Over the last few months, the rest of the country has caught up to what comic book fans have known for years, which is that clowns can be really creepy. This idea, though, does not just predate the current hysteria over creepy clowns walking around the cities of the United States, it even long predates the existence of comic books, as well. The notion that a symbol of childhood happiness could actually mask something sinister is a compelling one and has appeared in poetry, novels and operas going back centuries.
While it is a clever idea in theory, it is even more effective as a visual, which is why the idea has been so popular in comic books for so long. A creepy character dressed as a clown is a striking visual, as it makes great use of the dichotomy between the character’s bright appearance and the dark reality behind said appearance. Here, then, are the 15 creepiest comic book clowns.
15. Punch and Jewelee
Bringing up the rear of the list are two of the more seemingly hapless DC super villains out there, Punch and Jewelee. A couple of boardwalk puppeteers, Punch and Jewelee came across some lost alien technology and turned themselves into real life versions of the famous puppet couple, Punch and Judy (some of the alien technology included powerful jewels, hence the name Jewelee instead of Judy). Punch had shoes that allowed him to glide through the air, as well as propel him short distances at high speeds (giving him a strong punch, as it were). He also had puppet strings that he could use to send electric shocks at people. Jewelee had the aforementioned gems with hypnotic abilities that allowed her to make people see things that weren’t there.
They originally fought Captain Atom in “Captain Atom” #85 (they were created by Steve Ditko) but gained most of their notoriety as members of the Suicide Squad, where they put off even their villainous teammates with just how deranged and wild that they were. They are almost mindless in their pursuit of violence to amuse themselves. They later had a child together and Punch eventually died on a Squad mission.
The longtime Daredevil villain, the Jester, is perhaps the best example of how a villain can hide his evilness through a disguise of silliness. The Jester debuted in “Daredevil” #42 (by Stan Lee and Gene Colan), where he attempted to assassinate Foggy Nelson, who was running for District Attorney. When Daredevil foiled his plan, the Jester cleverly turned the entire city of New York against the blind vigilante by first framing him for the murder of Jester’s secret identity, Jonathan Powers, and then announcing to the city that he, the Jester, would hunt Daredevil down over his crimes (the general public didn’t know of Jester’s murderous past).
That was the Jester’s approach throughout the years – he would plan out elaborate scenarios against Daredevil, but they would often be based on deadly grounds. As time went by, the Jester tended to be treated nostalgically by later writers as a throwback to simpler times, but they seemed to overlook just how deadly he was when he debuted.
Introduced in “Captain America” #307 (by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary), Madcap was a symbol of the disaffected youth of the mid-1980s. He was a religious young man who was traveling on a church trip with his friends and family when their bus was hit by a tanker containing a mysterious compound. Everyone was killed except the young man, as the compound had reacted with his body chemistry to make him impervious to injury. He also gained the ability to incite hallucinations in other people, so he threw on a clown costume and basically caused chaos in New York City.
While initially just an example of disenchanted youth, Madcap became more and more nefarious as he continued on as a character. He incited groups of people to murder each other while fighting against Ghost Rider. Most recently, Madcap was trapped inside Deadpool’s body for a year (giving Deadpool an extra voice in his head) and when they separated, his personality was altered once again, this time to become obsessed with getting revenge on Deadpool.
12. Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is one of the most famous characters on this list, but it is hard to really call her all that creepy. Introduced by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as a sidekick character for the Joker on “Batman: The Animated Series”, Harley Quinn was eventually brought to the DC Universe by Dini in 1999. Besides the love for the Joker that transformed her from a mild-mannered psychiatrist into a costumed villain, Harley was most noted in her comic book appearances as being of a slightly lesser level of villainy than the Joker.
In fact, she often broke from him to work as a costumed do-gooder, alongside Catwoman and Poison Ivy. After the New 52 reboot, Harley’s look has changed and she is now a member of the Suicide Squad. She has also become a good deal creepier (hence her showing up a little lower on the list than you would initially think for someone like Harley), like when she forced Deadshot to wear Joker’s skinned face.
11. The Clown (Circus of Crime)
Based on a similar concept from the Golden Age, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the Circus of Crime in the pages of “Incredible Hulk” #3. The Circus has since become one of the longest-running super villain group in all of Marvel Comics, having fought pretty much every superhero that exists, from Hulk to Spider-Man to the Avengers to Ghost Rider, they’ve tangled with everyone. One of their longstanding members was known only as the Clown (well, sometimes known as “The Crafty Clown”).
