The Joker’s incomparable energy and clownish humor make him a perpetual favorite Batman villain. Whether it’s in comics, voiced by Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series, or reimagined as an agent of chaos in The Dark Knight, the Joker is endlessly popular. This shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s an irredeemable psychopath capable of some truly despicable and disturbing crimes against humanity. Through all the smiles and laughs there’s a darkness at the heart of Joker few villains can compete with. It’s never a question of if the Joker will commit an atrocity — it’s when.
There are a number of prolific killers in Batman’s rogue’s gallery, but none of them aim to break the spirit of good people quite like The Joker. Whether it’s his savage harassment of the Gordon family or his reign of terror in Gotham City, a Joker appearance always means the darkness is about to ramp up to eleven. Everyone from Jason Todd to Batman fans have questioned why Bruce Wayne wouldn’t simply kill The Joker once and for all. It’s a strong part of Batman’s heroic drive that he’s returned Joker to Arkham Asylum time after time, but the thought always lingers. Here are 15 of the worst acts he’s ever committed.
15. HE MIGHT BE THE ACTUAL DEVIL
During “Endgame”, a group of mentally ill Arkham patients tell their psychiatrist their version of how The Joker came to be. The stories vary wildly in detail and tone (suggesting that all, one, or none may be true), and the narrators are eminently unreliable. Nonetheless, the very first story of the Joker suggests that he is quite literally a version of the Devil himself!
Much like Batman, we have a hard time believing The Joker is anything more than “just a man,” but these stories are told with such conviction it makes you wonder. Could The Joker truly have been around as long as evil itself? Is he the one true ruler of hell? More importantly, how disturbing is it that he was able to convince people of his monarchy in the inferno? Perhaps DC’s “Metal” event will shed some light on all this.
14. KILLS PREGNANT LOIS LANE & CORRUPTS SUPERMAN
The Joker has concocted so many schemes against Gotham, and done so much egregious harm towards Batman that at this point it seems certain he’ll never break the Bat. It’s a special part of their dynamic — one The Joker, in fact, cherishes — that no matter how atrocious The Joker behaves, the Batman will never succumb to his dark dance of death.
In Injustice, this leads Joker to turn his sights to Superman, tricking the Man of Steel into believing his own pregnant wife, Lois Lane, was the Doomsday monster. Superman flies Lois into space, suffocating her, as The Joker simultaneously nukes the city of Metropolis. Joker takes absolutely everything Superman holds dear, leading Kal El, the DC Universe’s leading hero, to kill Joker in cold blood. Even in death, the Joker disturbs this alternate DCU’s natural order, pushing Superman into an ever-worsening state of tyrannical terror.
13. JASON TODD MEETS CROWBAR
Sure, Batman comic book readers had the option to actually call and vote whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, should live or die at the hands of the Joker, but that doesn’t absolve Joker from his cruelest murder in Batman: Death In The Family. Capturing, torturing, and killing a Robin has always been Joker’s greatest threat against Batman — perhaps greater than any actual harm to Bruce Wayne himself — and in Death in the Family Joker wins his greatest victory.
The death of Jason Todd weighs heavily on Batman for years. Even today, with the Red Hood fully established as part of the bat-family, Death in the Family is a common touchpoint in the Batman mythos. The disturbing nature of this attack has made it a popular choice for additional media, crossing over from comics into the Arkham Knight video game and even Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
12. KIDNAPS BABIES & MURDERS SARAH GORDON
The Gordon family does not have a particularly good track record with The Joker. During No Man’s Land, Joker kidnaps a bunch of babies, which in his hands is already troublesome enough. Joker then confronts Jim Gordon’s wife, Sarah Gordon, and literally throws a baby at her. Sarah can either let the child fall, or attempt to fend off the Joker’s gunfire.
She chooses to save the baby, and takes a gunshot for her decision, leading to a gruesomely memorable image of one of a murdered Sarah Gordon surrounded by abandoned infants. This is yet another declaration of the blackness of Joker’s soul. Unlike some villains with a code, there’s absolutely no line Joker won’t cross, even involving babies in his violent and bloody rampages.
