The Joker is inarguably one of the most vile characters in modern fiction. In a way, he represents somewhat of a Satan figure. Evil incarnate with no rhyme or reason invites chaos and all manner of cruelty. Therefore, this kind of malicious intent never fails to be reflected in the behavior of such characters. Joker, of course, is no exception. What’s interesting is that DC rarely shies away from allowing the character to be written as described. Evidently, this makes him all the more compelling. There’s absolutely nothing he will not do; furthermore, no one is safe from his perpetual reign of terror. Within the self-proclaimed Clown Prince of Crime there exists no moral compass, nor a set of limits. Ethics don’t govern his behavior and human life is of little value.
Being the epitome of moral decay means the Joker must spread the decay himself, like a virus. Suffice it to say, he carries it far and wide and with flamboyance. Many have fallen victim to the costumed rogue’s sinister antics -- heroes, villains, and especially the Dark Knight. In this list, we will recount some of the especially horrific examples. Here are 15 despicable things DC lets the Clown Prince get away with.
15 TRICKING SUPERMAN
On his own, The Joker could never manage dreaming of destroying the Man of Steel. Using a dose of Kryptonite and fear toxin allows him to push Superman to his limits in the Injustice world. With this cocktail of drugs in his system, Superman is led to believe he’s in battle with Doomsday. To defeat his nemesis, the Kryptonian flies them into outer space. He soon realizes, however, that the menace is instead his pregnant wife, Lois Lane.
Joker’s murdering Lois is cruel for a wide variety of reasons. But the surprising nature of it can be found in Superman’s being forced to do it for him. Superman kills his pregnant wife and soon thereafter becomes a despot who rules by fear. Thus, Joker single handedly ruins the world’s greatest hero. That Lois and her unborn child are on the receiving end of such malevolence won’t soon be forgotten.
14 HIS REPEATED ENDING OF BATMAN
Superman: Emperor Joker allows the Clown to experience something he likely dreams of but typically refuses to accomplish, ending Batman. Obtaining Mr. Mxyzptlk’s fifth-dimensional powers gives Joker a frightening edge. Of course, he uses these new found abilities with abandon, taking part in nefarious deeds that only he could think up on such short notice. One such deed involves the repeated killing and resurrection of the Dark Knight.
It’s one of the rogue’s wildest thrills. He doesn’t necessarily have a desire to end the Bat. As Joker explains in many iterations, the vigilante makes him whole. But the experience of taking that particular life, just to see what it’s like, and bring him back is something he simply can’t afford to pass up. He has fun with it, too; Joker doesn’t simply kill his nemesis, he tortures Batman. For Joker, this may resemble poetic justice of a sort.
13 RETIRING BATGIRL
The crippling of Barbara Gordon isn’t just another of Joker’s heinous crimes, it’s one of the more horrific acts of violence in comics. As is common with Joker, this behavior has no sound purpose, though he offers a reason of his own. According to him, his intentions are to prove that the sanest man alive, Jim Gordon, can be reduced to madness with just one bad day. By The Killing Joke’s conclusion, the Clown is proven wrong. Sadly, it happens at Barbara’s expense.
Joker’s attack on Barbara presents a bevy of issues. There’s the senselessness of it, undertones, and overtones, of abuse, and his leaving her for dead. Also, striking is how he talks about her while she suffers. His comparing her condition to that of a worn library book is but one of the many surprises in this still controversial graphic novel.
12 GOING AFTER JIM GORDON
Joker abusing anyone in nearly any fashion isn’t enough to drop the jaws of audiences. But his abuse of Jim Gordon, following what Jim may assume is the death of his daughter, can only be described as dehumanizing. Joker strips the Commissioner naked, ties him up, then parades him through an amusement park ride that features enlarged images of Barbara’s body. Batman: The Killing Joke’s Clown Prince is not merely a physical threat, he’s also a physiological menace -- a truly twisted criminal mastermind.
That Jim is drawn naked couldn’t be more surprising. But the images of Barbara add shock value as well. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe DC was open to this level of explicit content. With the Joker as the star of this particular tale, however, DC’s willingness to dive into then uncharted waters seems fitting. When it comes to this Batman rogue, apparently, anything goes.
