By 1940, Batman had been gaining popularity for a year in the pages of Detective Comics, so DC decided to give the character his own book. This was great news for creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, but they were nervous about the increased workload the book would require. That is when inker Jerry Robinson, who had recently joined the team, stepped up to the plate and offered to handle writing duties on one of the stories. He conceptualized that the perfect arch nemesis for Batman would be someone who made light of their crimes, especially the deadly ones. Robinson was a card player and thus came up with the design and name for the Joker from a deck of playing cards. When Robinson brought the idea to the team, Finger told him he wasn’t allowed to write it. Finger thought the character was too good and was determined to craft the story himself for the important character.
Finger focused on the psychotic nature of the Joker in Batman #1. In the comic, the Joker used a radio broadcast to announce his next victims and no matter how prepared the police (and Batman) were the victim would always perish at the predicted time. Even in the ‘40s the Joker had a flare for the disturbing dramatic. Joker was toned down throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s as all characters were, but returned to his twisted ways in the ‘70s when Denny O’Neil revived Batman. There have been a number of demented version of the Joker since then and in the following list we rank the top 20 most psychotic takes on the Clown Prince of Crime.
20 BATMAN: ARKHAM VIDEO GAMES
Mark Hamill reprises his role as Joker in the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game and delivers another phenomenal performance. The game follows the same structure as the Grant Morrison story where Joker traps Batman in Arkham Asylum and unleashes the inmates on him.
Video game Joker ups the ante when he takes a version of Bane’s venom called Titan to turn himself into a hulking, monstrous Joker. He eventually takes too much of the substance, which ends his life at the conclusion of the following game, Batman: Arkham City. However, that is not the last we see of Joker, as he had infected Batman with his blood before dying and returns to Bruce through hallucinations in Batman: Arkham Knight.
19 BATMAN (1989)
Tim Burton’s Batman should actually be called "Joker", because he is the only character in the film to get an arc. The movie acts as a vehicle for Jack Nicholson to ham it up as the psychotic Joker. The resulting performance lives in this strange zone that is entertaining for kids, but unnerving for adults.
Scenes like the one where Joker takes control of the television network to play his own commercial show his true psychosis. As a kid that scene seemed funny, but viewing it as an adult and realizing the models in the commercial are images of the women he used Smylex on, it is very unnerving.
18 FLASHPOINT (MARTHA WAYNE)
In the comic book crossover story arc “Flashpoint”, Barry Allen wakes up to find that everything around him has changed. In this timeline, Bruce Wayne is not Batman, and on that terrible night in Crime Alley it was Bruce who was shot by Joe Chill, not his parents. This fueled his father Thomas to fight injustice and become Batman, while his mother Martha cracked psychologically. She sliced a smile into her face and became Joker, the archenemy of her husband.
Thomas confronts Martha to explain that there is a way to save Bruce. He explains there is a timeline where Bruce survives and becomes Batman. Upon hearing that her own son would be Batman, her archenemy, she cannot handle it and throws herself off a cliff.
17 BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
Batman: The Man Who Laughs tells the story of Batman’s first encounter with the Joker. The plot is influenced by the first appearance of Joker in Batman #1 from 1940 and in both comics, Joker uses local broadcasts (radio and television) to announce his next victims.
The most psychotic thing the Joker does in this comic was not adapted from the 1940 story. In this comic, he first practices his toxin on a number of random people until he has it perfected. This story conveys why it is so difficult for Batman to figure the Joker’s next move. In one instance he is attacking random people and in the next he is announcing his victims.
16 DENNY O’NEIL’S JOKER
Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had a short, but incredible, run on Batman. The crowning jewel is their first Joker story, “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge”. The Joker arrives back in Gotham and begins to systematically eliminate his former allies.
There are two important events that happen in this comic to explore the Joker’s psychosis. First, Joker gets the beat on Batman and knocks him out, but instead of ending his unconscious enemy, he decides that it wouldn’t be a fitting victory and leaves. Later, Batman tracks Joker to a warehouse on the beach where he finds Joker has spent weeks nurturing a shark back to health just so he can feed Batman to it. These are not the actions of a sane man.
