros Pictures’ most successful Batman film, grossing $335.5 million at the box office domestically, and landing 11 nominations at the 2020 Academy Awards. Of those nominations, the film only took home two, but one was in the high profile Best Actor category. Joaquin Phoenix took home the statue for his portrayal of the title character, Arthur Fleck, the man who will become Gotham’s most notorious criminal.
The film begins with Arthur in his pre-Joker days, working as a clown and looking after his invalid mother, Penny. Unable to leave the apartment, Penny is obsessed with the mail, asking every day if there's a letter from her "former employer." She's written day after day, asking for help and money. Why won't he answer? Arthur attempts to be kind about the lack of response, but he’s perplexed by her desperation. What did the letter say that was so important?
Arthur’s disbelief his mother will get a response is due to that former employer being Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce. In most Batman films, Thomas is a misty water-colored memory in the corner of Bruce's mind, a good man killed too soon. But that's not the Thomas presented here. From Arthur's POV, he's a smarmy politician, a rich idiot running for mayor, who insults and sneers at the downtrodden of Gotham.
And that's before Arthur finds out what the letter says. Penny is writing to Thomas to beg for money because Arthur is his son. According to his mother, she and Thomas were in love, but he was married, so they had to hide their relationship. Arthur is thunderstruck. Could this terrible man be Joker’s dad?
But when he heads to Wayne manor and introduces himself, first to a young Bruce and then to the butler Alfred, Arthur gets a different story.
Alfred confirms Penny worked at Wayne Manor for many years, but she was unstable, and slowly became obsessed with Thomas. There was no relationship, as far as anyone knew; Penny adopted Arthur as a baby from the local orphanage. Eventually, she became unhinged, and she was locked away in Arkham Asylum. No one knows who Joker’s parents are.
But is that the truth, or is Alfred covering for his boss? Is Thomas Wayne Joker’s dad? Considering the movie’s angle on Thomas, it seems likely. The wealthy cad, impregnating a servant, denying paternity, locking her up to make it go away, letting them starve. When Arthur finally confronts his alleged father, Thomas is unnerved, but he too insists there was no relationship with Penny. He then threatens Arthur never to come near Bruce again, or he'll kill him.
In his hunt for the truth, Arthur goes to Arkham and uncovers a terrible reality. Thomas and Alfred are not lying. Penny tried to claim the "adoption" was a cover-up to hide the child was Thomas', but the paperwork says otherwise. Worse, she was locked away after CPS found the infant Arthur nearly beaten to death by Penny, who freaked out whenever he cried.
No one knows who Arthur's father is, or his mother either. But he's not related to Bruce. Whatever one thinks of Thomas as a politician, his threats were that of a terrified father, not a man trying to cover his misdeeds.
The truth sends Arthur spiraling. He murders his mother in a rage and embraces his Joker persona. By the time the film ends, the riot Arthur sets off has claimed the lives of both Thomas Wayne and his wife, setting himself and Bruce on an eventual collision course as Batman and Joker.
This article was originally published on