First introduced in Bob Kane’s “Batman” #1 in 1940, the Joker is a psychopathic clown with a twisted sense of humor and a talent for murder. His purple suit, white skin and ghoulish red smile have become a staple in Batman’s pages, and readers can’t get enough of his crazy rampages.
The Joker is one of the greatest villains in all of comic book history, partly because he’s so insane, but also because he’s so ruthless. He’ll often come up with a crazy idea and will stop at nothing to pull it off, shrugging off logic or motive in favor of anarchy. He’ll kill anyone for any reason, and even for no reason at all. This has led him to commit a lot of heinous acts, but some stand out above all others. Here are the 16 worst things the Joker has ever done.
16. JOKER KILLED ROBIN
The first crime we’ll cover in this list is one of the few things the Joker has done at the instructions of the readers. In 1988, DC published “Batman: A Death in the Family,” a four-issue miniseries written by Jim Starlin and pencilled by Jim Aparo. In the story, Robin (Jason Todd) went on a search for his real mother, unaware that the Joker had blackmailed her into betraying Todd. When the Joker got hold of Robin, he beat the Boy Wonder ruthlessly with a crowbar and left him to be blown up by a time bomb.
The impact of Robin’s death was huge, scarring Batman for years afterwards because he felt responsible, and left him unwilling to take on new sidekicks. It also caused Batman’s feud with the Joker to become much more personal. Among fans, the death was controversial because it was triggered by a 900-number set up by DC for fans to vote on whether Robin lived or died. Jason Todd eventually returned in 2005’s “Batman” #638 as the Red Hood, but the scars on Batman have remained.
15. JOKER KILLED HIMSELF
The 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns,” by Frank Miller, was about an aging Bruce Wayne in the near future forced out of retirement to confront new and old enemies alike, including a Joker who had been declared sane, but was actually crazier than ever. In a final fight in the sewers under Gotham City, Batman broke the Joker’s spine, but refused to kill him. The Joker, knowing the police were on their way, pushed his own neck to breaking point until he killed himself.
It’s hard to imagine someone having the willpower and physical fortitude to break their own neck, but the Joker is just crazy enough to do it. Batman would have been happy to be rid of the Joker without getting his own hands dirty, except the police found the Joker’s body and launched a manhunt to arrest him for murder. This, of course, was the point of Joker’s machinations and gave him his final revenge on The Bat. Even with his death, the Joker got the last laugh.
14. JOKER TURNED GOTHAM INTO ZOMBIES
Written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo, “Batman: Endgame” was a six-issue miniseries published in 2014 that followed up on the Joker’s attack on the Batman Family in “Death of the Family.” In “Endgame,” the Joker released an airborne disease in Gotham City that made everyone it infected into a violent Joker-faced maniac. If that wasn’t bad enough, he kicked off his “Endgame” by using a custom toxin to warp members of the Justice League into making them try to kill Batman. It took all of Batman’s skills, technology and indeed patience to escape and subdue his friends.
“Endgame” was nothing less than the Joker trying to turn everyone against Batman; something, in many ways, he succeeded in doing. Having to fight the entire Justice League and the people of Gotham was one of the hardest challenges Batman ever had to face, and the Joker made it even harder by using his knowledge of his secret identity against him. In the end, the Joker and Batman had their memories wiped, but the Clown Prince of Crime wasn’t done yet. Neither are we. In fact, we’re just getting started…
13. JOKER ELECTROCUTED HARLEY QUINN
“Oh, I’m not gonna kill you. I’m just gonna hurt you really, really bad.”
With those words, moviegoers were introduced to the new Joker, played by Jared Leto, in the trailer for the 2016 movie, “Suicide Squad.” Until the film was released, we didn’t really know who the Joker was talking to, but we all found out the hard way when it hit theaters. In a flashback, we saw Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie) as the Joker’s psychiatrist, who fell in love with the criminal clown — much in the same way she did in the animated series and then the comics. It seemed like a match made in heaven… until the Joker escaped.
What was the first thing the Joker did once he was free? Did he give Quinzel a kiss and tell her he loved her? No, he strapped her down on a bed and gave her electroshock therapy. She said she could take it, came out of it just as crazy as the Joker and turned into Harley Quinn, but it was still a cold-blooded thing to do (and hugely problematic to a lot of moviegoers and fans).
12. JOKER SKINNED HIS EX-PARTNER
Written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, 2008’s graphic novel “Joker” told the story of the clown’s release from Arkham Asylum from the perspective of one of his henchmen. As he’s driven around by the henchman, the Joker is focused on settling old scores, one of whom is a former lackey named Monty, who the Joker follows into the backroom of a strip club, ostensibly to “discuss” what’s happened since his incarceration. Minutes later, Monty stumbles out, skinned from the neck down, and collapses in a fleshy heap.
