FROM CALIGARI TO JOKER: the clown prince of crime’s psychopathic science

Dr Anna Sophie Jürgens*, Professor David Tscharke, Professor Jochen Brocks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


From the very beginning of his adventures in the DC universe, the Joker has been associated with science, particularly (bio)chemistry and microbiology. Exploring some recently published narrative examples of Joker science together with the insight provided by virology and chemistry, this paper examines the scientific and cultural ideas of science conveyed by the violent clown and his scientific extravaganzas. Psychopathic, mannerist Joker science, this paper shows, is intrinsically linked to the realms of hypnotism, hysteria, ecstasy and the ‘hysterical realities’ of different historical, physical, medial and cultural settings. Joker science is not only about how chemistry and virology might affect the human body but it also explores notions of possession and control–contemporary notions of what was once investigated as ‘criminal suggestion’ or ‘hypnotic crimes’ on science stages and in early film. Joker science ‘jokerises’: it leads to loss of motor control, muscular contortions, cramps, fatal convulsions and frenetic, deadly laughter, reminiscent of the ‘strange spectacle’ of hysterics and the ‘science performances’ and ‘hystericulture’ developed by the showman and researcher Charcot and his many fictional revenants, all characterised by a peculiar position between science, entertainment and the occult.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-699
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Graphic Novels and Comics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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