The Clown Prince of Crime has done many terrible things in the last 77 years. From his very first appearance in Batman #1 (1940) to his last big scheme in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame,” the Joker has terrorized Gotham and its protector. He’s murdered countless people, poisoned the city’s water supply, maimed Batman’s loved ones, and has even tried to get rich quick with a plan involving “laughing fish.” It’s no wonder his zany capers and nightmarish plots have made him the greatest comic book villain of all time in the eyes of many. Hell, some might even call him the best villain, period.
This year, the Joker is back in a big way. After being absent for most of DC Rebirth’s first year, he returns in the pages of both Tom King and Mikel Janin’s Batman and in the Dark Days prelude to Dark Nights: Metal, which is being masterminded by Snyder. What horrors await Gotham now that the Joker’s back in town? That remains to be seen. For now, we’re counting down the Joker’s most sadistic acts throughout history, but also his most… heroic? You’ll be surprised! The Clown’s done his fair share of good deeds…
15. SADISTIC: CRIPPLED BARBARA GORDON
There’s nothing quite as horrifying as the first entry on this list. In The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, the Joker hatches a plan to drive Commissioner Gordon mad through a combination of physical and mental torture. (It’s also implied that the Joker forces Gordon to take LSD!) But that’s not even the worst of it.
In order to really drive his message home, the Joker decides to pay Gordon’s daughter, Barbara (aka Batgirl), a surprise visit first. As soon as Barbara swings her apartment door open, the Joker shoots her in the stomach and the bullet cripples her. It’s strongly implied that the Joker proceeds to sexually assault Barbara, while he snaps pictures of her writhing in pain. He then shows the pictures to Gordon… This is easily one of the most messed up things that have ever happened in the world of comics.
14. HEROIC: SHOT ALEX LUTHOR JR.
In Infinite Crisis by Geoff Johns, the Joker finishes what the Dark Knight started. Batman came very close to breaking his one rule, as he pointed a gun at Alexander Luthor Jr.’s head. The villain was part of a plan to bring back the Multiverse after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and seriously injured Nightwing in the process.
When Batman came face to face with Alex Luthor Jr., he considered ending the multiverse-spanning villain once and for all. Luckily, Wonder Woman stopped him from pulling the trigger. That doesn’t mean Alex Jr. gets off easy. The Joker’s been hunting him the entire time because he was the only villain not invited to join Alex’s forces. When the Clown catches up to Alex in an alley, he squirts acid in his face, electrocutes him with a joy buzzer, and shoots him at point-blank range.
13. SADISTIC: CUT OFF ALFRED’S HAND
While the Joker has always been hesitant to kill Batman — the crazed Clown believes the hero and the villain complete each other — that’s never stopped him from going after the Bat’s loved ones. In Snyder and Capullo’s “Endgame,” the Joker infiltrates the Batcave and faces off against Alfred, who plans to stop the villain with a shotgun. Of course, poor Alfred is no match for the Clown’s madness.
The Joker cuts off Alfred’s hand with a meat cleaver, leaving Batman’s ally with a bloody stump — a gruesome scene Capullo draws with much relish. Alfred did end up getting his hand reattached a few issues later. The scary thing is that, according to Snyder, Alfred got off easy. That’s really terrifying to think about.
12. HEROIC: TURNED ON THE RED SKULL
Believe it or not, DC and Marvel have crossed over several times. One of those times was in 1996’s Batman and Captain America by John Byrne. Other than the fact that Bat and Cap team up to take down the Joker and Red Skull, the most important thing about this book is that even the Clown punches fascists in the face. While he’s hired by Red Skull at first, the Joker quickly denounces the Nazis and decides to kick the fascist villain’s butt in the name of America.
Say what you will about the Joker — yes, he’s a mass murdering maniac who’s not afraid to blow people up any time of the day – but he’s definitely a patriot. When Batman and Captain America catch up to Red Skull’s plane, which is carrying an atomic bomb aimed at Washington D.C., the Joker helps the heroes thwart the villain’s plans.
11. SADISTIC: KILLED RACHEL
Heath Ledger’s Joker is an agent of chaos. He wants to show Batman that even the best people can turn to evil if pushed hard enough. The Joker proves this when he drives Gotham’s white knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent, to madness by blowing up his fiancee Rachel Dawes in a warehouse. This is easily the most heartbreaking moment in The Dark Knight.
