These types of articles are always fun and interesting to write because they result in a lot of debate and conversation. People’s opinions vary based on their feelings and interests. However, since the new trailer was released last week for the upcoming Joker movie, I thought it would be fun to put out a Top 10 article of the best Joker stories. I kept it to actual comic book stories and avoided stories we’ve experienced in movies and television media. Readers may not agree with my thoughts here, so I welcome some conversation about the article! Keep in mind, this list only scratches the surfaces of the Joker and the impact he has on the Bat Family and the DC Universe as a whole.
Honorable Mention 1: The Joker’s Millions (Detective Comics #180)
This one makes the list as an honorable mention because Paul Dini adapted it in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. The Joker gets an unexpected inheritance from a mob boss that he always considered his rival. What does he decide to do with it? Why go on a spending spree of course! Now here’s the catch…most of the money is fake! Joker has blown through all the real money and is stuck with a huge tax bill from the IRS. He can’t get out of the tax unless he admits he got conned. His solution? Go back to crime to get the money. Absolutely hilarious!
Honorable Mention 2: Mad Love (The Batman Adventures: Mad Love #1)
Everyone is going to object to this one and say it should be much higher than it is. However, I feel this is right where it belongs because I consider it more of a Harley Quinn story than a Joker one. Of course, we get Harley’s origin story, but the main takeaway from this issue is her relationship if you could call it that, with the Joker. Joker is an egotistical individual, only caring about himself and how he is perceived. Obviously, he is going to ignore Harley unless he needs her. That’s why she decides to kill Batman so that he will pay her more attention. When she tells the Joker that she is about to off the Bat, he flies into a rage. Only HE can kill Batman.
10 – Last Laugh (Batman #353)
The first story on our list continues the theme of the Joker’s insane ego. In this issue, the Joker escapes from the mental hospital (talk about recurring themes…) and decides that Gotham needs a monument to his so-called greatness since he is “the Crown Prince of Crime.” The Joker is bothered by the fact that the city is erecting a statue to a musician, a profession he doesn’t think very highly of. He decides to rectify this slight by using computer-simulated explosives to turn a cliff-edge to his own chilling face. A bonus is that he has captured Batman and plans to blow him up in the process. Needless to say, Batman foils his insane scheme.
An additional perk to this issue being on the list is that it allows you to see the fantastic work of José Luis García-López. This is one of only four Batman issues he worked on.
9 – A Savage Innocence (The Spectre vol. 3 #51)
Now I know what you’re thinking, why is a non-Batman related book on this list? The fact that you wouldn’t expect it is exactly why it’s here! This issue opens in New York City, where there is a hot new nightclub named “The Killing Joke.” We all know who it is modeled after. Joker proceeds to go on a killing spree. Readers are treated to the vain side of the Joker’s personality. He is furious that his image has been stolen and turned into a fad. Both Batman and Spectre arrive and Spectre decides to finally punish him for all the murders he’s committed. Before Batman can stop him, Spectre enters the Joker’s soul only to discover himself near powerless. Joker takes over the Spectre’s body and he proceeds to reign destruction and chaos down on NYC.
In this issue, we truly see how sick and twisted the Joker is. While everyone knows he is an evil man, some forget that he is also insane. He has no conscience regarding what he does…only things like humor, hatred, and fear matter. There is no concept of good and evil with him, something that Batman argues with the Spectre about.
8 – The Joker/The Joker Returns (Batman vol. 1 #1)
There can’t be a Top 10 Joker story list without the first appearance of the character. Only a character as unpredictable and deranged as the Joker would announce his existence to Gotham City by going on the radio and tell listeners that he will kill someone at midnight. From there, the Joker goes on to kill two prominent Gotham citizens with his trademark Joker Venom. After being captured, the Joker escapes two days later and starts the process all over again – killing two more people.
This first issue establishes the Joker as a deadly foe who should never be underestimated.
7 – The Joker is Wild (Batman #366)
This story is on this list for a couple of different reasons. Joker has decided to take his schtick internationally to Guatemala. His plan? Having the military forces and the rebel resistance destroy each other so that Joker could take over the country. Only the Joker could be insane enough to come up with a plot like this (without superpowers) and think it will work. After Batman, predictably, foils Joker’s plot, he finally snaps! Gone is the obsessed clown who enjoys taunting and provoking Batman. All that is left is unhinged, murderous rage.
