Marvel’s Incredible Hulk and DC Comics’ Joker are two comic book icons with seemingly nothing in common. Aside from the fact that they belong to separate comic book companies, the Clown Prince of Crime is an apparently mortal (albeit criminally insane) man obsessed with Batman while the Green Goliath regularly tests the limits of reality with his impossible feats of strength.
The two characters have met before in the DC/Marvel Comics crossover Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk where the Joker convinces the Savage Hulk that they should be friends because they both have green hair. Aside from this chance encounter, however, there seems to be nothing connecting the two… or so it seems.
In actuality, the two possess a very powerful connection that dates all the way back to the 1800s. As bizarre as it might seem, the Hulk and the Joker were inspired by the works of one man — French author Victor Hugo.
From the beginning, the Hulk was born from classic literature. Stan Lee has stated he combined elements from Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to create Bruce Banner’s alter ego. When it came time to adapt the Hulk for live-action television, however, producer Kenneth Johnson found inspiration in another work -- Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Best known today as a musical play, the book tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who breaks his parole and attempts to live a decent life. Thanks to his criminal past, however, Valjean is pursued by Javert, a French police inspector who believes he is taking a fugitive into justice.
This inspired Johnson to reimagine The Incredible Hulk as a man-on-the-run series with David Banner (Bill Bixby) moving from city to city in search of a cure for his condition. Every time he transformed the Hulk’s activities alert tabloid journalist Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who wanted to uncover the truth behind the creature. Thus, Banner, like Valjean, would always have to be on the move thanks to his personal “Javert.”
The TV show would continue to have a lasting effect on how the general public saw the Hulk. When the MCU produced their version of the Hulk in 2008, they took multiple elements from the television show and made Banner a fugitive on the run — only this time, instead of just a journalist he had the entire U.S. army on his tail.
In 1939, Bob Kane and Bill Finger created a Rogues Gallery for DC's Batman and found inspiration in another work of Victor Hugo’s — The Man Who Laughs. Published in 1869, the novel tells the story of Gwynplaine, a man disfigured with a permanent grin thanks to an encounter with a sadist. Although he looks scary, he’s actually a kind person who cares for Dea, a blind girl who falls in love with him.
In 1928, The Man Who Laughs was turned into a silent film where “The Laughing Man’s” smile was created by Jack Pierce, the makeup artist who helped create Universal Monsters like the Wolf Man. Years later, Kane and Finger saw a photo from the film and used it as the basis for the Joker’s creepy visage, making it a major influence on Batman’s greatest nemesis.
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