When Ringmaster wasn’t around, the Clown would even serve as the leader of the group. He was a pretty basic character throughout most of his existence, but when Joe Casey wrote a story pitting the Circus against the Hulk late in the second volume of “Incredible Hulk,” Casey latched on to the Clown and during his run on “Deathlok” in 1999 (with artist Leonardo Manco), he re-imagined the Clown as a dangerous and creepy-looking assassin. He was later transformed into the Griffin as part of the Gamma Corps.
10. Obnoxio the Clown
In 1973, both DC and Marvel attempted to come out with a comic book series that could compete with “Mad Magazine.” DC’s entry was the comic book “Plop!” while Marvel’s was the comic book magazine “Crazy.” Larry Hama edited the title throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. During this time, he introduced a mascot for the series called Obnoxio the Clown. Obnoxio was a disheveled, cynical middle-aged clown.
He actually got his own one-shot in 1983, at the end of the run of “Crazy.” Titled “Obonxio the Clown vs. the X-Men,” it was written and drawn by Alan Kupperberg. The opening story in the comic had Obnoxio show up for a birthday party at the X-Mansion at the same time that a new villain known as Eye-Scream (who could turn into, you guessed it, ice cream) was attacking the mansion. So the X-Men thought that Obnoxio was attacking and they first fought with him before they all teamed up against Eye-Scream. In case you were wondering what the answer to Obnoxio’s joke is – it’s a dead school bus. In many ways, Obnoxio was a tamer version of another clown that you will see later on the list.
9. The Painted Doll
The Painted Doll was the adversary of the Five Swell Guys, the resident science heroes of Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray’s “Promethea”. He was a traditional superhero nemesis, only he was slightly more disturbing than most, especially with the way that he was so willing to kill himself in battle while always returning to cause more havoc, starting the game again over and over.
Ultimately, it was revealed that the Painted Doll was actually one of a series of identical androids created by one of the Five Swell Guys himself, jealous that the “Genius” role had been given to one of his teammates instead of him. Jealousy drove him mad and led to the creation of the Painted Doll. When the Painted Doll realized the truth of what he was, he killed all of his duplicates, reformed, and joined the Five Swell Guys himself, replacing the member who had created him.
8. The Clown (Hawkeye)
Kazimierz Kazimierczak, also known as the Clown, was perhaps the main adversary during Matt Fraction‘s “Hawkeye” series. Kazimierczak was part of a circus family in Eastern Europe. Tragically, his entire family was killed during an errant explosion during a war in his home country. He moved to the United States with a friend of his and they became street clowns. However, while performing in the subway, a second explosion killed his best friend. He effectively snapped and found that the only thing that gave him any sort of release from his misery was killing.
He killed for his own sake, but realized that he might as well make some money while doing it as well, so he hired himself out as an assassin. He was hired to kill Clint Barton, which led to the driving conflict during “Hawkeye” (the Clown succeeded in killing Clint’s friend and neighbor, Grills, as well as severely damaging Clint’s ears before being defeated). As you can see, he was extremely creepy, especially in his origin issue, “Hawkeye” #10, which was drawn by Francesco Francavilla.
7. The Clown (Zodiac)
With the original Clown a member of the Gamma Corps, when Joe Casey and Nathan Fox did the mini-series “Dark Reign: Zodiac”, spotlighting the new sociopathic master criminal known as the Zodiac, they were in a pickle. They wanted to use the Clown, but he was off the board since he had moved on to other things. Instead, they simply just invented a half-brother of the original and had him take over the Clown identity.
This Clown was even more disheveled than his brother, and Nathan Fox’s gritty artwork perfectly captured the style of this assassin-for-hire who goes into business with Zodiac, as part of Zodiac’s plan to mess with Norman Osborn (who had recently taken control of S.H.I.E.L.D.). In an interesting twist at the end of the series, Zodiac revealed that he knew that this was not the original clown all along, but that he admired the guts it took to adopt his own brother’s villain identity.
There have been a number of comic book characters that have named themselves after the late 19th century Ruggero Leoncavallo opera of the same name, spread out over a number of different comic book companies (Wildstorm had a pretty notable version in one of their “Stormwatch” series). The most prominent Pagliacci, and the one that is likely the most creepy, debuted in the pages of “Power Man and Iron Fist” #1 in 2011 (this was the new Power Man who was a student of Iron Fist’s).
The leader of the Commedia Dell’Morte, a group of Europe’s finest assassins (all dressed as opera clowns), Pagliacci came to the United States in search of one of the members of the troupe, Columbina, who had been kidnapped. Created by Fred Van Lente and Wellington Alves, the visuals for Pagliacci are beautifully gruesome. Pagliacci has stuck around and recently showed up as a villain in “Champions” #1.