The other reason this story is important? A little known character named Jason Todd puts on the mantle of Robin for the first time. He might have some important history with the Joker down the road.
6 – Slayride (Detective Comics #826)
I’m trying to think of any place where I would like to encounter the Joker. While I’m drawing a blank because that guy scares me, one of the first places I can think of that is in the avoid column? A speeding car! That’s just what happens to Robin (Tim Drake). As he attempts to evade warring gangs, he literally stumbles into a nearby SUV before coming face to face with…the Joker.
Robin awakens to find himself hogtied in the front passenger seat as Joker speeds through downtown Gotham, mowing over helpless pedestrians. Not even fast food restaurant managers are safe from Joker’s homicidal insanity! This story shows readers just how unpredictable and vicious the Joker’s psychosis truly is. I still can’t believe it comes from Paul Dini of Batman: The Animated Series fame.
5 – Joker’s Five-Way Revenge (Batman #251)
Perhaps you were reading comics around the time when Joker was a gimmick criminal, obsessed with thievery and annoying Batman. That changed with this issue. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams bring the character back to his roots as a deadly, psychotic maniac. The Joker has escaped from a mental hospital and has sworn to kill his former gang, thinking one of them was a rat to the police. He kills four of the five and nearly gets the fifth before his plot is foiled by Batman.
At one point, the Joker even has the drop on the Dark Knight but doesn’t kill him. That would be too easy. Thus is introduced the insane notion that the Joker must always have Batman around or if not, be the one to end him on his terms.
Considered one of the best Batman stories that Scott Snyder has put out, Endgame takes the sick relationship between Batman and the Joker to a whole new level. The Joker has always had an obsession with the Dark Knight, more like a strange attachment. However, it has grown into a hatred for Batman and when that happens, he decides to destroy everything. Hence the phrase…Endgame. The Joker spreads his Venom in the form of a virus across Gotham City and even to the Justice League. Readers learn that he has been planning this attack for over a year, masquerading as Arkham orderly Eric Border.
None of this is the most chilling thing about this story. There are two revelations that are worst: the Joker cannot die (due to Dionesium) and he KNOWS. The Joker has learned that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same. Snyder’s tale is a never-ending crescendo of action and horror that culminates with the supposed deaths of both Batman and the Joker.
All this because he felt that Batman rejected him.
Another Joker story on our list that has been adapted to some other form of media. In “The Laughing Fish,” Joker has poisoned the ocean with his Joker Venom and as a result, all the fish have his macabre face. This is in a crazy attempt to trademark these Joker Fish because they share a likeness with his unique features. After being told no one can register a trademark on a natural resource like fish, the Joker does something predictable to him…he kills those bureaucrats that are responsible for this decision. Only a lunatic like the Joker could think that this was a smart and foolproof plan.
This story shows readers that Joker has an incredible flair for the dramatic. Everything is done to bring attention to himself. That would include his continual need to announce his crimes to the public via radio or television.
Why is it that the best Joker stories always involve him killing someone close to Batman? Aside from our number one on this list, there really isn’t a story out there that expresses his brutality and insanity like Death in the Family. Joker has come up with his most outrageous plan yet – selling a nuclear warhead to terrorists from the Middle East. While on a search for his mother, Jason Todd gets mixed up with this plot. Joker savagely beats Todd with a crowbar before blowing him up.
The icing on the cake is that the final fate of Jason Todd was left up to readers via a 1-900 number. I think this shows that we all have a bit of a ruthless side deep down. Death in the Family could be one of the most shocking Joker stories of all time. But then…there’s number one…
1 – The Killing Joke (Batman: The Killing Joke)
We all knew that this would be the number one answer of this Top 10 list. Most people consider Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke to be the definitive Joker story while at the same time being the most controversial. In an effort to drive Jim Gordon insane to prove to Batman that all it takes is just “one bad day,” Joker viciously attacks Barbara Gordon. He shoots her in the stomach and severs his spine before taking lewd photos of her. The effects of this story ripple throughout the Bat-Family for the next twenty years. Outside of comics, elements from this story are borrowed upon to tell their own tales. I believe we can all safely say that this is the most unique and disturbing Joker story in comics history.
After going through the stories in this list and many others, I remind myself of a major notion about the Joker. He is always changing as a character. No two characterizations, no two origins are the same. The Joker goes back and forth from a zany gimmick criminal to an unpredictable serial killer. This reason alone makes him one of the most popular comic book villains.
By Comics Dude