Last Laughs: The Many Deaths Of The Joker

How do you end a story featuring Batman vs. the Joker? For years -- from the 1940s to the 1960s -- the Joker would end up being taken to jail (this was before Arkham Asylum was a thing), but in his early years and in later appearances, those endings did not seem to satisfy the writers. No, they would instead choose endings where the Joker seemingly died.

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The Joker would die so much in the early days that Batman would often become almost nonchalant about his death. Joker's deaths have taken on greater attention in recent years, but even as recently as the 1980s, Joker would occasionally "die" and Batman would essentially think, "Yeah, sure, whatever." Here is a chronological list of times that the Joker seemingly died in (in-continuity) "Batman" comics.

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One of the most interesting things about the Joker is that he was originally killed off at the end of his second appearance! His first and second appearances both occurred in "Batman" #1. That issue had four stories in it. One of them was a Hugo Strange story originally slated to appear in "Detective Comics" #39, one was Catwoman's debut, and the other two were the Joker's introduction and his return.

At the end of his return, the Joker has a knife and is trying to kill Batman when Batman simply sidesteps the Joker, who accidentally plunges his own knife into his chest! He got a kick out of the grim humor that could be found in such a death. The Joker is pretty firmly dead at the end of the story, with Robin even commenting on how he was grinning even in death. However, "Batman" editor Whitney Ellsworth decided that they couldn't kill off the Joker, so he had them add in a couple of extra panels where an ambulance worker remarks that the clown is somehow still alive! And so a pattern was set!


You have to give credit for the creative team of "Batman," as they adjusted to the Joker now suddenly surviving his first encounter with Batman easily, bringing the villain back in the very next issue. In that issue, in a story by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, they brought together both of the new villains introduced in the first issue of the series, Joker and Catwoman!

Batman decided that he wanted to kidnap Joker out of the hospital so that he could get the Joker operated on to cure his insanity. However, the mob want to free Joker to lead them. Catwoman also gets involved and the whole thing ended with Joker setting fire to a castle with flaming arrows. Batman only barely escaped before the whole place was consumed by flames, leaving behind an unconscious Joker who, logic would dictate, died in the fire. Catwoman also got a bonus "did she really just die?" moment when she dove into the water below.


In "Detective Comics" #45's "The Case of the Laughing Death" (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos), the Joker returned and took on the identity of a music store owner. The seemingly mild-mannered music store owner was working with a group of gangsters who had no idea that they were actually working for the Joker. The Joker then proceeded to do a few music-themed murders, with the most fascinating one being a special record that would release deadly gas when the needle of the record player hit the record (just enough gas to kill only the person who played the record the first time).

The Joker then double-crossed his own men and went to steal a valuable statue on an ocean liner. Batman and Robin follow him there, but in the confusion of Batman and Joker's battle, the liner passengers (who were not from this country, so they didn't know who Batman was) were unsure who the bad guy was. In the end, Batman recovered the statue and knocked the Joker to his seeming death in the ocean.


When the Joker next showed up in "Batman" #4, the Joker's deaths were still treated with enough attention that the beginning of the story in "The Case of the Joker's Crime Circus" (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos) dealt with how Joker survived his fall from the ocean liner. As it turned out, he luckily landed near some driftwood, which he rode back to Gotham City. He was actually shocked to still be alive.

The Joker then came up with a new criminal enterprise. Working along with a powerful strongman, the Joker disguised himself as a circus clown (talk about the laziest disguise) and put on a special circus at the homes of wealthy people, allowing them to case out their joints. They would then return later and rob the places. Batman figured out the scheme and he and Robin tracked the Joker to his "haunted house" headquarters. Robin was briefly captured by the Joker, but in the end, Batman rescued his sidekick and seemingly kicked the Joker to his death down a long trap door. However, the Dynamic Duo were already growing weary over whether any of these things would really kill the Joker.


In "The Riddle of the Missing Card" from "Batman" #5 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos), the story opens with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson noting that they hadn't heard from the Joker in a while, so they thought that perhaps this time the Joker was actually dead. Bruce's general surprise was amusing to see. In actuality, though, the Joker survived his trap door plunge to the sewers below and was rescued by a group of criminals who were trolling the waterway to find some stolen jewels that had been hidden away for them.

