Since his first appearance in Batman #1 (Spring 1940), The Joker has been the Caped Crusader’s foremost adversary. That introductory story presented The Joker as a man of cunning intelligence, executing an extortion-and murder scheme with cold calculation right under the noses of Batman and the Gotham Police. In the years since, creators have slowly changed The Joker’s characterization; he’s evolved from being crazy like a fox to just full-blown psychotic. In the 1989 graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, writer Grant Morrison posited that The Joker possesses a “super-sanity.” With it, he has hyperaccute perceptions and is supremely intelligent… but totally sociopathic, acting on his every whim without the slightest shred of remorse.
Yet there have been episodes in which The Joker has been fully lucid — sometimes briefly, sometimes for extended periods. Sometimes, The Joker reckons with all the murders he has committed and the mayhem he has caused, and it crushes his spirit. Still, even in odd environments, different settings or alternate futures, The Joker remains an adversary for The Batman — in some cases working on the side of the angels, and even acting as the hero of the story. Here are 15 times The Joker went sane.
15. BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT
Batman’s latest chase of The Joker ends with him angrily force-feeding our favorite lunatic a whole bottleful of psychotropic drugs — in full view of the Gotham Police and TV cameras. That was a bad move, since the drugs have the odd effect of making The Joker completely sane. Now he is “Jack Napier” — adopting the name first used in 1989’s Batman film. Napier makes a political run, to prove that Batman’s brand of vigilantism, with its brutality, property damage and lack of accountability, is harmful to Gotham.
The 2017 eight-issue series Batman: White Knight puts Batman on the defensive, making him the villain and Napier a crusader for justice, working against Batman and the entrenched corruption of Gotham Police Department. And Napier strives to make things right with Harley Quinn, although there have been some surprising developments in that relationship.
14. JOKER’S MILLIONS
A broke Joker inherits a fortune from rival crime boss King Marlowe. In short order, he buys a luxurious mansion and ingratiates himself into Gotham’s social set, giving hundred-dollar tips to waiters. But he discovers most of the cash and jewels are counterfeit, just before an IRS agent informs him of the inheritance tax! Faced with going to federal prison or revealing he’s been punked, The Joker opts to steal enough funds to pay the bill. He realizes he can’t pull off the heists with his usual flair, but, oddly, things happen that still point to him, and Batman catches on.
“The Joker’s Millions,” from Detective Comics #180 (February 1952), was adapted for The New Batman Adventures animated series in 1998. Here, Marlowe leaves a videotape directly telling The Joker of his trick. Also, Nightwing, Batgirl and Harley Quinn — who weren’t around for the original story — appear.
13. GOING SANE
“Going Sane” was a four-part story in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #65-68 (November 1994-February 1995). The Joker kidnaps Gotham City Council member Elizabeth Kenner. Searching for Kenner, Batman finds The Joker’s hideout, a house in the suburbs near a stream. But when he closes in, The Joker blows up the house. Finding Batman, The Joker exults that he’s finally killed him, and pushes his body into the stream.
But now, without an opposite number, The Joker is lost and his mind snaps. He finds an underworld doctor to change his hair and skin color, takes on the persona of mild-mannered accountant “Joseph Kerr,” and strikes up a romance with one Rebecca Brown. Meanwhile, Batman is found and nursed to health by a doctor, Lynn Eagles, whom he once rescued from an assault. Six months later, Batman resumes the chase, cracking The Joker’s mind again.
12. CATWOMAN ANNUAL #3
DC’s annuals in 1996 were all themed “Legends of the Dead Earth,” set in a distant future in which Earth’s population has moved to other planets, but people are still inspired by the legends of the great heroes from the past. That said, things didn’t look all that futuristic in Catwoman Annual (Volume 2) #3 (1996). The big difference in this story was that Catwoman and Batman are a married couple — and partners in crime, like Bonnie and Clyde.
The story opens with them being chased by Gotham police officers through a chemical plant. Catwoman kicks one of the officers into an open vat, and he comes out of it transformed, with pale white skin, red lips and green hair. But Officer Jock Bozer’s mind is as sharp as ever, and he rises to police commissioner, dedicating his life to capturing Catwoman and Batman.
