PopCultHQ’s Manny Popoca counts down the top ten comic book stories featuring the Joker and Batman…
#10. Gotham Central: Soft Targets
“Soft Targets” is a tale of DC Comics most vile bad guy and blend him with a story that could be taken out of any one of today’s headlines. The Joker is on a mad killing spree and this time it’s not laughing fish or mad grinning death gas. Now, this time, Joker is using a conventional weapon and using it for the evil deed he’s got planned this time. Using a sniper rifle to raise traumatic terror on the street and people of Gotham, it almost seems Joker has finally gone too far. If this is too far, you don’t want to read what’s coming up next on the list!
#9. Grant Morrison – Arkham Asylum
While this is not Grant’s best Batman dialogue and it lacks a real fight of fists between the two adversaries, it is one hell of a psychological Dark Knight vs Joker duel. The artwork is out-of-this world and one of Dave McKeans best comic book work ever.
#8. Ed Brubaker, Doug Mankie – Batman: The Man Who Laughs
The Man Who Laughs is the Year One tale of Batman’s very first battle vs the Clown Prince of crime. In the re-telling of Joker’s origin, Ed Brubaker and Douge Mankie give a more comic book-oriented story that doesn’t try to go to realistic or even too cartoony. If this was the story of the three bears in the woods with Goldilocks, then this would be the book she picked for it was ‘just right’. While Joker doesn’t go off the deep end in this book with massive killing sprees or depictions of grand violence, it still feels just right as the perfect Batman tale.
#7. Batman Beyond – Return of the Joker
What is Joker doing in the future while Bruce Wayne is a frail old man and has a new young apprentice taking over his mantle? Oh, he’s just been doing good ol’ Joker-type things until he could finally pull off one more masterpiece of chaos. Originally brought to fame as a DC animated film, the comic book version does it justice.
Batman and Batgirl head to the original Arkham Asylum which was deserted now. There, the Joker and Harley introduce their “son” Joker Jr. – Tim Drake, but with a “Joker Smile” frozen into his face. After seeing Tim brainwashed and drugged, Batman rushes to attack the Joker, while Batgirl goes after Harley. While trying to escape Batgirl, Harley falls off a cliff, to her apparent death.
Meanwhile, the Joker leads Batman to a room where he shows Batman a “home movie” of Tim being tortured and turned into Joker Jr. During this torture, Tim reveals to the Joker the real identities of the Batman Family. Blazing with anger, Batman attacks the Joker again and after a long struggle, the Joker stabs Batman in the leg with a knife. Tim, still very deranged, picks up a flag gun and points it at Batman, urged by the Joker to shoot. At the last minute, he turns and shoots the Joker in his chest, and with his dying breath he says in a weakened voice, “That’s not funny.” Tim begins to break down into maniacal laughter, which soon turns to tears, and is comforted by Barbara who tells him it is okay. The team then went on to bury the Joker underneath Arkham Asylum
#6. Brian Azzarello: Joker
This is a Joker that is crossed with a BADASS mobster-type attitude and it works brilliantly! The story brought to you by Brian Azzarello in the form of a “Goodfellas” sort of feel. The story is told from the viewpoint of a two-bit criminal dreamer named Jonny Frost, a hired goon/driver for the Joker, as he is released from Arkham once again. Frost is lucky enough (in his mind) to be witness to the Joker’s triumphant and violent return to the Gotham crime-world. Joker is looking to gain his footing back in the crime syndicate’s eyes and he has to be brutal to regain his lost empire.
Azzarello dives into the psyche of a Joker whose “insanity” is the result of snorting cocaine and popping pills washed down by liquor, sending the Joker into bloodthirsty rages. The Joker in this book is not the clown prince of crime, as Azzarello show us an out of his mind monster who is jet fueled on drugs. Watch as the Joker skins a man alive, breaks into a random apartment to slice up an elderly couple for no reason and then, later on, he rapes Jonny’s wife to test his loyalty.
