Few characters quite reflect their eras as well as the Joker. When he was introduced during the Golden Age, comic books existed in the shadow of the pulps, wherein people died frequently. The Joker killed multiple people in just his very first appearance. However, after racking up a body count in his first formative years, Joker suddenly pivoted along with the rest of the DC Comics Universe as they toned down the violence, partially to adhere to the Comics Code. Thereafter, the Joker went without a kill for nearly 30 years.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the Joker’s violence had escalated to the point where it wouldn’t seem to be a Joker appearance if he didn’t do something depraved. Nowadays, the Joker kills so much that there is barely anything he can do that would truly shock anyone. That wasn’t always the case, of course. Here, we count down the Joker’s bloodiest and most twisted murders in comics.
15. DEATH BY BANANA
In the early days of the Joker, he went to prison just like any other criminal. It wasn’t until he was revamped and brought back to his murderous roots in the early 1970s that the concept of Joker being criminally insane became a major part of the comics. Around the same time, Arkham Asylum also began to play a role in the “Batman” comics. However, Joker’s insanity was really more of a surface thing than anything else. Arkham Asylum was really the same as whatever prison the Joker was in before. Both were just places he stayed until he broke out and went on a rampage again.
Later stories delved into his insanity a bit more. One attempt was “Batman Confidential” #24 (by Andrew Kreisberg, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens), where a psychiatrist testifies at a trial about how evil the Joker is and how he should never see the light of day. Joker, though, had hidden a banana peel in his pants and he let it loose as the psychiatrist left the stand. She slipped on the classic comedic gag and cracked her head on a desk, dying instantly.
14. SMASHED BRAINS (VIA ROCK)
In 2008, as part of the lead-up to the crossover event, “Final Crisis,” the United States government became so worried about the threat of supervillains that they decided to round up all of the most dangerous ones in the world and drop them off on a far away planet to fight among themselves. The series was initially written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Sean Chen and Walden Wong (Lilah Sturges took over from Willingham after a couple of issues).
One of the early leaders of the villains was the powerful telepath Psimon, who had led a number of supervillain teams in the past, aided by his mental powers (which were distinguished by his visible brain). While Psimon plotted, though, the Joker acted, and just hit Psimon in the head with a rock and then bludgeoned him to death in front of all the other villains, thereby cementing his spot in the villain leadership (something that would later be contested by Lex Luthor).
13. ERASED A FACE
Starting in “Batman” #291, David V. Reed, John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell told the classic four-part epic, “Where Were You On The Night Batman Was Killed?” The storyline opened with the death of Batman and then all of Batman’s most notable villains taking credit for the killing. Ra’s Al Ghul served as their judge and Two-Face was the prosecutor who would test each villain’s claim that it was they who killed Batman.
The first three issues had various villains make claims, all of which Two-Face poked holes in until they were shown to be false. The winner, though, was the Joker in “Batman” #294. He got into a fight with Batman and accidentally killed him when his Joker venom-tipped ring opened up during the fight and hit Batman, killing him instantly. The Joker then dissolved Batman’s face so that no one could even identify the body! That’s some messed up stuff. As it turned out, however, that was just a devoted Batman fan that the Joker killed and “Two-Face” was secretly Batman, trying to figure out which of his villains had killed the super fan.
One of the Joker’s greatest pieces of psychological warfare on Gotham City occurred in the pages of “Gotham Central” #12-15 (by co-writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark). The story was dubbed “Soft Targets,” and it opened with the mayor of Gotham City being murdered in his office by a sniper. Then Gotham’s superintendent is murdered while visiting a school (also by a sniper). Hours later, while the police are canvassing the school where the shooting took place, suddenly a sniper opened fire on the EMTs and police and crime lab workers, shocking everyone that the sniper would wait hours and then fire on people checking out the earlier killing!
People then realized that it was the Joker when he debuted a website featuring web cams of various spots in Gotham City, with a countdown as to when the next killings would take place. People left Gotham City in droves. What made this so maddening for the GCPD was that they really needed to turn to Batman to resolve the situation, which just made them feel all the more powerless. It was one of the Joker’s most devastating series of kills. He killed a whole city’s spirit.
11. POISON GLASS
Michael Green and Denys Cowan told their version of the Joker’s origin in “Batman Confidential” #7-12. Their story mirrors Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “Dark Victory,” as both stories are about that period roughly a year after his debut where Batman feels that he might just be winning his war on crime. That is, until he realizes that the existence of the Batman has inspired the birth of supervillains in Gotham City. In this arc, “Jack” is a hitman who is bored with his job and sees Batman as something interesting to play with.