11. SUPERMAN: DISTANT FIRES
The 1998 graphic novel Superman: Distant Fires deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war that wipes out all civilization on Earth. Superman survives, but he has lost all of his powers. Grieving, he buries his friends — Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane — and sets out in this brave new world. He encounters giant rats, giant cats and mutated humans, ruefully noting that he’s broken his code against killing.
But a surprise encounter with an old friend boosts his spirits, as Superman comes across Wonder Woman. She leads him to a community of survivors, which includes other superheroes who also have lost their powers, including The Flash, now with one leg; Guy Gardner; Scott Free and Big Barda; the Matrix Supergirl, the Martian Manhunter and The Joker, now sane and a community leader.
10. ROCK OF AGES
The Joker participates with — you can’t really say “joins” — Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang as they face off against the JLA, in the “Rock of Ages” storyline in JLA (Volume 1) #10-#15 (September 1997-February 1998). The team has to contend with Darkseid, who has obtained the Anti-Life equation and taken over the future, which causes ripple effects in the past.
Sneaky creep that he is, The Joker filches the Philosopher’s Stone from Luthor, and uses it to spread weather disruptions and seismic upheavals. The Martian Manhunter, using mind control, gives The Joker a simple order: “STOP.” But it’s not simple; it takes a supreme effort by the Manhunter to reorder The Joker’s mind long enough for him to give up the Stone. The Joker is dazed while under the effects: “I’ve been insane … oh my God, what have I done?”
The 2007 Countdown weekly maxiseries introduced us to The Jokester, Earth-3’s counterpart to The Joker we know and fear, on a world where Batman’s counterpart, Owlman, is a supervillain. The Jokester’s first appearance was in Countdown #32 (September 2007). The Jokester began life as a bullied and battered kid named Jackie. As an adult, he became a struggling comedian at the Last Laugh comedy club. Jackie didn’t have any success until he made the Owlman the focus of his jokes after Owlman murdered the club owner.
Turning Owlman into a subject of ridicule made Jackie a hero to the public, but Owlman retaliated brutally, killing Jackie’s manager Harley Quinn and disfiguring him. After that, Jackie became The Jokester, Owlman’s archnemesis. He was killed in Countdown #29 (October 2007).
8. JOKER LOVES HARLEY
Harley Quinn has been a devoted, loving partner to The Joker, ever since her debut in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and inclusion in the DC continuity in 1999. Their relationship is marked by battering, dependency and dysfunction, but Quinn belatedly develops the strength to leave him. But like a bad penny, they keep coming back to each other — until she ends it for good and beats the snot out of him in Harley Quinn (Volume 2) #25 (April 2016).
But in “Joker Loves Harley,” he comes around one more time, declaring that he’s changed and trying to get into her good graces. She doesn’t buy it, and we learn why: This Joker is an impostor, an Arkham patient named Edwin with an extreme crush on Quinn. This transpired in Harley Quinn (Volume 3) #11-#13 (February-April 2017), and while its a bit of a cheat, technically, this Joker was… more sane than usual.
7. THE DEMON LAUGHS
In Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #142-145 (June-September 2001), Ra’s al-Ghul and Talia break The Joker out of Arkham Asylum specifically to neutralize Batman. As a bonus, The Joker figures a way to accomplish Ra’s’s dream to wipe out 95 percent of the Earth’s population: Stealing a deadly bio agent from a Quarac laboratory and spreading it through weather systems. However, The Joker pulls the stupid move of spraying the bio agent on Ra’s and Talia, who are inoculated. Then Talia shoots The Joker full of holes.
Desperately trying to learn where Ra’s is, Batman revives The Joker in a Lazarus pit. Usually, the pit makes people insane upon emerging; since it’s The Joker, he is lucid … and overwhelmed. “I’ve been thinking … remembering … all I’ve done,” he says. “All the people I’ve hurt. The dead … the dead. Sanity is such a burden.”
6. THE RED HOOD
The 2008-2011 Batman: The Brave and The Bold animated series gleefully captured a Silver Age vibe and a touch of flair from the 1966-1968 Batman live-action TV series. The Brave and The Bold episode “Deep Cover for Batman” introduced viewers to The Red Hood, hero of an alternate reality. Like The Joker, The Red Hood was transformed after falling into a vat of chemicals, but the Hood is a hero on his world.
