Spoilers ahead for DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and Justice League #50.
Among the many surprises in this week's DC Universe: Rebirth and Justice League is the revelation that when Batman sat in the Mobius Chair and asked for the identity of the Joker (back in Justice League #42), he learned there were three Jokers.
And from the looks of the artwork, it appears that the three jokers include the original, Jerry Robinson Joker; the Brian Bolland Killing Joke Joker; and the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo "New 52" Joker.
But how could there be three Jokers in the same DCU?
Three Separate Jokers?
It might seem like a stretch, but the simplest interpretation is that DC is establishing that in the current DCU, there are three separate people who concurrently operate as the Clown Prince of Crime.
And according to the artwork and story – where more than one Joker is committing a crime at the same time — DC is implying that the three characters are these iconic versions of the Joker:
Original: The first appearance of the Joker was in 1940's Batman #1, and although creators originally wanted him to die, he was instead turned into a recurring villain who evolved into the arch nemesis for Batman and Robin. Under the development of Batman co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, along with young artist Jerry Robinson, the early version of the Joker was a ruthless killer, but was later softened into a thieving trickster.
Darker Joker: By the time 1988's Batman: The Killing Joke was released, the Joker had become a darker, more maniacal villain whose origin included his face being mutilated when he fell into a vat of acid. Not only did this version of the Joker obsessively haunt the Caped Crusader, but he became a dangerous threat to the entire Bat-family — attacking and paralyzing Batgirl Barbara Gordon, then in the subsequent "A Death In The Family" storyline brutally beating and killing then-Robin Jason Todd.
"New 52" Joker: When DC rebooted its universe in 2011, much of the Bat-verse was left untouched — but the Joker went through a physical transformation in the "New 52"'s very first month." In Detective Comics #1, the Joker had the skin from his face removed in one eerie, face-shaped piece, then he wasn't seen again for months. When the character later returned, the face skin was strapped to the front of his face and his obsession with Batman had become almost like a twisted love story, as he begged the Caped Crusader to recognize and honor their eternal bond as enemies (notably mentioning many of their pre-reboot adventures). After Batman flatly rejected his offer of "friendship," Joker temporarily left. But he returned with a vengeance in the "Endgame" storyarc, and the story implied that the villain was actually immortal (thanks to a regenerating element he discovered called dionesium).
The last time we saw the "New 52" Joker, he had gone through a dionesium-induced rebirth — pardon the pun — and his memories were erased after his latest death and resurrection. His Joker-esque madness, however, was clearly still rattling around his brain.
In Justice League and Rebirth, the Mobius Chair's revelation that there are three Jokers implies that the three Jokers all exist in the present. After all, the present Batman asked who the Joker was, referring to his own Joker.
If that's the case — that there are three separate men, all operating at the same time — it's possible that the reason ties into the Snyder/Capullo story where Joker is immortal. With "Endgame" establishing that the Joker can come back to life and live forever, all three of the above described Jokers might have co-existed for some time.
Then again, that doesn't sound quite right, does it? Three concurrent Jokers? As Batman replied to the Mobius Chair, "that's impossible." Or if it's possible — since this is, you know, comic books — then new Batman writer Tom King (who will be apparently handling the aftermath of this revelation), has some 'splaining to do.
Three Multiple Personalities?
It's not quite as exciting, but the Mobius Chair may have been referring to something much different. Before the "New 52" began, Grant Morrison's Batman established that his version of the Joker had gone through a sort of death and rebirth into a new personality.
The idea started in Morrison's Batman: Arkham Asylum story, then got fleshed out in the writer's innovative prose-only Batman #663, "The Clown at Midnight." Morrison suggests that the Joker doesn't actually have a personalty, but instead has what psychiatrists call "super-sanity," creating new personalities to cope with new situations.
As the prose in "The Clown at Midnight" says of the Joker: "He tries to remember how the doctors in Arkham say he has no Self, and maybe they're right, or maybe just guessing … Multiple Joker voices vie for control as he prepares to give blasphemous birth to himself like the Word of God in reverse."
Might DC's Rebirth revelation about three Jokers be a reference to this venerated Grant Morrison story? Could the three Jokers just be the Mobius Chair's way of stating that there are three "personalities" within the Joker — perhaps all still there within him, but not necessary all active?
But then again, it would be kind of a misleading reveal for Rebirth, wouldn't it? After all, Batman says there is one Joker in captivity, while another Joker is committing a crime.
Timeline Meshing Jokers?
Perhaps it's more plausible that the presence of three Jokers is a more recent development. DC Universe: Rebirth has implied that Dr. Manhattan has altered the reality and timeline of the DC Universe, and the boundaries between post-"New 52" and post-Crisis have been breaking down.
That's been the premise of Titans Hunt, the mini-series that started late last year and started messing with the minds of characters like Roy Harper, Gnarrk, Hawk and Dove, Donna Troy, Nightwing, Garth, Bumblebee and Mal. Characters who didn't know each other in the "New 52" started to remember things from the post-Crisis universe. They were drawn together and even started calling themselves "Titans" (harkening back to their post-Crisis stint as Teen Titans).
By the time Titans Hunt #8 came out earlier this month, even Wally West had been teased as coming back into the group — the Wally West from before the "New 52" — an event that we now know is indeed happening.
With the Mobius Chair's revelation about three Jokers occurring around the same time as the Dr. Manhattan implication (and the other revelations of Rebirth), wouldn't it make sense that these things are related? That the "three Jokers" are actually the result of the "New 52" universe being seated within the timelines of the past?
As DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee told Newsarama, Rebirth is a story that "allows us to seat the 'New 52' within the continuity that preceded it."
After all, the DCuniverse now has two Lois Lanes and two Supermans. Maybe there are three Jokers.
So whatever the explanation — whether these three Jokers are three separate people, or whether they're just one crazy combo Joker — readers can expect Batman to be investigating the revelation and DC to be revisiting the idea for months to come.