“Jack” becomes the Joker, and in his first act as such, he decides to rain broken glass down all over Gotham City. This is not just ordinary broken glass, although that would be twisted enough. But no, this glass had been treated with Joker venom, so when it cut people, the venom would go into their blood, and thus people died horrific deaths after already having to deal with the horrors of having broken glass fall all over them from the sky.
10. DEATH BY CAT
During their short, but memorable stint on “Detective Comics,” Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin made the title a bit of a “Who’s who?” of Batman’s universe. Each of his most memorable villains of the era got a spotlight issue, with Englehart and Rogers putting their own special spin on that character. At the same time, Bruce Wayne was dealing with a new love interest, Silver St. Cloud, who had discovered his secret identity.
The Joker’s involvement in the run is the classic “Laughing Fish” arc, where he exposed all of the fish in Gotham Harbor to his venom. He decides to copyright these fish, but the Copyright Commission explain that he cannot. He then vows that he will murder each member of the commission, starting from the top. He succeeded with the first one in “Detective Comics” #475, and in the following issue, managed to kill the next bureaucrat, even though he and Batman had switched identities in the official’s home. The Joker pulled it off by exposing the official’s cat to the venom, knowing that the cat would recognize his owner, even in a disguise, and jump to him. The sight of a Joker venomed cat was a marvel by Rogers and Austin.
9. PROP HUMOR
In “Batman” #321 (by Len Wein, Walter Simonson and Dick Giordano), the Joker decided to celebrate his birthday in front of all of Gotham City, while also murdering anyone who had ever wronged him, which included Commissioner Gordon, Robin and somehow Alfred Pennyworth. He rigged them all to a giant birthday cake (they were each tied to a “candle”) that he would set off as soon as the main prize showed up: Batman!
While he was waiting for the main event, he made a bad joke about this being his best birthday present since he got a catcher’s mitt when he was a kid. One of his henchmen didn’t laugh and the Joker turned on him, pulling a gun. When the gun went off, it was just one of those trick pistols with a flag on it that read “Bang, you’re dead.” But just when the minion thought he was safe, the gun then fired the flag itself like a spear gun into the goon’s eye, killing him!
8. ALL-POWERFUL RACIST GENOCIDE
In the “Superman” storyline, “Emperor Joker,” the Joker got a hold of the powers of Mister Mxyzptlk and he promptly used them to take over the world. He would torment Batman by torturing him to death in different ways every day and then just revive him the next day and do it all over again (while letting Batman maintain the memories of the previous days). In the end, once the Joker was defeated, Superman requested from the Spectre that he be allowed to take on Batman’s memories of the torture, and he was given those memories.
Anyhow, in “Empreror Joker” #1 (by Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly and artists Duncan Rouleau, Todd Nauck, Carlo Barberi and Scott McDaniel), one of the Joker’s most twisted ways of killing people was when he ate the entire nation of China… as Chinese food! Horrible and also pretty racist behavior by the then-divine Clown Prince of Crime.
“Detective Comics” #826 was an epic “done in one” story by Paul Dini, Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher where Robin is fighting some bad guys and has to duck for cover. A car pulls up and offers him a ride. He accepts it without realizing that it is being driven by the Joker! The Joker knocks him out and then wakes him up, all tied to the passenger’s seat as the Joker takes him on a joy ride of Gotham City (with the dead bodies of the people who owned the car in the back).
The whole ride is worthy of this spot, as the Joker begins just killing people by running them over on the street (Robin barely managed to distract the Joker from hitting a group of children with Santa Claus by making the Joker laugh with a Marx Brothers line), but one of the most messed up moments is when the Joker murders the manager of a fast food restaurant because the drive-thru order taker didn’t do a good enough job!
6. KILLER HAND
Right from the beginning, the Joker was a master of murder. It’s actually striking just how disturbing he was right from his first appearance in “Batman” #1 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos). With all of the murders that we have seen the Joker commit in the decades since, it takes a little bit of the shock away from those first murders, but when you look at them in the context of them being his very first killings, they’re really, really spooky.
The Joker shows up in “Batman” #1, announcing the names of some people that he is going to murder — and he pulls them all off! He does so in clever ways, like the featured image, which is the Joker using a disguise to take the place of the chief of police, who was personally guarding one of the possible victims. That ghastly reveal was handled so darn well. The Joker looks so creepy!
