Catch up with Suicide Squad’s Clown Prince of Crime with our guide to the ten greatest Joker comics
By any measure, the Joker is one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, and possibly even one of the best villains ever conceived. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the perfect nemesis for the perpetually grim Batman was a laughing, evil clown. Amazingly, the Joker was almost killed off in his first appearance, which would have changed the course of comic book history. Can you imagine DC Comics‘ Dark Knight without his eternal rival? It’s enough to drive some someone “differently sane!”
The late Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight deeply resonated with moviegoers, while Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker voice from Batman: The Animated Series and several other appearances has also become synonymous with the character. Next month, Jared Leto will show audiences what he can do as the Clown Prince of Crime in Suicide Squad, which will mark the first time that the Joker has ever appeared in a live-action film outside of the Batman franchise.
Before the Joker returns on Friday, August 5, ComingSoon.net is looking back at a stacked deck: the 10 greatest Joker comics. These are the tales that made Gotham City’s favorite criminal into the madman that he is today!
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman #1
In 1940, Batman graduated into his own ongoing series, and readers were introduced to the Joker in two tales by the classic creative team of Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson. From the very beginning, the Joker’s lethal sense of humor was on display, as well as his Joker toxin and his signature playing card. Even in his first appearance, the Joker gave off a sense of menace that few villains could match.
Finger, Kane, and Robinson didn’t initially realize what they had created when they planned the Joker’s death in this issue. Fortunately, they were overruled by their editor, and Batman’s greatest nemesis was born.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman #251
The Batman TV series from the ‘60s and the Comics Code had turned the Joker into a pale reflection of himself. But when “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” came around in 1973, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams proved that the Joke was once again on Batman. They made the Joker genuinely threatening, as he hunted down his former henchmen, which put Batman in the odd position of protecting his former enemies.
This issue also contains a famous scene in which the Joker could have killed Batman, but instead he spares his life because the Joker wanted to defeat the Dark Knight with his own skills instead of relying on blind luck. It’s a complicated dance that endures to the modern era of comics.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Detective Comics #475 & 476
These issues are the famous two-parter called “The Laughing Fish,” which were published in 1978. Steve Englehart and Terry Austin crafted a darkly funny tale in which the Joker poisoned all of the fish in Gotham’s harbor to make them resemble him. And when he couldn’t patent his fish, the Joker went on a vendetta against anyone he perceived to be in his way. Even Batman was initially helpless to stop the Joker’s twisted plans. This story was eventually adapted as an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman #321
Even the Joker has a birthday, and in 1980, Len Wein, Walter Simonson, and Dick Giordano gave us the story “Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker,” which found the Clown Prince of Crime rounding up the people closest to Batman, including Alfred, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, and Catwoman to lure the Caped Crusader to his doom. There’s something deliciously insane about seeing Gotham’s greatest heroes strapped to candles on a giant cake!
The Greatest Joker Comics: The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns redefined the title character in 1986. And of course, it just wouldn’t be an epic Batman story without an appearance from the Joker. In the years after Batman disappeared, the Joker’s mind retreated into himself. Once Batman came out of retirement, so too did the Joker. This time, the Joker held nothing back and achieved his ultimate victory over Batman even though he lost the battle. With one twisted decision, the Joker turned public opinion against Batman and set the stage for a showdown between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman #426 to #429
Fans may have voted to kill off the second Robin, Jason Todd in 1988’s “A Death in the Family” storyline, but it was the Joker who pulled the trigger, so to speak. But more accurately, the Joker nearly beat Robin to death with a crowbar, and then left the barely-alive Jason Todd and his estranged mother to die in an explosion. The story was a gimmick, but Jim Starlin and artist Jim Aparo gave it some teeth.
This wasn’t a loss that the Batman easily shrugged off. Bruce Wayne’s grief over Jason Todd haunted the Batman titles for almost 20 years before Todd was officially revived in the “Under the Hood” storyline.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman: The Killing Joke
1988 was a big year for the Joker, but it was Batman: The Killing Joke that was immediately recognized as one of the best Joker stories. Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland crafted a tale that gave the Joker a plausible backstory while setting him off on a plan to destroy Batman through two people who were close to him: Commissioner James Gordon and his daughter, Barbara. It’s a truly chilling tale, and the Joker has rarely been more frightening than he was in this one-shot.
There are many reasons that Batman: The Animated Series voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill lobbied for an animated adaptation of The Killing Joke for decades. It will finally arrive on home video within a few weeks.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth
Grant Morrison and artist Dave McKean teamed up in 1989 for the standalone graphic novel Arkham Asylum, which found the inmates in control of the facility… and they wanted Batman to surrender himself in exchange for the lives of the hostages. McKean’s visual style isn’t for everyone, and this is a challenging book to get through. But Morrison and McKean’s take on the Joker is genuinely creepy and scary. It’s simply one of the best depictions of the character to date.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Batman: The Man Who Laughs
Before he went on to redefine Captain America and the Winter Soldier, writer Ed Brubaker updated the Joker’s origin in the 2005 graphic novel, Batman: The Man Who Laughs. Alongside artist Doug Mahnke, Brubaker revisited elements of the Joker’s first origin story as the Red Hood. Together, they captured the intensity of both the Joker and Batman, while also giving Commissioner Gordon a significant role to play.
The Greatest Joker Comics: Joker
Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo collaborated on the Joker graphic novel for almost two years before it was released in 2008. The result was a stunning masterpiece that introduced the scarred visage of the Joker before Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film. Many fans have assumed it was the other way around, but this project was started long before The Dark Knight began production.
While the Joker is the primary focus of this story, the main character is actually one of the Joker’s latest henchmen, Jonny Frost, who gets a little too close to the boss after his release from Arkham Asylum. It’s an amazing story, and Bermejo’s artwork is particularly impressive. This is actually one of the best Joker comics for casual fans, as it is free of all continuity and it truly stands alone.