11. J-J-J-JOKER FACE
In DC’s New 52, The Joker kicks off his new look with a bit of egregious shock value, having his own face cut off in Detective Comics #1. If your reaction to this overreaching macabre display was an eye roll (or perhaps, Preacher called, they want their shock value back), we can’t blame you. By the time Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Death of the Family rolls around, Joker’s faceless appearance earns some of its terror.
Joker begins strapping a maggot-infested carcass across his head, and if that’s not enough to keep you up at night, serves each member of the Bat-family their own face (or so it seems) for dinner. Given how much Joker has already tormented Batgirl and Jason Todd, it’s particularly devastating that he would put them through the psychological torture of their own visage on ice served by a Jokerized Alfred.
10. DRIVES DR. JEREMIAH ARKHAM CRAZY
One of the more disturbing abilities of The Joker is his ability to talk people into horrible places. Most famously, his psychotic charisma warps Dr. Harleen Quinzel into the lovesick, hammer-obsessed Harley Quinn. More deadly, in Batman Confidential #22 to #25, “Do You Understand These Rights,” The Joker uses his one phone call from police to convince a detective’s wife to hang herself.
As Joker tells the police: “How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to change the light bulb and the other to cut down Detective Shancoe’s wife!” Equally as disturbing, Joker just talks to the director of Arkham Asylum during the Bane organized breakout in “Knightfall”. Joker’s voice alone is still maddening enough to make Arkham lose his mind, and turn into nothing more than a babbling heap of mirthless laughter.
9. POISONS DUKE THOMAS’ PARENTS
Joker has poisoned, gassed, and shot countless innocent Gothamites over the years, but it’s always difficult to see a character’s loved one twisted by his venom. It’s a common trope of zombie fiction for heroes to see their significant others or family members warped beyond recognition by the festering plague. That’s exactly what happens to Duke Thomas, Batman’s newest not-quite-Robin, when his parents are poisoned past the point of return in “Endgame”.
Snyder and Capullo’s “Endgame” is The Joker at his most damaging, turning nearly all of Gotham into a zombie-like plague of laughing Jokers, and even warping the Justice League into smiling clowns hellbent on destroying Batman. Unfortunately for Duke Thomas, the Joker’s callous revenge plot on Batman extends to his parents, who are too far gone to benefit from any cure Batman or team have been able to concoct yet.
8. TINY JOKER TIM
The Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker animated movie is unpredictably disturbing. Throughout all of Batman Beyond, the future Gotham is overrun with gangs of Jokers, indebted to the ethos of the Clown Prince of Crime. One clearly missing element, though, is the actual Mark Hamill voiced Joker, who returns in full force (and seemingly full strength) in Batman Beyond’s feature length film follow-up.
Return of the Joker draws on the plot of Death in the Family, except instead of Jason Todd incurring the Joker’s wrath, it’s Tim Drake. Worse still, Joker doesn’t just kill Tim, he and Harley Quinn psychologically torture Tim until he thinks he’s their small Joker child. It’s a horrifying fate for Tim Drake — we’d argue far worse than even Jason’s — and although it seems he eventually overcomes this trauma to live a normal life, can anyone truly escape a past with the Joker?
7. EMPEROR JOKER
When you actually try to put it on paper, it’s a bit difficult to isolate exactly what it is The Joker wants. He’s always trying to kill Batman, yet were he to succeed, we get the sense he’d be a mass murderer completely devoid of purpose. He wants to win his game of good and evil with Batman, but he craves another round. In “Emperor Joker”, his dream comes true after stealing the reality warping powers of Mr. Mxyzpytlk.
The Joker shouldn’t have any power, as Batman finds out the hard way. Emperor Joker tortures and kills Batman in perpetuity, carving out his own personal hell for the Dark Knight. The events are so horrific that at the end of the story, Superman takes the memories from Batman so he can go on fighting crime. Bane will always claim the title, but Joker almost certainly broke the Bat here, too.
6. ASSAULTS BATGIRL
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke has undergone a serious critical reexamination in recent years, primarily centered around The Joker’s surprise assault of Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl. It’s a haunting scene, with Joker showing up to the Gordon’s home in a tourist’s vacation get-up and firing gunshots point blank into Babs’ spine before the fully capable Batgirl can react. Worse, Joker strips her naked and shows Jim Gordon the arranged photographs in an attempt to drive him mad.