The Joker may be crazy, but not when it comes to his businesses. He needs money to pull off his “wacky” schemes, and his organization is one that employs a lot of people to do terrible things to get it. Monty learned the hard way not to trust the Joker and never to cross him. The Joker is a lot of things, but a forgiving person isn’t one of them.
11. JOKER KILLED PEOPLE FOR PRACTICE
Written by Ed Brubaker (with art by Doug Mahnke, colored by David Baron), “Batman: The Man Who Laughs” was released in 2005, and retold the story of Batman’s first battle with the Joker. Adapted from the original story in “Batman” #1, the one-shot comic showed the Joker committing crimes by predicting them beforehand. The police raced to try to stop him, only to discover the Joker had plotted devious ways to kill his targets and steal their valuables, and ended by trying to poison Gotham’s water supply.
The story was set shortly after “Batman: Year One,” and showed a Gotham City trying to adjust to a world of costumed heroes and villains, but the Joker took things to a whole new level. He even killed nine people with his toxic venom just for practice, and when he began his real murders, Batman felt helpless to stop them. It was the beginning of the Joker’s career as a crazy supervillain, and he got off to a great start — or a terrible start, depending on your point of view.
10. JOKER KILLED GORDON’S WIFE
Sarah Essen had a long history with Commissioner Gordon, starting in 1987’s “Batman” #405, when she had a brief affair with him. She began dating him after Gordon’s divorce, and he married her shortly after. Unfortunately, that’s when the Joker stepped in, to end their happiness. In “Detective Comics” #741 (written by Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka, penciled by Dale Eaglesham and Damion Scot in 2000), the Joker kidnapped dozens of babies and hid them in the basement of the Gotham police station. When Essen pulled a gun on the Joker, he tossed a baby at her. We repeat, he threw a baby at her. When she caught the baby, he shot her in the head and left her with the baby crawling over her bloody corpse.
As messed up as it was to use a baby to kill someone (and it was), it was who he killed that makes the death so horrible. The Joker killing Gordon’s wife threw the commissioner into a rage that made him shoot the clown in the leg. It wasn’t even close to making up for the pain the Joker caused, but he had a good laugh.
9. JOKER KILLED 19 POLICE
In the New 52 reboot of the DC universe, the Joker had arranged to have his face cut off and disappeared for a year. In the 2012 story arc “Death of the Family” (by writer Scott Snyder, drawn primarily by Greg Capullo), The Joker returned in the worst way. As Commissioner Gordon worked with his police, a figure appeared in the door of the station that he immediately recognized as the Joker… just as the lights went out.
As Gordon frantically tried to restore the lights and find the Joker, the madman went through the station telling jokes while snapping necks. By the time the lights came back on, Gordon huddled in the police station alone, surrounded by 19 dead bodies. The deaths of the police officers were just the beginning of the Joker’s reign of terror, and he had much worse in store for Batman and his team. But these murders stood out. He took on the protectors of Gotham and showed how none of them could stop him.
8. JOKER RAINED BROKEN GLASS ON GOTHAM
Written by Michael Green and penciled by Denys Cowan, “Batman Confidential” #11 in 2008 showed one of the Joker’s most brutal and vicious crimes. The Joker was free, and thinking how he could make more people like him. After deciding Gotham needed a dose of medicine, he sent a blimp over the City and blew it up… but it wasn’t filled with explosives. It was filled with broken glass tainted with his Joker venom, raining shards onto the terrified city.
It wasn’t the first time the Joker had killed with his poison that forces a grisly smile on its victims, but it seemed more horrific to be trapped in a rain of broken glass than sprayed with a squirting flower on the lapel. The only problem was that Batman was holed up in the hospital at the bedside of his girlfriend, Lorna Shore. With all the people he killed, the Joker was really just trying to get Batman’s attention, and didn’t even succeed.
7. JOKER BLEW UP A SCHOOL
In 2009, Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan and Sandra Hope collaborated on “Batman: Cacophony,” a three-issue series about a battle between Batman, the Joker and Maxie Zeus. In the series, the Greek madman Maxie Zeus was combining the Joker’s venom with ecstasy to create a new street drug called “Chuckles.” The Joker didn’t take kindly to his deadly poison being used by partying kids and wanted it stopped, going so far as starting a gang war. To make his point, the Joker met with Maxie Zeus and blew up a school full of kids.
The deaths of so many children would rank high on many lists, but not with the Joker. Much like some of the other murders in this list, it’s the casual way the Joker killed that made it so horrible. He really blew up the school as the end of a joke. For the Joker, death is the best punchline of them all.