11 THAT ARKHAM SONG
Morbidity and Joker compliment each other perfectly. This fact is evidenced quite often in Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham trilogy. One notable display of Joker’s morbid behavior features in the franchise’s final entry, Arkham Knight, in which the Clown technically isn’t present. Even whilst existing in Batman’s mind, the deranged villain engages in grossly immoral practices, such as happily singing about death.
During the song, aptly titled “Can’t Stop Laughing,” Mark Hamill’s Joker serenades the Bat with a tune about their journey from Arkham Asylum to the present moment. The chorus is where things go off the rails. A few select lines are: “Your parents are dead and I’m laughing,” “Jason Todd is dead and I can’t stop laughing,” “I’m even dead and I can’t stop laughing.” The song lasts about four minutes and is strangely hilarious. Joker and dark humor are also perfectly matched.
10 ENDING HIMSELF
The Joker is known to get satisfaction out of the most horrific of activities. It should be no surprise, then, that he’s also able to get a laugh out of his own death. The Dark Knight Returns takes it a step further -- Joker dies by his hand and his hand alone. The pleasure he seems to garner from the act stems from the knowledge that Batman will be framed. It’s essentially his last ditch effort to ruin The Dark Knight. In the Clown’s eyes, he could probably concoct no better ending to their journey and his life.
Additionally, how he takes his life could not be more puzzling. The character contorts his body in a way that allows him to snap his own neck. The act is macabre, but rings true for this version of the Joker. He really does get the last laugh.
9 ALLOWING DOLLMAKER TO REMOVE HIS FACE
Batman: Detective Comics’ second volume (2011) features the Clown Prince of Crime taking part in many a grotesque behavior, such as using his teeth to tear out a man’s throat. Interestingly, that isn’t Joker’s craziest act in this particular issue. No one could have been prepared for what transpires in the first issue’s final few moments. After being returned to Arkham Asylum, the Joker makes an acquaintance in the Dollmaker. It’s not long before the villains conspire to do something outlandish. Their first order of business? Having Joker’s face removed.
If anything, this act cements the Joker as a sadist. Once the Dollmaker successfully separates his face from his head, Joker seems elated. In fact, he refers to the experience as “fangasmic.” The comic does not shy from its content’s graphic nature, either. Subsequent New 52 ventures featuring the Joker also exhibit similar imagery. Shock value is an understatement.
8 ENDING TALIA AL GHUL
There’s almost no one in Batman’s life that Joker has not killed or assaulted at one point or another. In 2011’s Arkham City, Batman’s beloved Talia al Ghul joined the long list. Desperately attempting to retrieve a cure for the fatal sickness that ails him, Joker shoots the Heir to the Demon without pause. She doesn't have to die for him to get what he wants. More troubling is that the sickness still kills him, making her death doubly senseless.
The first game in the Arkham series is relatively safe with regards to its story. Arkham City takes a bold step forward on many accounts; the death of Talia marks a notable one. Her’s was the first major death in the series and came on the heels of her seemingly abandoning her father and the League. Why she’s killed off so soon remains a mystery.
7 HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HARLEY QUINN
By now, Joker's mistreatment of Harley Quinn is a known, albeit disturbing, part of their relationship. In that regard, his behavior towards her is expected, which makes her liberation from their toxic union all the more satisfying. It hasn’t always been this way, though. The depiction of the couple in Batman: The Animated Series bears an appalling amount of physical and emotional abuse, especially for a show marketed for children.
There are instances of her cowering under his raised hand, implying he beats her in private. Some moments feature him hitting her off-screen, allowing the abuse to be heard rather than seen. He abandons her several times; one instance involves him planning to leave her behind after Gotham is bombed. And who can forget the “Mad Love” episode where he pushes her out window? He isn’t deserving of the her often unrequited devotion.
6 THE CHINA THING
Chinese food has been the unfortunate subject of popular culture wisecracks for several decades. The topic was bound to become the punchline of Joker’s dark humor. Jeph Loeb’s Superman: Emperor Joker did just that and then some. During the story, the Clown garners most of Mr. Mxyzptlk’s powers, harnessing the abilities of the fifth-dimensional being. Nothing shy of utter chaos ensues from then on.