5. Joker’s Daughter
Duela Dent was a much different character before the New 52. A very acrobatic woman, she suffered from delusions that caused her to believe that she was the daughter of multiple famous villains. After she seemingly dealt with her problems, she became a member of the Teen Titans as Harlequin. She had a number of relapses over the years, before it was ultimately revealed that she might have been telling the truth, as she actually came from an alternate reality! Tragically, the proof of her origin came right when a rogue Monitor killed her due to her planet-jumping.
In the New 52, the Joker’s Daughter is a psychotic young woman who discovered the Joker’s torn face flesh in the sewers. She began wearing the face and even had it sewn onto her. She became obsessed with being closer to the Joker, including trying to get vials of his blood so that she could inject them into herself. She ended up as a member of the Suicide Squad alongside Harley Quinn, who was none too pleased to be sharing a team with someone like her.
4. Judson Jakes and the Psycho Circus
When Rocket Raccoon was formerly introduced in “Incredible Hulk” #271 by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema, so, too, were we introduced to the battles that Rocket fought in on the planet known as Halfworld. Rocket was bound by honor to protect all the people of Halfworld, but the evil Judson Jakes wanted to exploit the people, and to do so, he had to eliminate Rocket Raccoon. To accomplish this goal, Jakes created his own batch of android Killer Clowns.
He had a very special group of Killer Clowns form the Psycho Circus, which appeared during the classic “Rocket Raccoon” mini-series by Mantlo and a young Mike Mignola. Mignola’s designs were excellent and they really gave the evil clowns an extra edge that they didn’t have in their initial appearance. These Clowns were outfitted with laser skates and other destructive technology. While presumed to have been destroyed during the aforementioned “Rocket Raccoon” series, they’ve since popped up here and there. You can’t keep a good Killer Clown down for long!
3. Frenchy the Clown
As noted before, what Kupperberg began with Obnoxio the Clown was taken to a whole other level with Frenchy the Clown, which Kupperberg drew for “National Lampoon” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in stories written by Nick Bakay (a writer for the “Lampoon” who is perhaps best known for being the voice of Salem on the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” TV series). While Obnoxio could theoretically interact with characters like the X-Men, Frenchy was way over the line. Typical plots in a single Frenchy story would include him threatening to murder a homeless man, having sex with a prostitute and then smoking crack. The late, great Kupperberg explained the appeal of Frenchy to Daniel Best back in 2007:
In comic books it’s offensive, but in real life, it’s just real life. Spider-Man is not real life. The Evil Clown is real life. It is for adults. I’ve lived in New York City proper since the 1970s through to this day, and I’m telling you, the clown stories are real life. It’s not everyone’s life, but real people live as Frenchy does. Who lives like Peter Parker?
2. The Violator
The Violator is a demon who was the main antagonist to the title character of Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn” for years. Al Simmons was a human being who was allowed to return to Earth after making a deal with the devil, in which he was transformed into a Hellspawn. The Violator’s role in all of this is that he has to get newly created Hellspawn’s ready to serve in Satan’s army. That often involves breaking the Hellspawns down so that they have no will left. Unluckily for the Violator, Al Simmons turned out to be too difficult to break.
While on Earth, the Violator takes the form of a short, sadistic man in clown makeup, known only as “The Clown.” It’s a powerful design by Todd McFarlane, which has made the character resonate with readers for over twenty years now. He just looks so darn disturbing!! He’s so creepy-looking that his demon form is almost a relief. Almost.
1. The Joker
The undisputed king of this category, the Joker is one of those rare characters who was just as creepy when he debuted during the Golden Age as he is now. Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane really went out of their way to come up with a character who just puts you ill at ease right away. Look at this panel from the very first page of his first appearance, in 1939’s “Batman” #1…
That’s the type of guy who would make you cross the street if you saw him coming your direction. That’s just unsettling. And then he turns out to be this genius at murdering people! Over the years, he was toned down violence-wise and artist Dick Sprang came up with a more exaggerated look for the character. During the 1970s, though, Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers managed to merge the original take on the Joker with Sprang’s take to form an over-the-top creature of chaos, who murders just for the heck of it. Over the years, later writers have made the Joker even more disturbing, like a forked tongue or, like in the New 52, slicing his own face off and wearing it as a mask! The Joker is not going to lose this top spot any time soon.
Which comic book clown creeps you out the most? Let us know in the comments!
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