15 BATMAN: REBIRTH
Tom King has been writing Batman since “Rebirth” began and in the story arc “The War of Jokes and Riddles”, the Joker cold calls Carmine Falcone and tells him he has one hour to put an end to the Riddler, then hangs up. An hour later, Joker is in Falcone’s office with a row of teeth in front of him.
He tells Falcone his hour is up and Riddler is still alive, so he has removed Falcone’s mother's teeth and arranged them into a smile on the desk. Sounds quite psychotic already, but the kicker is Falcone’s mother lives in Metropolis, which is three hours from Gotham.
14 GOTHAM CENTRAL
In 2002, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka teamed up with Michael Lark to create a comic book series about the Gotham Police Department called Gotham Central. It was a street level look at what life is like for the police officers who are tasked to keep a city safe in the shadow of the Bat.
In the story arc “Soft Targets”, the creative team portrays Joker as a modern day criminal, as he perches on a rooftop and seeks out civilians and police officers as his targets. To increase the psychotic nature of the actions, the Joker has webcams set up at each location and is streaming the footage to the internet.
13 THE DARK KNIGHT
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is unforgettable. The character is an agent of chaos, set out to disrupt societal order and induce anarchy. The jail sequence communicates the psychotic nature of Joker most effectively. It begins with him applauding the promotion of Gordon to Commissioner from behind bars and it ends with him calling a cell phone bomb he placed inside a man’s chest.
After escaping, he hangs his head out of the passenger window of a police car like an animal, as it rushes down the street. It is a fitting visual to unnerve the audience as they have just began to understand the great lengths this Joker will go to in order to revolutionize society.
12 BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL
In 2006, after a sequel to the movie Batman Begins was announced, DC launched a new comic series called Batman Confidential, which acted as an entry point for new readers. The comic focused on the early years of Batman and retold some of his first encounters with popular foes. One of those stories was focused on Batman’s first encounter with Joker, although Batman: The Man Who Laughs is still stated as the canonical first encounter.
In this story Joker rains down shards of glass on the streets of Gotham. If that wasn’t enough to make this list, the glass is also laced with Joker toxin which gets into the bloodstream of the citizens below and delivers quite the end.
11 A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Most people know the story surrounding Jason Todd’s death. The Joker attacked him with a crowbar and then blew up the building he was in. Now, you might want to blame this act on the fans who called in to vote for the demise of Jason Todd, but in actuality Joker did all of this before the vote took place, with fans just deciding the outcome.
The act of attacking Jason with a crowbar was not a crime of passion and the Joker had set up a trap for Jason, using the boy’s birth mom as bait. It really is one of the most psychotic things the Joker has ever done and it haunts Batman to this day.
In Dark Nights: Metal, Batman and Joker must team up to take down the Batman Who Laughs from Earth -22. However, the Batman Who Laughs is not a version of the Joker, he is a version of Batman affected by Joker’s toxin. So who is the Joker of Earth -22?
This universe’s Joker had a plan to release his toxin on parents in front of their children. His end goal was to duplicate the events that created Batman for all of Gotham’s children and with the added element of his toxin, he intended to create the combination of both Batman and Joker in a traumatized child. Eventually Joker was defeated by Batman, but not before Batman was infected with the toxin and transformed into the Batman Who Laughs.
9 NO MAN’S LAND
At the end of "No Man's Land", a story that ran across the Batman titles for an entire year in 1999, the Joker commits a horrible act. First, he captures all the young ones of Gotham and hides them in the police station. When Sarah Essen Gordon, the wife of Commissioner Gordon catches Joker in the act, she draws a gun on him.
Joker decides in that moment to throw one of those he had captured at Sarah, knowing she will have to lower her aim to save them. When she does, Joker shoots her, effectively turning Commissioner Gordon into a widower.
8 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
There are a number of psychotic things the Joker does in Batman: The Animated Series, but perhaps the craziest is in the episode “The Laughing Fish”, which is adapted from a Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers comic. In the episode, Joker unleashes his toxin into the Gotham City harbors, which transforms all the fish in the harbor into “Joker Fish”, who display a smile similar to his own.
But that isn’t even the strangest part because the Joker then demands a copyright on fish because they look like him. When the Gotham Copyright Office refuses, he begins to end people, claiming he won't stop until he gets the copyright. This is definitely one of the most bizarre things Joker has ever done.