5. ONE PHONE CALL
In “Batman Confidential” #22-25, Andrew Kreisberg, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens tell the story of “Do You Understand These Rights?” which showed the first time that Batman ever arrested the Joker. Remember, this is well before the creation of Arkham Asylum, but more importantly, this is before anyone really knew much about the Joker other than that he was a killer. When Batman drops the Joker off at a Gotham City police station, Batman naturally believed that his job was over. However, it was anything but the case.
The Joker caused more chaos under police custody than most criminals do at large. We already featured the banana pull stunt from this arc, but even before that, in “Batman Confidential” #22, the Joker takes a disliking to one of the detectives who is handling his arrest, so he uses his one phone call to call that man’s wife and convinces her to kill herself! The full joke is “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!”
4. SCHOOL’S OUT
As we saw earlier with the Joker and his “Laughing Fish,” the Joker does not take kindly to people using his ideas without him being “fairly” compensated. That was the heart of his conflict in the miniseries “Batman: Cacophony” by Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan and Sandra Hope. In it, the criminal Maxie Zeus has turned Joker’s Joker venom into a designer drug. The villain known as Onomatopoeia has broken the Joker out of Arkham (he also stopped a Zeus-hired Deadshot from killing Joker) so that he can cause chaos by having a gang war with Zeus. Onomatopoeia needed the distraction so that he could keep Batman busy, opening Batman up for Onomatopoeia to attack.
While having a sit down with Zeus to settle their beef, the Joker then pulls off one of his most depraved mass killings yet, blowing up a whole school filled with children, just because one of the kids was Zeus’ nephew.
3. SKINNED DEEP
It is debatable whether the original graphic novel “Joker” by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo is even part of DC’s continuity (probably not, but who knows for sure with these things?), but it remains one of the single most twisted Joker stories ever, and that’s including a world where “The Killing Joke” exists. “Joker” is about the Joker getting out of Arkham Asylum and given a low-level crook, Jonny Frost, as his driver. Joker takes a liking to Frost, and includes him on his errands for the next few days, which includes basically a whole lot of killing and other disgusting things (there’s this one bit with a bank manager that is beyond disturbing).
One of the murders is of a former business associate of the Joker’s who owns a strip club. The Joker talks about Monty treating his strippers like pieces of meat, so the Joker then skins Monty alive and has him parade out on stage for everyone to see, truly a piece of meat himself. This graphic novel is not for the faint of heart!
In 1999, all of the “Batman” titles were combined to tell one big inter-connected story called “No Man’s Land,” which dealt with Gotham City being cut off from the rest of the United States due to it being too badly damaged from an earthquake. So, the government gave people X amount of time to get out and then blew up the bridges out of Gotham. The remaining people were mostly ruled over by the supervillains who stayed behind. Slowly but surely, Batman and his allies took back the city. In addition, outside financial help from an unlikely source (Lex Luthor) was ready to bring the city back. Things were looking up. The Joker, of course, could not allow that.
Right before the New Year, he kidnapped all of the remaining babies in Gotham City and prepared to kill them. Batman and his allies (including all the remaining GCPD officers) tried to find Joker and the babies. In the end, it was former Gotham City Police Commissioner (and wife to James Gordon), Sarah Essen, who found the babies and Joker. He offered her a choice — her life for the babies. He was shocked when she actually chose to sacrifice herself. He couldn’t even laugh at it as he murdered her.
1. DEATH IN THE FAMILY
“Batman” writer Jim Starlin had never been a fan of Batman having a sidekick, so he had planned for some time to find a way to get Robin out of the book. He discovered a solution in 1988. DC would have a special issue where people would phone a number to decide whether Robin would die or not. Even if he survived, he would be so badly injured that Starlin could write him out of the book, so it was a win-win for him. It also began a major media sensation. In the end, the voters barely chose to kill Jason Todd, the second Robin.
The issue it happened in was “Batman” #427 (by Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo), where Jason Todd discovered his birth mother, who was being blackmailed by the Joker over her past as a back-alley doctor. She was doing aid work in Ethopia now. However, since she was also embezzling from the medical funds herself, when Jason revealed that he was Robin, she turned him over to the Joker, who beat him nearly to death with a crowbar. The Joker then tied Jason’s mother up and left them with a bomb. Jason came to and managed to untie her and almost get them out of the room with the bomb, but just when they were almost out, the door was locked! After the vote at the end of “#427,” the next issue opened up with the revelation that the explosion killed them both.
What do you think is the Joker’s most twisted murder in the comics? Let us know in the comments section!
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