The Joker plays both Batman and Commissioner Gordon perfectly, allowing himself to be captured in order to sneakily kidnap both Harvey and Rachel. When an angry Batman arrives to interrogate the villain, the Joker presents the Dark Knight with a choice. Little does the hero know that the Clown’s given him the wrong information. Batman intends to save Rachel, but instead arrives at Harvey’s location. While Batman “saves” Harvey from the explosion, the District Attorney’s face is severely disfigured and his mind lost. The Joker wins.
10. HEROIC: TOOK DOWN DOCTOR HURT
Batman almost met his match against the Black Glove, a criminal organization hellbent on destroying him. The group’s leader was the enigmatic Doctor Simon Hurt, a man who claims to be Thomas Wayne himself but is actually Bruce’s crazed devil-worshiping and seemingly immortal ancestor. After killing several members of Batman’s International Club of Heroes, Hurt targets the Dark Knight.
Unsurprisingly, the Joker aligns himself with the Black Glove. But when things don’t go as planned for the organization and Batman takes them down, the Joker decides to take matters into his own hands. When a defeated Hurt tries to make his escape after losing badly, it’s the Joker who tracks him down, doses him with toxin, and buries him alive. The Clown Prince of Crime saves the day…ish?
9. SADISTIC: SKINNED MONTY ALIVE
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s 2008 Joker graphic novel doesn’t pull any punches. This portrait of the Clown through the eyes of one of his henchmen is perhaps the darkest portrayal of the villain ever. It’s certainly one of the most violent, as the Joker returns to Gotham to take back the turf he lost after his last capture. What unfolds is a grotesque murder spree that is not for the faint of heart.
One of the most gruesome scenes in the book takes place at a strip club. The Joker’s former henchmen, Monty, now owns the club and throws his former boss a big party to celebrate his release. Unbeknownst to the Joker, Monty’s hired Harley Quinn to strip at the club. The villain’s not too happy about this, so he skins Monty from the neck down and forces him to dance on stage…
8. HEROIC: FOUND CURE TO COLOSSUS VIRUS
Remember that time Batman and Joker went on a Euro trip? That’s exactly what happened in Batman: Europa by Brian Azzarello and Giuseppe Camuncoli. The Bat and the Clown have been infected by the “Colossus” Virus, which will kill them unless they find the cure located somewhere in Europe. Thus their fragile alliance begins. The unlikely duo adventure through Berlin, Prague, Paris, and Rome, always on the trail of the Trojan Horse, the mysterious villain who infected them.
In each city, Batman and Joker face new trials and are forced to save each other at every turn. It is eventually revealed that the Trojan Horse was Bane all along. Together, they make quick work of Bane and deduce that the cure for the virus lies within each other. The Bat and the Clown have to go back to punching each other, but that doesn’t make their adventure any less heroic.
7. SADISTIC: SERVED BAT FAMILY THEIR FACES
The Joker somehow keeps topping himself. In Snyder and Capullo’s “Death of the Family,” the Joker returns to Gotham after his mysterious disappearance in Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1, and he has a whole new look. After having his face cut off by Dollmaker in a mad ritual, the Joker now wears the rotting skin like a mask.
What could the Joker’s plan be this time? Simple: he wants to destroy all of the people Batman depends on because he believes that at the end of the day the Bat and the Clown only need each other. So the Joker kidnaps all of Batman’s friends, douses them in gasoline in case they try to escape, and has a brainwashed Alfred serve everyone their severed faces. It turns out to be a really bad prank, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
6. HEROIC: HELPED BATMAN SAVE KIDNAPPED GIRL
This is the Joker’s Hannibal Lecter moment. Even Joker likes to be helpful every once in a while. In Detective Comics Vol. 1 #726 by Chuck Dixon and Brian Stelfreeze, Batman’s looking for a girl who’s been kidnapped by a former patient at Arkham Asylum, and the trail leads him back to the Joker, who’s ready to play some mind games in exchange for the girl’s location.
