The Joker, Batman’s greatest and most deadliest foe has been around the caped crusader since Batman #1 (1940). As another of the everlasting creations from Bill Finger, who actually came up with the dark detective and most of his iconic features but never fully credited. From the first inception of the Joker which always had the clown painted, maniacal, laughing man as a dangerous killer who has absolutely no quarry in taking anyone’s life at any time. Anyone’s life that is but his very own arch nemesis, The Batman. So it brings to question just who is the true antagonist in this relationship and who is the true victim? On the surface It may seem like a silly question to ask but once you get to the end of this top 10 list, I may just have you thinking twice about your answer.
The Joker is said to be based on a classic black and white silent movie named “The Man Who Laughed” Taking place in England in the year 1690, The Man Who Laughs features Gwynplaine, the son of an English nobleman who has offended King James II. The monarch sentences Gwynplaine’s father to death in an iron maiden, after calling upon a surgeon, Dr. Hardquannone, to disfigure the boy’s face into a permanent grin. As a title card states, the King condemned him “to laugh forever at his fool of a father.”
Let’s take a look at my personal picks for the top ten best comic book Joker stories ever:
#10. Gotham Central: Soft Targets
“Soft Targets” is a tale of DC comic books most vile bad guy and blends 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. No, this time Joker is using a conventional weapon and using it for the evil deed he’s got planned to terrorize all of Gotham and it’s inhabitants. Using a sniper rifle to raise traumatic terror on the street and to the 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 this list! While this story is more about GCPD vs the Joker, it still goes to show how batshit crazy Joker can get and no one is off-limits to being his victims…even the police themselves.
#9. Grant Morrison – Arkham Asylum
While this is not Grants best batman dialogue and it lacks a real fight of fist between the two adversaries, it is one hell of a physiological Dark Knight vs Joker duel. As Morrison dives deep into the psyche of the vigilante that wants nothing less than the most disturbed man in the world basically f@$ around in Batman’s head. In what is known as the biggest mind f@%# Batman vs Joker tale ever, it is even more profound by the artwork of Dave McKean.
The artwork is out-of-this world and one of Dave McKean’s best comic book work ever. Arkham Asylum and its mind numbing artwork with psychological chess game between Bats and Joker will be enough to give some readers nightmares for years to come.
#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 Jokers origin by Ed Brubaker and Douge Mankie who give a more comic book oriented story that doesn’t try to go too realistic or even too cartoony. If this was the story of the three bears in the wood 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 perfect as the first Batman vs. Joker showdown.
#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 waiting till he could finally pull off one more masterpiece of chaos. Or is this really the Joker that we all know and love. What turns out to be Tim Drake acting like the joker in this future tale is still one of the best ever Joker stories ever for how Tim Drake (Robin III) becomes this future madman by what the clown prince did to him so many years ago.
What the Joker does in his final days to Tim Drake are some of the most sadistic things you will ever see from the Joker but it certainly does not end here when it comes to inflicting as much pain on the Batman as he can.
Robin is tortured for three grueling weeks by the Joker using some of the most horrific depictions we’ve seen to date from the clown prince of crime. Until a clue leads Batman and Batgirl to the original Arkham Asylum which has now been long deserted. There Batman finds the Joker and Harley introduce their “son” Joker Jr. – Tim Drake, but with the “Joker Smile” frozen onto his face. Batman rushes to attack the Joker, while Batgirl goes after Harley. While trying to escape the Batgirl, Harley seems to fall 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. Joker Jr. (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 punches the Joker, in his chest launching him into water and electrical equipment causing the Jokers Death. 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’s: 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 since it is told from the point of view of a wise-guy wannabe. As the story is told from the viewpoint of 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 witnesses to the Joker’s triumphed and violent return to the Gotham crime-world. Joker is looking to gain his footing back in the crime syndicates eyes and he has to be brutal to regain his lost empire.
Azzarello’s 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’s take shows us an out of his mind monster who is fueled on drugs. Watch as the Joker skins a man alive in a strip club, 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 in Detective Comics Batman issue #678, in that issue young Bruce Wayne is the one shot and killed leaving his parents to suffer and 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, who then turns herself into The Joker of this multiverse world. Flashpoint tie-in Batman Knight of Vengeance #1-3 revisits that twisted multiverse world and brings another great Joker tale 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
“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 with an iron crowbar and the fans ultimately killed Jason Todd off with a dial-a-1-800 number scheme. That is till the Joker up’d his crazy factor with the next story in this countdown list. Also bring in the fact Jason Todd was brought back from the dead by Ra’s Al Ghul only to become the Redhood. Jason Todd is now back to life and one of Batmans loyal family members of vigilante fighters.
#3. Scott Snyder and Creg Capullo: Joker “Death of the Family”
If Batman “A Death in the Family” shows the most brutal side of Joker towards his nemesis, then “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 Bats family….especially his own blood Son. Joker goes and does the major unthinkable by going as far as actually KILLING Damian Wayne, the newly found blood Son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al’ Ghul (Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter). This long epic tale is best summed up in the The Jokers trade paperback version of Death of the Family with all the other Bat-family, Bat-enemy and Harley Quinn tie-ins. In this story Joker lays waste to all his former enemies, acquaintances and even past allies. Why not bring back PTSD memories to Barbra Gordon and make her merry you. Why not find Harley Quinn in order to punch her in the face and torture her for fun and why not just drive every person Batman has ever cared about to the brink of insanity. Thrilling and heartbreaking, Death of a Family is all of that and a hell of a lot more at the same time!
#2. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland: The Killing Joke
How far The Joker is 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 on a video monitor dying bleeding to death. Once all 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 it really pissed off a whole lot of conservatives into wanting to ban this book for good. Thank goodness that never happened and some versions of this tale will become a DC animated film. It will most likely be toned down a whole lot because any thoughts of this story and its content still gets groups in an uproar (that’s why a certain Joker cover was banned. This is one fine Joker story from the Elseworld DC tales that actually had lasting ramifications in the comics with Batgirl being paralyzed for life from that gun shot from Joker.
#1. Frank Miller : The Dark Knight Returns
The ultimate Batman vs Joker ‘The End’ tale.
In the futuristic tale by Frank Miller, depicting a retired Bruce Wayne/Batman in his old age still trying to find something that will spark his life. Like the old crime fighting days of old, he has found his calling with the rise of crime in Gotham once more. 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 to his rouges because he will not kill them. The revolving door of criminal vs vigilante will never be resolved till there is an end. Joker for the first time (in 1986) was depicted as a homicidal maniac on a killing rampage that is so unnerving 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 mirror 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 loses, Joker just won’t let Batman win. So Joker does his most heinous final 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. If the works of Frank Miller are used to basically bring the Batman lore to the pop culture world and general public in all it’s movies, TV shows and every comic made after his very few iconic Batman tales. Then this should be the finale story that most fans should take into future cannon till someone actually has the balls like the Joker has to actually kill off the character for good (which will never happen).
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.