#5. Flashpoint: Batman
What happens when the Joker is not really The Joker but still is The Joker is some fashion? I just crossed your eyes, didn’t I? Well stay with me here because this twisted Multiverse tale is beyond riveting once all is revealed. The tale actually begins when young Bruce Wayne is the one shot and killed leaving his parents alive to take over the spirit of the Dark Knight. Only this time Thomas Wayne (Father) is the Batman drowned in anger and Martha Wayne (Mother) goes insane at the loss of her child and turns into The Joker of this multiverse. Flashpoint tie-in Batman Knight of Vengeance #1-3 revisits that twisted multiverse world and brings another great Joker take that leaves people dead, the DC universe upside down and your jaw dropped wide open all at the same time. This is one fantastic read.
#4. Starlin, Aparo, DeCarlo, Mignola: “A Death in the Family” Batman issues #426*429
“A Death in the Family” used to be one of the more sadistic tales of Joker lore with the way he beat the Boy Wonder near death and the fans ultimately killed Jason Todd off with a dial-a-1-800 number scheme. That is until the Joker upped his crazy factor with the next story above and Jason Todd was brought back from the dead by Ra’s Al Ghul to become the Red Hood.
#3. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo: “Death of the Family”
If Batman “A Death in the Family” shows the most brutal side of Joker towards his nemesis, than “Death of the Family” tells of how far The Joker is willing to break the ultimate Batman taboos. You just don’t mess with the Bat family, especially his own blood… his son. Joker does the unthinkable by going as far as actually KILLING Damian Wayne, the newly found blood son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al’ Ghoul (Ra’s Al Ghoul’s daughter). This long epic tale is best summed up in the The Joker’s trade paperback version of Death of the Family with all the other Bat-family, Bat-enemy and Harley Quinn tie-ins. Thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time.
#2. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland: The Killing Joke
How far is The Joker willing to torture and mutilate someone? How about shoot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), tie her up naked, then tie up her father Commissioner Jim Gordon like he’s the ‘Gimp’ from Pulp Fiction, only to have him watch his daughter dying and bleeding to death over a video monitor. Once all is said and done, all the Joker can do is have a laugh with Batman over the whole entire thing by the end. This story was so sadistic and damaging to the senses that is pissed off a whole lot of conservatives into wanting to ban this book for good. Thank goodness that never happened and some version of this tale will become a DC animated film. It will most likely be toned down a lot because just any thoughts of this story and its content will still gets groups in an uproar (that’s why a certain Joker cover was banned). This is one fine Joker tale from the Elseworld DC tales that actually had lasting ramifications in the comics with Batgirl being paralyzed for life from that gun shot from The Joker.
#1. Frank Miller : The Dark Knight Returns
The ultimate Batman vs Joker ‘The End’ tale.
In the futuristic tale by Frank Miller, the story depicts a retired Bruce Wayne/Batman in his old age still trying to find something that will spark his life. Like the crime fighting days of old, he has found his calling with the rise of crime in Gotham. As for the Joker, he’s been cooped up in a mental hospital, disillusioned with a world no longer filled in chaos.
Once The Bat is back, so are the villains he helped breed directly or indirectly. There is now a connection Batman has with his rouges because he will not kill them. The revolving door of criminal vs vigilante will never be resolved until there is an end. Joker for the first time (in 1986) was depicted as a homicidal maniac on a killing rampage that is so unnervingly similar to today’s headlines of attention-seeking mass killings. To say Frank Miller was ahead of his time is only diminishing his overall brilliance in storytelling. The man was a comic book genius that finally tossed out the ‘clown’ joker and created a scary amalgam of what society can help create if the perfect ingredients of madness are blended together with an evil fixation to ruin The Batman. How sadistic can the Joker get? How about after going on a killing spree and fighting it out with the Dark Knight, and even though loses, he won’t let Batman win. So Joker does his most heinous act of killing by taking his own life, snapping his very own neck to frame Batman. If the police think Batman is a killer, then all bets are off.
What makes this the top Joker story for me is this simple question: Did the Joker create himself or did the Batman create the Joker?
Do you agree or disagree with our list? Is there a better Joker story you like more? Let us know in the comments section.