There is no villain as iconic as The Joker. Even those who don't follow comic books know of him and his reputation. After all, how could they not? The Joker is the yin to Batman's yang; he is half of the duality that is The Dark Knight and The Clown Prince of Crime.
One of the greatest interpretations of The Joker is no doubt the one seen in Batman: The Animated Series. That version runs the gamut from mischievous to dastardly. So, in honor of The Joker, let's take a look at — and rank — ten of his best episodes in Batman: The Animated Series.
10 "Joker's Wild"
A real estate tycoon named Cameron Kaiser has opened a casino in Gotham City called Joker's Wild. Much to the real Joker's dismay, the casino is modeled after Batman's nemesis. News of the unauthorized use of his likeness urges The Joker to escape Arkham Asylum. He infiltrates the casino in hopes of finding the man who's profiting off his image. This is when Batman — who already suspects Cameron Kaiser is up to no good — intervenes.
This episode highlights what a hilariously petty character The Joker is. He's far from taking it on the chin, or letting grievances slide. Would you expect anything less?
District attorney Janet Van Dorn blames Batman for fouling up her chances of having Poison Ivy sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Instead, Ivy is returned to Arkham Asylum along with the many other criminals apprehended illegally by Batman. To make matters more complicated, Bruce is dating Janet. During their date, Janet is abducted and taken to Arkham. There, she and Batman are then put on trial by the likes of The Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, and more.
This episode is notable for featuring the most villains. So, anyone who loves Batman's foes will like it for that alone. The Joker isn't central, but he definitely plays a vital part.
8 "Be a Clown"
While giving a speech about those who act outside the law, Mayor Hill compares The Joker to Batman. The Joker is by no means pleased with the comparison to his sworn enemy. So, Joker conceives a plan to get back at Hill. He poses as Jekko the Clown so he can sneak into Hill's son's birthday. After the birthday boy goes missing, party guest Bruce Wayne figures Jekko — or rather, The Joker — has something to do with the disappearance.
The Joker is fine with both small and large scale crimes. He can easily find just as much enjoyment in a personal vendetta as he would in a bigger undertaking. This is why "Be a Clown" works so well: we can't help but be entertained by The Joker's feuds. To boot, the artwork in this episode is eye-catching.
7 "The Laughing Fish"
Joker unleashes a toxin in Gotham's waters that turns fish into "Joker Fish." His plan doesn't stop there, though. The Joker is out to copyright the Joker Fish. This way, he can collect on the profits earned from selling them.
Joker episodes tend to be darkly comical and overtly threatening. On the other hand, "The Laughing Fish" is more on the light side. Don't interpret that as meaning it's a bad episode; far from it. The Joker's scheme is simply more in tune with his older M.O. than his more recent one. He simply wants to make some money. The episode is loosely adapted from a 1973 comic issue, so that might explain the sillier elements, such as Batman fighting a shark.
6 "The Last Laugh"
It's April Fool's Day in Gotham City. You know whose favorite day that is? The Joker, of course. To start things off, The Joker plays the nastiest prank on the city by unleashing his laughing gas. When the horrible stench engulfs Gotham, Batman traces it back to The Joker. Now, Batman battles Joker's goons — including a robotic strongman called Captain Clown — in order to free Gotham from the offensive odor.
This is a fun Joker episode through and through. The fight with Captain Clown is memorable, and the score is especially riveting here.
5 "Make 'Em Laugh"
Batman and Robin contend with a rash of crimes committed by the most bizarre criminals. As it turns out, these one-off villains are under the thrall of no other than The Joker. The offenders are actually brainwashed comics who have no idea what they're doing. The Joker is simply seeking revenge against those who got him kicked out of the annual Gotham Comedy Competition.
This was The Joker's final episode in the original series' run. As far as major threats go, "Make 'Em Laugh" doesn't have them in spades. In fact, it's considerably tame. Yet, it's a risible episode full of wonderful sight gags (e.g., the comedian who is obviously inspired by Roseanne). "Make 'Em Laugh" also doubles as a quasi Joker origin story despite the questionable timeline.
4 "Christmas with the Joker"
Dick's plan to show Bruce It's a Wonderful Life is postponed when the network showing it is overtaken by The Joker. The clownish criminal has once again escaped from Arkham Asylum. He's abducted several people, including Commissioner Gordon, Summer Gleeson, and Harvey Bullock. The Dark Knight and his sidekick Robin finally rush into action to save Christmas from The Joker.
This episode is the perfect Christmas present for Batman fans. More people should add it to their list of annual Christmas traditions. It's humorously twisted, in the way the best Joker episodes are.
To stop The Joker's latest plan, Batman has to understand the mind of his greatest foe. Who better to help with that than the villain's own sidekick? Batman temporarily springs Harley Quinn, in exchange for helping her get out of Arkham later. The Caped Crusaders then escort Harley Quinn around Gotham, searching for clues that can lead them to where The Joker is storing an atomic bomb.
Batman: The Animated Series is responsible for giving us Harley Quinn, and fans are forever grateful. After all, her tumultuous relationship with Mister J is iconic. As The Joker serves as the villain here, Harley easily slides into her role as an antihero.
2 "Joker's Favor"
When an average man named Charlie Collins insults another driver, the other party runs him off the road. He then reveals himself to be none other than The Joker. Rather than harming Charlie, The Joker spares the family man in exchange for a favor. Two years later, The Joker calls on Charlie, who he's been keeping tabs on. He wants Charlie to help him take out Commissioner Gordon. Given no choice, Charlie helps the villain, but not without trying to contact Batman in the meantime.
Batman has a small part in "Joker's Favor," but his absence isn't noticeable. The main story is so engrossing and well-acted that you don't really miss Batman at all. The ending is perfectly executed, too.
1 "The Man Who Killed Batman"
A lowly look-out named Sid "The Squid" does the impossible and kills Batman. By accident, that is. Now, Sid is being celebrated as the man who finally took out The Dark Knight. Crime boss Rupert Thorne brings Sid in to tell him the whole story of how he killed Batman, and how The Joker got mixed up in all of this.
"The Man Who Killed Batman" is a tour de force for the series. It's the peak of the series' storytelling, as well as a triumph of animation for everyone involved in its conception. It's a crackerjack Batman episode in all regards.