Great Joker Stories, Part 1 (of 2)
AUTHOR: @RICHARDCHURCH16)
DATE: November 20, 2015

For 75 years The Joker has plagued Batman and his allies, never showing any signs of stopping his crusade against law, order and sanity. Heís undoubtedly become one of pop cultureís most famous icons. Even people who donít read or watch anything Batman related can recognize the villainís trademark grin and look. Itís truly amazing that The Joker has consistently stood out among the best of comic book villains for the last 75 years.

Throughout these decades, The Joker has appeared in several forms of media, from comics, film and video games. With so many appearances in different media, there are some that are quintessential to the character and others that are just plain fun. The following is a list of recommendations for any fan of the Clown Prince of Crime to check out and revel in The Jokerís madness.

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Letís just get this one out of the way first and foremost. Christopher Nolanís THE DARK NIGHT is one of the best Joker stories out there for its examination of the rivalry between Batman and his arch nemesis. Previous onscreen incarnations of The Joker have focused a lot on his battle of wits with Batman, but this film focuses on the philosophical battle that these two foes so often engage in. The Jokerís primary objective is to show Batman and the people of Gotham City how meaningless their struggle to restore Gotham as a ďgoodĒ city is, using its two heroes, Batman and Harvey Dent, to show just that. The Jokerís ultimate trick is, beneath all that make-up and black sense of humor, his logic does make some amount of sense.

It should also be noted that there is no shortage of stories that depict the first meeting between Batman and Joker. That being said, THE DARK KNIGHT definitely ranks among the best first encounters between these two characters; the interrogation scene remains the best scene of any comic book film to date.

What makes this interpretation even greater is the portrayal given by the late Heath Ledger. Ledgerís performance was highly praised across the board and, to this day, remains the second performance in a comic book film to be nominated for an Academy Award and the only one to win.

BATMAN #1 (1940)
When it comes to first meetings between Batman and Joker, there is no better place to start than all the way back in 1940ís BATMAN #1, a historic comic book which introduced Robin, Catwoman, Hugo Strange and The Joker. The issue included four separate stories of the Dynamic Duo against these villains with Joker appearing in the first and last of them. Many of The Jokerís main characteristics were introduced in this issue: his macabre sense of humor, his intelligence, his need to announce his crimes before committing them. It should come as no surprise this issue was one of the main influences for THE DARK KNIGHT when David Goyer and the Nolan brothers crafted the story.

An interesting fact about this issue is The Joker was going to be killed off at the second storyís conclusion due to the fear that recurring villains would make Batman a terrible crime fighter. A last minute editorial change left the implication Joker had in fact survived. Can you imagine what the Batman mythos might be like had The Joker remained dead?

Iíd also recommend Ed Brubakerís and Doug Mahnkeís BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, a modern retelling of this and a couple other classic Joker stories that acts as a sequel to BATMAN: YEAR ONE and the flashback portions of THE KILLING JOKE.

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (1986)
Few graphic novels are as famous and beloved as Frank Millerís seminal THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, a book that returned the character to his dark roots and helped save the comic book industry in the mid-80s. This story has influenced several Batman writers as well as filmmakers, from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan to Zack Snyder.

Batman has been retired for a decade and his absence has actually forced The Joker into a comatose state. He remains like this until Batman makes his glorious return. All it takes for Joker to wake up is to simply hear a news report about the story, setting in motion Jokerís own grand return. The criminal kills hundreds of people to make up for lost time, making Batman more determined than ever to stop Joker for good. This culminates in an epic fight in the tunnel of love at Gothamís amusement park where Batman and Joker end their rivalry once and for all.

This story was adapted as a two part animated film with Peter Weller and Michael Emerson as Batman and Joker respectively. Both actors did a fantastic job, bringing the years of resentment (and affection on Jokerís part) to life.

The ARKHAM Games
The ARKHAM video games have become fan-favorites in the gaming industry for its portrayal of Batman and his colorful collection of rogues as well as making players feel like The Batman with its gameplay. It should come as no surprise that The Joker has a prominent role across the ARKHAM games and its animated film, BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, basically a primer for anyone interested in 2016ís SUICIDE SQUAD.

Throughout the series Joker appears as the main villain in ARKHAM ASYLUM and its prequel ARKHAM CITY and a secondary villain in ARKHAM CITY. In ARKHAM KNIGHT, the finale of the series, Jokerís impact upon Batman, his allies and Gotham City is one of the main focuses of the game, examining Batmanís complex relationship with his deadliest enemy. Perhaps the best thing about The Joker in these games is, with the exception of ARKHAM ORIGINS and ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, actor Mark Hamill, famous for voicing The Joker on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIS, once again voiced him throughout the main trilogy, giving one of his best performances as Joker.

BATMAN: DEATH OF THE FAMILY/ENDGAME (2012-2013, 2014-2015)
So this may be a bit of a cheat since its two stories, but they both compliment the other in several ways, especially since both are written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo.

In DEATH OF THE FAMILY, The Joker resurfaces after a year-long absence in which he cut his own face off as some sort of declaration for Batman to solve. With his faceís skin hanging by strings and wires, he targets all of Batmanís allies rather than the hero himself, believing they hinder Batman from reaching his full potential. His wish to take Batman back to his legendary lone wolf status comes at a cost for the villain, however, as Batman fully rejects Joker and chooses his makeshift family over him.

ENDGAME is DEATHís spiritual sequel and where Scott Snyder said the former was a ďloveĒ story between the two foes, ENDGAME is a ďhateĒ story. Joker is not just out for vengeance, heís out for blood as he creates his masterpiece of Joker Venom, infecting the whole city as if it is a zombie virus. The Clown Prince goes full out on his attack, putting Batman through the psychological wringer as he attacks him in ways he never has before. ENDGAME showcases Snyderís writing, Capulloís artwork and, if this is indeed the last time the pair use the villain, is a testament to Batman and Jokerís intense relationship.

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