The Joker quickly turned the three crooks (Queenie, Diamond Jack and Clubby) into his new gang, as they were all obviously named after playing cards. They opened up a casino where they would rob their high rollers. Queenie fell in love with Batman (who went to investigate the casino as Bruce Wayne) and in the end, decided to betray her comrades to save Batman's life (she was then shot dead as a double-crosser). Batman and Robin tracked the Joker to a lighthouse, where this time Robin was given the opportunity to seemingly kill the Joker.


For "Wanted: Practical Jokers" in "Batman" #7 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos), the story opened with Dick Grayson once again wondering if Joker survived his lighthouse fall and Bruce Wayne telling him that it was a good question. Unlike the past stories, though, no attempt was made to show how Joker survived, just that he did and that he was collecting a group of well-known practical jokers to come work for him (he made sure to also frame them for murder right off the bat so that they had no choice but to work for him).

These crooks then became, quite literally, practical Jokers, as they all disguised themselves as the Joker to throw Batman off the scent of the true Joker. However, in the end, Batman and Robin managed to track him down and they all ended up on a train rolling through the mountains. After an exciting battle on top of the train, Batman punched Joker to his seeming death. Batman and Robin are clearly growing frustrated at how nothing seems to kill this guy.


By the following issue, they stopped even explaining how the Joker survived. Interestingly enough, though, "Batman" #8 was also the first time that the Joker was arrested at the end of his appearance rather than seemingly killed off. So, when "Batman" #12's "The Wizard of Words" (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson) came out, readers were beginning to get used to the Joker surviving these stories. Not so fast, though!

The plot of the story was that the Joker was inspired by one of his henchmen to start committing crimes based on wordplay. He would do things to people using slang terms, only he would use the literal meaning of the words. This nonsense kept up until Batman and Robin tracked them down. They chased him to a dirigible, which Batman subsequently punched him off of. Batman and Robin insisted that this time, it was the end of the Joker. So, of course, the Joker returned the next issue. However, this was the end of the Golden Age of Joker falling to his death! He would just be arrested for the next two decades of appearances.


It is no coincidence that the stories stopped having Joker die at the end of his stories at the same time that the Joker stopped killing people period. Clearly, editorial felt that the villain should tone down his antics. When the Comics Code Authority was put into place in the mid-1950s, that sort of approach was established even more. The Joker eventually stopped appearing quite as often as he did during the Golden Age.

It was in the early 1970s that Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams revived the more traditional murderous take on the Joker in "Batman" #251. A few years later, during their classic run on "Detective Comics," Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin also took on the Joker and made him even more of a murderous madman. At the end of their famous "Laughing Fish" storyline (where the Joker tried to trademark fish poisoned with his Joker venom), the Joker is seemingly killed when struck by lightning while fighting Batman on a girder in "Detective Comics" #476.


The 1970s came to a tremendous close with the classic one-shot issue, "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker" in "Batman" #321 (by Len Wein, Walter Simonson and Dick Giordano). In the story, the Joker kidnaps a number of Gotham City's most prominent people (including Alfred Pennyworth, which doesn't quite make sense, but just go with it). This was all to lure Batman in to celebrating Joker's birthday by allowing the Joker to blow Batman up in front of all of Gotham City. Batman agrees to trade places with the hostages, but the Joker doesn't know that Batman had already secretly switched out the bomb. So, when the Joker tried to blow him up, the cake he was tied to just shot Batman into the sky.

He then chased the Joker to a speedboat, but while they were fighting on the boat, Batman realized that they were heading for some shoals at high speed. He tried to get the Joker to jump off of the boat with him, but the villain used a trick hand to foil Batman's attempt to save him. The boat then exploded on impact. Batman, though, didn't believe in his heart that the Joker died.


In "A Death in the Family," Jason Todd, Batman's second Robin, discovered that the woman who raised him was not actually his birth mother, so he set off to find her. He eventually discovered her in Africa, where she was working as an aid worker. However, she was also embezzling money, so when the Joker showed up threatening to ruin her scam unless she helped him smuggle in some illegal goods, she turned on her own son and gave him up to the Joker. The Joker then beat Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blew him up.

Batman vowed revenge, but was stymied in his efforts when it turned out that Iran had taken in the Joker and made him their ambassador to the United Nations! Superman was even assigned by the government to keep Batman from getting his revenge. The Joker then tried to kill the assembled United Nations in "Batman" #429 (by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo), but when he tried to escape, his helicopter was shot down by his own Iranian accomplices. There was no body, though, so Batman wouldn't believe that he was dead (he wasn't, of course).


