We all love the Joker. He’s one of the best known villains in pop culture and after decades he still has the power to shock, amuse and scare us. Even better, every artist and writer who tackle the mad clown can put their own spin on him without losing his base appeal. In putting together this list we had to skip over some obvious contenders, Frank Millar’s take in The Dark Knight Returns. What we have instead are these ten amazing Jokers.
#10 – Hush
Written by Jeph Loeb, Drawn by Jim Lee
The Joker only makes a brief appearance in Hush, but it’s an extremely effective sequence for the character. It’s almost a completely pure representation of Batman’s nemesis – no grand scheme, no psychological examination, just a lunatic out to mess with his enemy. Batman stumbles across Joker having seemingly murdered his childhood friend Thomas Elliot. The culmination of Batman’s grief and fury over the death of Jason Todd and attempted murder of Barbara Gordon erupts into a violent fury. In a shocking moment Batman begins pummelling Joker with the intention of beating him to death.
But of course the Joker didn’t shoot Thomas Elliot, he just wanted Batman to think that he did. Forcing Batman’s hand to break his oath and kill someone is something Joker often aims to do, and tricking him into killing a man for something he didn’t do would be the ultimate ‘gag’. Being drawn by Jim Lee certainly makes it noteworthy.
#9 - Arkham Asylum: Madness
Written and Drawn by Sam Keith
Instead of being out in Gotham tearing things up or running the show this story sees the Joker mingling with the rest of the inmates in the asylum. This isn’t Joker running a long con, just going about his day-to-day lunacy. Although many of the guards, doctors and nurses see him as part of the job the clown manages to keep them on their toes.
Although at times he lets things slide, his trademark violence springs at random times. Slamming a guard’s leg in a door until it becomes severed, gouging out a doctor’s eyes and drowning an orderly in fake blood. Worst of all his collection of vintage practical jokes that are actually souvenirs of the acts of violence he has committed on the staff, on display in his cell to taunt the workers of the asylum.
#8 - Joker
Written by Brian Azzarello, Drawn by Lee Bermejo
The design this particular version of the Joker is primarily influenced by The Dark Knight version, but doesn’t carry across the same behaviour or personality. Instead he’s fresh out of Arkham and looking to re-establish himself in the Gotham criminal empire. Rather than working alone he reunites with Harley Quinn and takes on a new lackey by the name of Johnny Frost.
The story is told from the point of view of Frost, taking the chance to get in good with the Joker, which he sees as a quick way up the pecking order. Instead he discovers that the Joker is everything that people talked about. Vicious, unpredictable and (unlike his usual sociopathic self) quick to anger Frost was unable escape from Joker’s manipulations and control until it become to late.
#7 - Batman
Directed by Tim Burton, Written by Sam Hamm, Played by Jack Nicholson
Whilst Nolan’s version of the Joker will be the one that people remember it does a great disservice to the awesome work done by Jack Nicholson in Burton’s 1989 film Batman. There’s plenty of Jack Nicholson in the performance, but as it turns out ol’ Jack has a dash of Joker in him. He’s manic, comical and violent, perfectly balancing the three parts of the character. He’s fun to watch while he’s trashing an art gallery, but then he flips the switch and becomes terrifying when confronted by Kim Basinger.
This Joker filled the screen with his presence, and coined some of the characters best known lines. ‘Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light’ and ‘where does he get those wonderful toys’ are considered classic Joker.
#6 - Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on Serious Earth
Written by Grant Morrison, Drawn by Dave McKean
Certainly one of the more off-beat depictions of the Joker and one of the most memorable. All of the characters in Dave McKean’s famous work are given an abstract presentation, with the Joker in particular having his rictus grin distorted beyond the boundaries of his face giving him a monstrous visage.
Writer Grant Morrison wanted to take the characters into the realm of surrealism, breaking them free from the more grounded works that were in fashion at the time. As a result the Joker becomes even more irrational than usual, forcing Batman to enter into the asylum that the Joker has taken over and turned into an extension of his own insanity. The abstract artwork mirrors the Jokers demented view of the world, drawing the reader into his mind.
#'s 5-1 at the Source