It’s absolutely one of the worst moments for anyone in the Bat-family, and a horrifying testament to The Joker’s evil. The violence is all the more disturbing here with its extremely personal nature, taking a step back from the larger-than-life plans of poisoning the Gotham water supply and simply ringing the doorbell of a family feeling safe at home.
5. HUNTING IN GOTHAM CENTRAL
DC’s Gotham Central by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, is one of the best DC series of the 2000’s, and the Joker story “Soft Targets” is one of its most effective. In Gotham Central #12 to #15, Joker opens fire on the city of Gotham, setting up covert sniping destinations targeting top Gotham officials like the mayor, superintendent, EMTs and police.
It’s a horrifyingly realistic reign of terror, with The Joker murdering in cold blood without reason, all to simply terrorize a city. Joker even queues up a website showing web cams of his next shooting destinations. Many denizens of Gotham choose the only sane path through all this carnage, fleeing the city before they or their loved ones are murdered by The Joker. Sure, we all know Batman will stop him eventually, but Joker yet again makes it look like too little too late.
4. DARK KNIGHT JOKER
Frank Miller’s Joker in the all-time great Dark Knight Returns is perhaps more malicious and devastating than any other version. Joker fakes his rehabilitation as a peaceable member of society to escape Arkham Asylum. Once out, Joker predictably murders an entire Late Night TV audience with his patented laughing gas, proving there’s no redemption for this mass killer despite claims to the contrary.
Even worse, before Batman runs him down in the amusement park, Joker hands out poison cotton candy to sixteen cub scouts. You could surely ask what Cub Scout leader would allow their troop to eat sweets served by Gotham City’s most notorious supervillain, but at the end of the day, this abominable series of killings still stands out as some of The Joker’s worst work.
3. TOO MUCH SKIN IN THE GAME
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s standalone graphic novel, Joker, follows hot on the trail of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This means Azzarello and Bermejo pick up where Heath Ledger left off, accelerating the aggressively drug-addled and psychopathic Joker into a searing glimpse of madness.
Everything about this Joker — from the paint and blood smeared Bermejo cover to Joker’s pill-popping crime sprees — screams terror. Joker’s treatment of his own business partners is no different, skinning poor Monty alive and pushing him out on the club stage to show his handiwork. There aren’t too many images in comics that stick with you on sleepless nights, but this image of Monty with only his face and hands remaining is perpetually emblazoned in our brains.
2. STALKS HIS ONLY FRIEND FOR YEARS
In the New 52’s Batman Annual #3 by James Tynion and Roge Antonio (an “Endgame” tie-in) the Joker is confronted by journalist Tommy Blackcrow. Tommy dares to suggest that he understands The Joker (and his humor), asserting in the end that The Joker doesn’t have any real friends. This leads Joker to pursue a years long stalking of this poor Gothamite, eventually driving him insane.
It’s a brutally horrific bit of psychological terror on the part of The Joker, first gruesomely murdering Tommy’s best friend before moving on to writing “Miss You” in blood on his floor. Even when Tommy thinks he might have finally escaped the Joker’s obsession once and for all, he finds Gotham’s top clown dancing with his scared silly wife. There’s only one way this story ends: in Arkham Asylum.
1. MAKES FALCONE’S MOM SMILE
Tom King and Mikel Janin’s DC Rebirth “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is only two issues deep, but so far Joker is a joyless masochist, shooting anyone who so much as gets in his path. Batman issues #25 and #26 are stacked with murderous “Bang!” sound effects, but Joker’s most terrifying action so far comes from alluding to his treatment of Carmine Falcone’s mother.
Joker orders the crime lord to kill the Riddler (his erstwhile opponent in the war), and when Falcone fails, he returns to his office to find Joker declaring “I took your mother’s teeth from her mouth, and I made a smile.” Joker surely has more chilling moments up his sleeve, but we’ll never look at teeth or our moms the same way again!
Any other homicidal Joker moments you can think of? Make sure to add them in the comment section now!
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