Few comic book villians have reached the status of the Joker. As Batman's archnemesis, the Joker is vibrant, violent, and chaotic, the perfect foil to Batman's stoic, orderly demeanor.
With the famed Clown Prince of Crime set to make his solo cinematic debut in director Todd Phillips' Joker we're taking a look back at some of the Joker's greatest adventures. From some of his most famous schemes against Batman and the residents of Gotham City to dark, disturbing portraits of the villain's psyche, these are some of the best Joker stories around for anyone wanting to step into the chaotic world of the Joker.
THE KILLING JOKE
Batman: The Killing Joke has become polarizing among fans in recent years, mostly due to the unfavorable treatment of the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. However, there's no denying that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's take on the Clown Prince of Crime is unforgettable, and for better or worse, it still stands as one of the villain's definitive tales.
It showcases his brutality, the unpredictability of his antics, and just how far he's willing to push Batman. Although the Joker doesn't have a truly fixed origin story, this one is generally the most accepted among creators and fans, and seems to have influenced Joker on some level. The events of The Killing Joke forever changed the lives Batman, Barbara Gordon, and Jim Gordon, regardless of its controversial legacy.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Like The Killing Joke, "A Death in the Family" is a perfect examination of the Joker's raw brutality. Originally published in Batman 426-429, this Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo tale sees the Joker do the unimaginable by killing Jason Todd, Batman's second Robin.
The savagery of the Joker is on full display in this tale, where the fate of Robin was famously decided through a call-in phone poll. Although Todd would be resurrected and return as the Red hood years later, the events of the book forever changed the Batman mythos, affecting characters throughout the Bat-family for years to come.
THE JOKER'S FIVE WAY REVENGE
Originally published in Batman #251, "The Joker's Five Way Revenge" was a landmark issue by dynamite creative duo Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. After the Joker tries to dispose of five henchmen who failed him, Batman must step in to protect the very criminals he usually tries to put away.
In the wake of the campy Batman series that starred Adam West, "The Joker's Five Way Revenge" helped establish how ruthless and scary the Joker could be, even with members of his own gang. It also put forth a new take on the relationship between the Dark Knight and the Jester of Genocide which still informs their symbiotic relationship today.
When Paul Dini and Bruce Timm helmed Batman: The Animated Series, they offered what many fans consider a definitive take on the Dark Knight. One of the many things the show was lauded for was its portrayal of the Joker and subsequently, the creation of Harley Quinn, his faithful sidekick.
Harley was given an origin in Dini and Timm's The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, a comic book special that was later adapted into an episode of the series. Mad Love tells the story of how the Joker began his relationship with Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Humanizing and tragic, "Mad Love" is the perfect example of how the Joker manipulates others --even those close to him. Even though Harley is the star of the show here, this story still reveals a lot about the Joker, including his casual disregard for fabricating and re-fabricating his history to suit his various needs.
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a more modern approach on telling the Joker's backstory. Originally envisioned as a sequel to Batman: Year One, The Man Who Laughs explains how the Joker came to be.
From the Ace Chemical Plant mishap that twisted his psyche and appearance, to the way the Joker thinks and acts, the story redefined the iconic villain's origin story for the modern age in a tale that borrows its overall plot from Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson's debut Joker story from Batman #1.
THE LAUGHING FISH
Originally published in Detective Comics #475-476, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' "The Laughing Fish" is a perfect example of how quickly the Joker's warped sense of humor can devolve into outright brutality.
When the Joker releases a neurotoxin into the Gotham Harbor, fish are deformed to wear his iconic grin. He attempts to patent the product but is denied and thus, he begins his murderous rampage. The comic was also adapted into a fan-favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series.