6. JOKER POISONED BEAUTY PRODUCTS
Up until the 1989 Tim Burton “Batman” movie, the Joker was best remembered by the public as the chortling prankster played by Cesar Romero in the 1966 TV series. Jack Nicholson quickly erased those memories with his twisted portrayal of a homicidal Joker with a permanent smile, and he did some pretty horrific things to get there. One of the worst had to be his contamination of hygiene products in Gotham City with a chemical toxin called Smylex.
The fact that the Joker killed people with beauty products was all part of his ugly obsession with his own disfigurement. Since no one knew which items had been poisoned, everyone just stopped using them. That left a city too afraid to put on makeup or even deodorant. His transformation into a hideous clown made him decide to make everyone else as ugly as he was; but in the end, he showed the truly ugliest one was himself.
5. JOKER GAVE AWAY POISONED COTTON CANDY
As we’ve seen before, the Joker doesn’t shy away from killing anyone, and that includes children. Let’s go back to Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” for another moment, where the Joker had executed his final plan of convincing the world he was sane enough to show up on a late-night talk show, only to poison everyone in the room and make his escape. From there, the Joker set up a booth at the county fair to hand out free (but poisoned) cotton candy to 16 Cub Scouts, killing them all.
Killing hundreds of people in a TV studio was a terrible thing to do, and should have been really high on the list, but somehow the poisoning of children (Cub Scouts, no less) was much more horrifying. Imagining the joy on the kids’ faces, quickly turning to agony and horror is enough to turn your stomach. Batman stopped the Joker from killing more with a batarang to the eye, but not in time to save all the kids of Gotham.
4. JOKER TRIED TO COPYRIGHT FISH
In 1978, “Detective Comics” #475 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, colored by Jerry Serpe), the Joker committed one of his most bizarre crimes ever. When Gotham City discovered fish in the harbor that had a ghoulish smile, the Joker announced that he wanted to copyright them, only to be told that fish couldn’t be copyrighted. The Joker went on to kill city officials to try to force them to meet his demands, but since they literally could not, a lot of people died.
It’s the senselessness of these murders that ranks it so high on the list. The Joker didn’t target anyone who could actually let him copyright the Joker Fish, making the whole exercise just an act of torture, and another example of how the Joker’s actions seem so meaningless. This story was later adapted into an amazing (but kid-friendly) episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1993.
3. JOKER DESTROYED SUPERMAN
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” is a 2013 fighting game that pitted DC heroes and villains against each other, transcending the game and becoming a massive hit as its own comic. In the game, the characters from the mainstream DC universe crossed over into an alternate reality where Superman and the Justice League had imposed totalitarian rule. The event that pushed Superman over the edge was caused by none other than the Joker.
In the “Injustice” comic book, it explained how the Joker stole a nuclear submarine and dosed Superman with a kryptonite-laced version of the Scarecrow’s fear gas. The gas made Superman see and fight his enemy Doomsday, only to discover he really fought his pregnant wife, Lois Lane. Even worse, her death triggered the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Metropolis. The shock of losing Lois and Metropolis caused Superman to kill the Joker and take over the world, which was what Joker wanted in his twisted way all along.
2. JOKER ATE CHINA
In 2000, Superman found himself in a bizarre and twisted world where his enemies were the heroes and the heroes were the villains. Created by Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Schulz, the nine-issue crossover came to be known as “Superman: Emperor Joker,” where the Joker stole the reality-altering powers of Mister Mxyzptlk. The Joker used his god-like powers to make twisted versions of the superheroes, kill and resurrect Batman daily… and oh yeah, eat China.
That’s right, the Joker ate the entire population of China, which is home to over a billion people. The worst part is that he just did it so he could make a joke about Chinese food. As far as body count, it’s hard to top that one. The only thing that keeps it from being number one is the fact that everything Emperor Joker did was reversed, so it never actually happened. But the memory of mountains of skulls still lingers for many fans, as does the fact that we all know the horrors of which Joker is capable, given enough power.
1. JOKER PARALYZED BARBARA GORDON
Of all the crimes the Joker has ever committed, there’s one that rises above all others, and has even triggered debate outside of the comic world about his mania. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, 1988’s graphic novel “The Killing Joke” was a dark and twisted story where the Joker tried to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by shooting Barbara Gordon. The shooting left Barbara alive, but paralyzed from the waist down.
While the Joker put Commissioner Gordon through a twisted ride showing nude pictures of Barbara — more than implying that he assaulted her on various, horrendous levels — the Commissioner managed to hold onto his sanity. By this estimation, then, the Joker ultimately failed, but Barbara Gordon’s paralysis remained, leaving her unable to continue as Batgirl. She eventually used her computer hacking ability to become the secret crimefighter Oracle, and the New 52 reboot retconned her paralysis, but the focused cruelty and intimate viciousness of the attack brought up debates even outside the comic book community on whether the Joker, as a character, went too far.
What’s the worst thing you think the Joker has done? Let us know in the comments!