Great Joker Stories, Part 2 (of 2)
DATE: November 21, 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. He’s undoubtedly become one of pop culture’s most famous icons. Even people who don’t read or watch anything Batman related can recognize the villain’s trademark grin and look. It’s 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 Joker’s madness.

BATMAN FLASHPOINT: KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE is a story that takes place outside the main continuity in an altered timeline of the DC Universe. In a world where The Flash travelled back in time, but sent ripples throughout the timeline, the bullets that killed Martha and Thomas Wayne didn’t kill them, but instead struck down young Bruce. Thomas Wayne was so stricken by grief he became his son’s worst fear to prey on criminals. Thomas bankrolled his obsession through Wayne Casinos and, unlike his son in the regular timeline, killed most of Gotham’s criminals.

If Thomas kills people though, how is there still a Joker to plague the streets of Gotham City? The answer to that is one I won’t spoil here as Batman and Joker’s deeply complex relationship is the heart of this very tragic story. It also shows that no matter what universe or timeline, whenever there is a Batman there will always be a Joker standing in his way.

The main FLASHPOINT story, which Thomas Wayne plays an integral part in, was adapted as the animated film JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX and referenced this tie-in story.

Simultaneously considered to be both the most essential and controversial Joker story ever made, THE KILLING JOKE was a game changer for the comic book industry and the Batman mythos no matter which side you stand on. After The Joker escapes once again from Arkham Asylum, he sets out to prove that anyone has the capability to go insane. The only thing that separates him from the common person is “one bad day” and decides to use Jim and Barbara Gordon as his examples.

The Joker shot Barbara Gordon, effectively ending her career as Batgirl by crippling her, and created a slideshow of her in agony in an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. It was a shocking moment in comic book history as Joker had never done anything so personally cruel before. Alan Moore also modernized The Joker’s origin by showing a possible story of who Joker was before he became the Clown Prince of Crime, introducing the idea that The Joker remembers his past differently every time he thinks about it. This idea was where THE DARK KNIGHT found its inspiration for Joker’s contradictory stories about his scars.

As memorable as THE KILLING JOKE is, it is not without controversy as it turned Barbara Gordon into a victim and stripped her, both literally and figuratively, as Batgirl. The Joker’s origin as a nice guy before his accident is rather clichéd, though it helps that its not definitively canon either. The ending is also a point of contention for many fans since its unclear of what actually happens between Batman and Joker. Nevertheless, whether you’re a fan or critic, THE KILLING JOKE is of significant importance for Batman and the genre.

The legacy of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is unquestionable; it was a very well written and animated show that was surprisingly mature, honoring the legacy of the character and the world he inhabited. There are many standout episodes in the show, but two of the big ones featuring The Joker are “Almost Got ‘Im” and “The Man Who Killed Batman.” This is a bit of a cheat again, but both episodes are so good not to mention.

“Almost Got ‘Im” is a different kind of story for BTAS. In this episode The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc get together for a game of poker and recount the times they “almost got” Batman dead to rights. It’s a very entertaining episode that explores the dynamics between some of Batman’s biggest rogues, especially as it only involves them playing cards and swapping stories rather than plotting a hostile takeover of Gotham City or Batman’s death.

“The Man Who Killed Batman” is about a small-time thug named Sid the Squid who, it is largely believed, actually kills Batman. Sid is a very meek and nervous wanna-be gangster who got lucky in a fight with Batman. Gotham’s underworld come to believe his weak personality was actually a ruse to appear unsuspecting, making his enemies comfortable until he strikes. The Joker can’t believe some no name gangster killed his arch nemesis, but eventually comes around and actually hold a funeral for Batman in the very chemical plant he had his accident in, proclaiming how he always wanted to thank Batman for “making me the happy man I am today.” His final act is to lock Sid in Batman’s makeshift coffin and send it rolling into a vat of acid while Harley Quinn plays “Amazing Grace” on her kazoo. Once that is done, he nonchalantly asks if anyone is up for Chinese.

The influence of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was felt for years, spawning the DC Animated Universe, which ended in 2005 with JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. The series BATMAN BEYOND, set in the not-too-distant future of the DCAU, is a very underrated series that saw Bruce Wayne an elderly man, retired from the role of Batman for 20 years, training young Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. The animated film BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER is the culmination of the series and Terry’s place as Batman. The Joker mysteriously returns to Gotham City, not a day older than when he last fought Batman. Terry has to discover how Joker is still around, reopening old wounds for Bruce Wayne as they relive the very last encounter between him and his famed nemesis.

Even though the series itself is underrated, RETURN OF THE JOKER is a widely praised film that gave BATMAN BEYOND much more fans. It’s a great story that examines what Batman means and the relationship Bruce and Terry share, not to mention the two of them with Joker. The film’s standout moment comes during an extended flashback sequence showing the final encounter between Bruce Wayne’s Batman and Joker, a powerfully moving and tragic fight that has lasting consequences for many of Gotham’s key players. Mark Hamill continued his voice work of the character and gives his arguably best performance as The Joker here.

During the 1950s and 60s, The Joker was toned down from his dark, psychotic ways into more of a harmless prankster. This version only became more popular with the 1966 BATMAN television series starring Caesar Romero as The Joker. In 1973, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams returned Joker to his dark roots as he sought to kill five of his old henchmen.

This was a landmark issue for the BATMAN title because it helped return both Batman and The Joker to their original interpretations after such a long time in the campy period. This issue also has one of the standout scenes of Joker’s history; Joker unexpectedly gets the drop on Batman, knocking him unconscious. He considers killing him right there, but decides against it because it was mere chance that made him succeed, making this a hollow victory. Joker acknowledges if he is to truly kill Batman it has to be a worthy end, one the public will not soon forget with his wits and madness triumphing over Batman’s gadgets and logic. He then leaves Batman unconscious, content that one day he’ll finish Batman properly. It is a defining moment for the character and his rivalry with Batman, one that shows Joker’s reluctant respect for his foe.

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