The Red Hood struggles to stop the Injustice Syndicate — villainous counterparts of the mainstream universe’s heroes. The Syndicate captures the Red Hood and his team — heroic versions of our world’s villains — as he tries to reach Batman’s world for aid. Batman does get a signal and comes there to help.
5. BATMAN & CAPTAIN AMERICA
One of the later intercompany DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman & Captain America (1996) featured the Dynamic Duo matched with the Sentinel of Liberty. Batman and Robin chase The Joker through Gotham while Captain America and Bucky fight World War II alongside Sgt. Rock and the Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company. But Captain America is reassigned to bodyguard Bruce Wayne, who is bankrolling a war initiative called the Gotham Project, but is suspected of collaborating with the enemy.
Meanwhile, The Joker is working with a behind-the-scenes benefactor to steal an atomic bomb, but is shocked when he learns it’s The Red Skull! Declaring “I may be a criminal lunatic, but I’m an American criminal lunatic!” The Joker gasses the Skull with Joker Venom; the Skull retaliates with his Dust of Death — and both find they are immune!
4. BATMAN: I, JOKER
The 1988 Elseworlds graphic novel Batman: I, Joker was set in 2083. As “The Bruce,” Batman was a corrupt cult leader lording over Gotham City. The oppressed citizens rallied each year at the “Night of Blood” — a trial by combat in which The Bruce gave his foes the chance to fight him to the death and take over as the new Batman. These combatants were kidnapped, brainwashed and bio-engineered to resemble The Penguin, Ra’s al-Ghul, The Riddler, etc. But The Bruce always won and killed them.
There was something different about Joe Collins, however, the man selected to be The Joker. He was a leader of an underground resistance movement out to topple The Bruce. And the scientist who did the bio-engineering failed to erase Collins’ memories, just to tick off The Bruce, which gave Collins a fighting chance.
3. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #191
The top story on Channel 3 News: The Penguin hijacks the set with an announcement for Gotham’s mayor and city council that we never hear. The top story gets topped because The Joker barges into the TV station and gasses The Penguin, causing him to keel over dead! This transpires in the first two pages of The Brave and The Bold #191 (October 1982).
Batman quickly investigates and meets The Joker, who denies the murder, pointing out that he never denies credit for his foul deeds. So Batman, impressed that The Joker is sincerely grieving for The Penguin, warily teams up with him to find the real killer. It’s no surprise that The Penguin wasn’t killed; it was a scheme for him to kidnap and ransom a cardinal from the Vatican who was visiting the city.
This six-issue storyline, which spanned Batman (volume 2) #35-#40 (December 2014-June 2015) and several one-shots, followed The Joker’s biggest scheme to destroy Gotham. It begins with The Joker sending Justice League members Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Superman, all mind-controlled with Joker Venom, to attack Batman, who fends them off while wearing a massive suit of armor. The scheme is to poison Gotham with an airborne pathogen spread through laughter — one that seemingly has no cure.
After efforts to concoct an antidote, the story climaxes with Batman and The Joker having a fight to the finish in the Batcave. The Joker castigates Batman for bringing meaning to their battles and undermining his message, and Batman asks his forgiveness for not believing in him sooner — just before the cave collapses on them.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
The Dark Knight Returns (1986) changed the landscape of comics forever. It is set some 30 years in the future, 10 years after Jason Todd’s death made Batman retire. Rampant gang violence brings Batman back into action. He is soon joined by Carrie Kelley, a civilian who takes on the mantle of Robin. Coming back, of course, attracts the attention of The Joker, who has been catatonic at Arkham Asylum for years.
In issue #3, The Joker is a guest on The David Endochrine Show, and kills the entire audience and host. He then strikes at the County Fair. In the mayhem, Batman chases The Joker into the Hall of Mirrors, where they have a knockdown, drag-out fight. The Joker stabs Batman, and Batman breaks The Joker’s neck, paralyzing him. The Joker takes it further, taunting Batman that he “didn’t have the nerve,” and commits suicide by snapping his spine.
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