7 BATMAN: CACOPHONY
The 2008 comic Batman: Cacophony kicks off with the Joker escaping prison. While he was in prison, Maxie Zeus had turned the Joker toxin into a recreational substance that had become a popular one at parties. Joker, offended by his creation being used “inappropriately”, exacted his revenge on a lot of innocent people.
The particularly psychotic aspect of this act is how it took place, as Zeus and Joker met by a full building to discuss their feud. When Zeus took the approach to threaten Joker into submission, Joker replied with a literal bang, blowing up the nearby building. It makes us think, was that Joker’s plan the whole time, or is he always ready to respond to threatening remarks with explosives?
6 AZZARELLO'S JOKER
Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo takes a disturbing look into the psyche of the Joker. Smartly, the story is told from the perspective of one of Joker’s henchmen, Johnny Frost, who begins the story by picking up Joker from Arkham Asylum.
As the Joker’s first item of business, he goes to a strip club to visit his partner Monty, who is responsible for his release. Upon seeing that Monty is using Harley Quinn as a dancer, he attacks his former friend in a very unimaginable way. We are certain the writers of Suicide Squad did not draw from this comic when they made Joker a dance club owner in the movie, with Harley as his main attraction.
5 EMPEROR JOKER
In a comic called Superman: Emperor Joker, the imp Mister Mxyzptlk informs Superman that Joker has stolen his power to warp reality and is using it to recreate the universe however he pleases. With the Joker possessing such immense power, we are able to truly see the extent of his psychotic nature, as he can literally mold the world to whatever he wants.
High on the list of psychotic acts is the Joker raising Batman from the grave every day just so he can destroy him once more. However, the most disturbing thing the Joker does is wipe out the entire country of China by eating all of its citizens. The worst part is, he does it purely to tell a bad joke.
4 INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
The video game Injustice: Gods Among Us is set in an alternate universe where Joker has turned Superman into a tyrant. He accomplished this by using Scarecrow’s fear toxin to trick Superman into thinking he was fighting Doomsday, when in reality he was fighting his pregnant wife, Lois. Unable to withstand the strength of Superman, Lois perished by his hand. The Joker also rigged her end to trigger a nuclear weapon that destroyed Metropolis.
When Superman found out this was all orchestrated by Joker, he did the one thing Batman could never do and ended the clown. In that moment Superman lost his moral compass and eventually became a ruthless dictator. Joker laughs from beyond the grave, as this was his master plan all along.
3 THE KILLING JOKE
The Joker is not kind to the Gordon family and in Batman: The Killing Joke he commits one of his most unforgivable and psychotic acts against them. He paralyzes Barbara Gordon, and takes pictures to show to her father in an effort to drive James Gordon into madness.
Joker’s theory is that it takes one bad day to turn a sane man insane. His goal is to prove that he is no different than any sane person, they just haven’t had a bad enough day yet. When Batman shows up to assist Gordon, the Commissioner insists on bringing in the Joker “by the book”, proving the Joker’s psychotic plan did not work in the slightest.
2 THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Frank Miller deeply explores the Joker’s psychosis in The Dark Knight Returns. The comic takes place ten years after Batman has retired, and in the Dark Knight’s absence, Joker has diminished into a catatonic state, devoid of purpose. When rumors spread that Batman is once again prowling the streets of Gotham, Joker is invigorated. He snaps out of the daze and returns to his psychotic nature.
After gassing an entire live studio audience and serving poisoned cotton candy to a group of boy scouts, Joker engages in one final battle with the Bat. The fight concludes in the Tunnel of Love where Joker ends his own life, framing Batman in the process. In Joker’s eyes, this act gave him the final victory.
1 THE NEW 52
In 2011, DC cancelled all of their ongoing titles and relaunched 52 new comic series, calling it “The New 52”. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were given the reins on Batman and they did not disappoint. The team created a number of epic story arcs, many including their twisted version of Joker.
Over the course of the 52-issue run, the Joker committed a number of psychotic acts targeting not just Batman but the entire Bat-family. However, perhaps his most psychotic act was when after he hired Dollmaker to remove his face so he could disappear forever. Then, he returned to Gotham, stole the face from the police department and wore it as a mask.