Batman quickly deduces that the girl’s kidnapping was the Joker’s plan all along, and that he wanted to see the Bat on the anniversary of Jason Todd’s death. After several minutes of games, Batman finally demands to know where the Clown is keeping the girl. In a surprising turn of events, the Joker simply tells him her location. When Batman asks him why he gave up the information so willingly, the Joker responds that now the Bat won’t always expect the worst from him.
5. SADISTIC: KILLED JASON TODD
The Joker’s most infamous crime was the murder of Batman’s second sidekick, Jason Todd. While the circumstances behind Jason’s death had a lot to do with the readership, which voted to kill off Robin, it was the Joker who dealt the killing blows in “A Death in the Family” by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo. Always the criminal mastermind, the Clown knew exactly what buttons to push to lure headstrong and reckless Jason into his trap.
After Jason discovers that his long-lost mother is somewhere in the Middle East or Africa, the boy runs away from home to find her. Jason eventually tracks her down, but little does the Boy Wonder know that the Joker’s blackmailing her for a past crime. His price: Jason Todd. She hands her son over and the Joker makes quick work of him, beating him senseless with a crowbar and blowing him up alongside his mother.
4. HEROIC: HELPED TAKE DOWN LEGION OF DOOM
2005’s Justice limited series by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite is proof that you should never exclude the Clown Prince of Crime from your evil organization. When supervillains around the world start having recurring nightmares of a nuclear apocalypse that the Justice League is unable to prevent, they decide to form an alliance and save the world their own way. In fact, the united villains solve several of Earth’s problems, such as world hunger. Of course, this is all too good to be true.
While public opinion on the Justice League sours and the villains take down several heroes, the initial nightmare is revealed to be another one of Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and Gorilla Grodd’s schemes to form a new Legion of Doom and crush their enemies once and for all. Unfortunately for Luthor, the Joker is really pissed about not being included in the evil plan and he helps the Justice League thwart the villain’s forces.
3. SADISTIC: TRICKED SUPERMAN INTO KILLING LOIS
What could turn Superman, the world’s greatest superhero, into a mad tyrant bent on ruling the planet with an iron fist? The Joker. Injustice presents a grim alternate reality where the Joker’s won his ultimate victory from beyond the grave. He causes the fall of the last son of Krypton.
The Joker lures Lois and Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen into a trap. The Clown kills poor Jimmy and kidnaps Lois, who’s pregnant with Superman’s son. When the Man of Steel gets word of the kidnapping, he confronts the Joker in a submarine. Before he can save Lois, Superman is gassed with a fear toxin that makes him believe Lois is Doomsday. Superman kills Lois and the baby, which triggers a nuclear warhead that destroys Metropolis. The hero is driven mad, finds where the villain is being held, and kills him in cold blood. Superman will never be the same again.
2. HEROIC: BEGS BRUCE NOT TO BECOME BATMAN AGAIN
When it comes to the Joker, this might be the ultimate mercy: begging an amnesiac Bruce not to go back to his life of darkness. The comics and movies have often explored Bruce’s unhappiness while donning the cowl. His war on crime never allows him to get close to anyone or have any kind of normal life. His life as a superhero has doomed him to always be alone.
So, when he has a chance at a fresh start in Snyder and Capullo’s “Superheavy” arc, he takes it at first. Of course, he doesn’t remember his past life as Batman at all. But when he starts to remember his true identity, it’s a “humanized” Joker who shows up on a park bench to dissuade him from turning back into the Dark Knight. The Joker wishes to rid both of them of the endless cycle of pain and suffering; or maybe he isn’t. With the Joker, it’s always tough to tell.
1. SADISTIC: HARLEY QUINN
It goes without saying that the Joker isn’t really the romantic type. At least not in the sane sense of the word. But somehow, even the Clown Prince of Crime has a “sweetheart.” That’s Harley Quinn, of course: the Arkham Asylum psychologist who was gaslighted into falling in love with the Clown. And their relationship is anything but healthy.
Both in Batman: The Animated Series and Harley’s later comic book appearances, the Joker often insults, hurts, and even tries to kill her. At one point, the Joker even pretends to slice off her face as a prank. Joker is just the worst, but he finally gets what’s coming to him in Harley Quinn #25 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Chad Hardin. Harley finally breaks things off with Mr. J and beats the crap out of him to boot. It’s oh so satisfying.
What are the most evil things you think the Joker has done? What about his most heroic? Let us know in the comments!
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