"The Demon Laughs" was a fascinating storyline in "Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight" #142-145 by Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo and John Cebollero. In this story, Batman has to deal with one of the strangest team-ups he's ever encountered: the Joker and Ra's Al Ghul! Ra's was obsessed with razing the Earth to the ground and starting anew, but Batman always found a way to foil his plans. Thus, Al Ghul decided that the only one who could make his plans a reality was the Joker.

The Joker went along with it all, but in the end, he knew that there was never going to be a place in Al Ghul's new world order for him, so he turned on his "ally." Al Ghul was prepared for this betrayal and had his daughter, Talia, shoot the Joker dead. Batman, however, needed the Joker's help to find and stop the Al Ghuls from spreading a deadly virus throughout the world, so he used the famous Lazarus Pit (which resurrect people) to bring the Joker back to life.


Around that same time, Chuck Dixon was doing another Joker-centric storyline. This time, however, the story became so big that it was a company-wide crossover throughout the DC Universe! Dubbed "The Last Laugh" (and co-written with Scott Beatty), the concept of the crossover was that the Joker discovered that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He was going to die, and therefore, was going to do it in style. He managed a gigantic prison outbreak and then exposed all of the world's supervillains to a version of his Joker venom that made them Joker-ized versions of themselves.

His intent was to force Batman to kill him. Instead, after Robin was seemingly killed by a Joker-ized Killer Croc, it was Nightwing who finally snapped and beat the Joker to death. Luckily, Huntress was able to revive the Joker, so Nightwing did not have to live with his death on his conscience (though it still messed Nightwing up a lot to know that he was capable of not only killing someone, but feeling good about it). In the end, the last laugh was on the Joker, as it was all a twisted joke by his doctor to make the Joker feel bad.


When Grant Morrison took over writing "Batman," he had a long, overarching storyline planned out, part of which involved giving the Joker a dramatic revamp. The inspiration for that revamp occurred in the first issue of Morrison's run, "Batman" #655 (art by Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang). One of the early problems for the Batman in Morrison's run was that there were three other men running around dressed as Batman (this was a reference to an old 1950s "Batman" story with a similar concept).

One of these Batmen, a rogue Gotham City cop, decided that he was going to fight the Joker in a different way than the regular Batman did. Instead of punching the Joker out, he just shot the Joker in the face after he had kidnapped Commissioner Gordon. He then threw the Joker's body into a dumpster. The issue didn't say whether the Joker survived, but a few issues later, we learned that he had, but the experience changed him a lot (including physically, as he had a bullet hole in his forehead).


In "Death of the Family," the Joker made his triumphant return to the "Batman" titles after his face was taken off at the start of the New 52 in "Detective Comics" #1. The now faceless Joker (who wore his old face like a loosely-fitting mask) decided that the "Family" of superheroes that Batman collected was a problem and was causing an issue in the relationship between the Joker and Batman. So, the Joker captured all of them and seemingly learned all of their secret identities.

In the finale in "Batman" #17 (by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion), Batman basically rejected the Joker's notions about the nature of their relationship and then told the Joker that he knew his true identity. The Joker would not allow him to reveal it, choosing instead to jump off of the high cliff that they were fighting on top of, falling deep in the system of caves beneath Wayne Manor. It was a fitting tribute to all of those earlier "falling to his death" deaths that never seemed to stick in the Golden Age.


Sometime later, the Joker returned for the storyline "Endgame." He essentially determined that Batman had betrayed him back in "Death of the Family" by denying that there was some meaning wrapped up in their seemingly eternal struggle against each other. When Batman seemed to deny that, the Joker figured, "Fine, then I guess I'll just kill everyone."

He had an elaborate plot that involved poisoning all of Gotham City with specialized Joker Venom (he first had Joker Venom-ized members of the Justice League nearly kill Batman) and in the end, by "Batman" #40 (by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki), Batman was able to save the day. The two were struggling in the same cave system as before, only there was no way out for either one of them. Batman essentially apologized to the Joker, before the clown was hit by a falling piece of the cave and the two seemingly died next to each other. Obviously, that was not the literal endgame, but it was for a time.

What is your all-time favorite Joker death scene? Let us know in the comments section!

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