Experimental murder lands at the top of his list of must-have experiences while using the Imp’s powers. For instance, he repeatedly kills Lex Luthor and relentlessly tortures Batman. His most horrid behavior consists of eating China, devouring the population of a billion plus. Morbid jokes about eating “Chinese food made from real Chinese” surprisingly doesn’t seem to have given DC’s editorial team much pause. If it did, we can’t help but wonder if Joker’s words were originally any worse.
5 SELLING MISSILES
Before he murders Jason Todd in cold blood during Batman: A Death in the Family, Joker hatches a get-rich-quick scheme that’s capable of killing thousands of people. He travels to the Middle East to sell a missile to the highest bidder. The folks willing to pay just so happen to be Arab terrorists who plan to launch an attack on Israel.
While the deal itself proves successful, the launch, however, fails miserably. One of the terrorists sets the missile’s coordinates to Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city. Fortunately, thanks to Joker’s previous tinkering, the missile explodes before leaving its launcher. Joker has committed the most terrible atrocities throughout his 75-year existence. Turning to international terrorism for profit is a colossal step in immorality, even for him. But perhaps it merely serves as further proof that there’s nothing he won’t do.
Brian Azzarello’s Joker takes a deep dive into the mind of the maniac. Upon being released from Arkham Asylum, one of Joker’s first antics is worthy of landing him right back in the madhouse. To celebrate his freedom, he and his former goons travel to a gentlemen's club. Once there, the graphic novel’s insanity begins in earnest. After discovering that Monty, a former underling of his, has Harley Quinn dancing on stage, Joker takes vengeance into his own hands.
Joker has the man skinned alive, from the neck down, and then forces him to take the stage and dance for the amusement of others. It’s inarguably one of the villain’s cruelest forms of punishment. The imagery on display in the work itself is additionally striking. With the Clown Prince, DC seems to take a no holds barred approach. Thus far, this has yet to fail them or the character.
3 SARAH ESSEN
Sarah Essen is a GCPD police officer and Jim Gordon’s second wife. During the events of “No Man’s Land,” Essen loses her life in the line of duty. It’s not just Essen’s murder that warrants this particular event a spot on the list. The reason behind her being in Joker’s crosshairs is even more horrific.
The villain kidnaps a number of infants, keeping them hostage in the police department’s basement. Arriving first on the scene, Essen draws her weapon in an attempt to get Joker to stand down. Instead of following orders, he throws a baby at her, prompting her to drop her weapon and catch the child. Within moments, Joker shoots Essen in the head, instantly killing her. This is but another example of the Clown’s being evil incarnate.
2 NEGOTIATING WITH MAXIE ZEUS
Kevin Smith’s Batman: Cacophony merges Joker’s zaniness and deranged behavior in the most disturbing of ways. In response to learning that Maxie Zeus has been using Joker toxins to make recreational drugs, the Clown Prince takes hostage the school that Maxie’s nephew attends. As expected, negotiations between the two get hostile. Joker, indifferent to the ordeal as a whole, behaves as though a joke will help things along. The punchline? He’s planted a bomb and sets it off.
Death is a game and life is but a means with which to begin and end said game. Joker’s brand of chaos is void of rules, ethics, or morals. And DC continues to let its creators follow that invisible line, specifically with regards to Joker’s more demented antics. Could he ever top his behavior in Cacophony? We imagine so.
1 THE END OF JASON TODD
Even 30 years after A Death of the Family’s publication, Jason Todd’s murder remains a formative aspect of Batman lore. Unfortunately, at the core of the work is the brutal killing of Robin. Moreover, the way Joker takes Robin’s life is especially heinous. He beats Jason with a crowbar, pretending the young vigilante is a “bad boy” in need of a “severe spanking.” Attempting to cover up his wrongdoing, Joker sets a bomb to go off in the building. Jason dies instantly.
This wasn’t the first example of the Clown’s malevolence when the comic released in November 1988; Killing Joke hit stores that March. However, it helped set the stage for the character going forward. Despite all that has happened since then, this act remains one of Joker’s most controversial.