In the pantheon of super villains, none are more famous (or infamous?) than The Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker.
Over the years he’s become an icon all to himself, his popularity completely independent from Batman’s. There’s a reason, after all, why Joker has his own 75th Anniversary book all to himself. The mainstream audience doesn’t need to be told who The Joker is because he’s become so recognizable thanks to a various number of mediums.
It’s extremely easy for fans to talk for hours about why they love The Joker and his never-ending battle with Batman; as well as their various interpretations of the character. Much like Batman, The Joker’s got a long list of great moments throughout his 75 year run so narrowing down his 10 best moments hasn’t been an easy task. It’s a lofty goal, but nevertheless, here are the 10 best moments of The Harlequin of Hate in comic books, television, video games and film.
5) “The Joker Begins” (BATMAN #1, Vol. 1) )
This is the one that started it all. 1940 saw the release of BATMAN #1, a true exploration into the world of The Dark Knight and The Boy Wonder and who should they face first but The Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker.
It starts off peaceful enough as people listen to the radio until a voice breaks through, proclaiming a man will die at midnight and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it, ending with “The Joker has spoken!” The murder, despite police protection, happens as predicted and The Joker sits alone marveling at his genius. The first time readers see Joker, he’s sitting in a throne-like chair as an almost skeletal figure, not smiling at all until a couple panels later as he plans his next great crime.
This story has been the entire basis for The Joker’s character throughout his long existence. A character that enjoys death and crime, planning his evil deeds out long in advance before anyone can stop them, even Batman. It should be noted that when crafting The Joker for THE DARK KNIGHT, Christopher Nolan and David Goyer used this story as inspiration for their take. The foundation for the greatest comic book villain of all time was laid here and we have Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson to thank for that.
4) “The Divine Gift Called Madness” (THE JOKER’S 5 WAY REVENGE!)
During the 1950s and 1960s, The Joker was turned from the homicidal psychopath introduced in BATMAN #1 into a relatively harmless prankster; he was still bent on defeating Batman and Robin and becoming the greatest criminal ever known, but his methods no longer employed announcing deaths over the radio, poison laughing gas or many other fatal deaths during Batman’s campy phase. This all changed in the infamous 1973 story “The Joker’s 5 Way Revenge” in BATMAN #251 (Vol. 1), a return for the villain after a four year absence from the comics.
The Joker is out to kill five members of his old gang who betrayed him and Batman is out to stop him. At one point, Joker manages to get the drop on Batman by pure chance, knocking him unconscious. The villain stands over Batman and gives one of the best villain-defining monologues ever given:
“His life is mine – I can crush the breath out of him effortlessly! I can, at last, triumph! But such a hollow victory – it was mere luck that caused my attack on him to succeed! I’d always envisioned my winning as a result of cunning, at the end of a bitter struggle between the Batman and myself – him using his detective skills and me employing the divine gift men call madness! NO! Without the game the Batman and I have played for so many years, winning is nothing! He shall live... until I can destroy him properly!”
Need any more be said?
3) “The Joker’s Bet” (BATMAN, R.I.P.)
During the first half of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, The Dark Knight faced off with a mysterious and deadly group called The Black Glove. Devoted to corrupting good men and women and the battle between good and evil, they vowed to crush Batman psychologically and physically, betting on the outcome. The Black Glove employed The Joker to help them in their bet and so he did... until he had a bet of his own to make.
Batman, at the time, was strapped in a straight jacket, buried in a coffin six feet under outside Arkham Asylum, certain to be defeated. The Joker, however, placed a bet that the group had absolutely no idea who or what they were dealing with and that Batman would rise from that grave to hunt them down one by one, laughing at them for not even looking at the broken radio Batman brought with him to Arkham. As soon as its examined, Arkham Asylum goes on lockdown, locking the members of The Black Glove inside as Batman, sure enough, has escaped his grave, calling it difficult, but far from impossible.
The Joker describes to The Black Glove that Batman does this to him every time – always beating the odds despite The Joker thinking outside the box to defeat his foe. It’s an incredible mark on their relationship that even The Joker can pick up on what Batman is really doing and goes so far as to root for him. After all, no one other than The Clown Prince of Crime has the right to kill Batman.
2) “The Final Confrontation” (THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS)
Ask any Batman fan what their favourite Batman/Joker fight is and the answer most commonly will be the one in Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Batman is an old man, but comes out of a 10 year retirement to clean up Gotham’s streets and restore order. Unfortunately, his return awakens a catatonic Joker, thrilled he can play once more with Batman. It leads to a brutal confrontation in, fittingly, the Tunnel of Love at Gotham’s amusement park.
Frank Miller crafted a violent and bloody final battle between the characters, with Joker relishing every murder he commits before Batman could stop him. Every punch Batman gives Joker is filled with years full of hatred and guilt for allowing this man to live so long. Batman, having enough, breaks The Joker’s neck, but still couldn’t quite bring himself to fully kill him. Joker, however, loves the fact that people will still blame Batman and call him a murderer and, in a last act of spite, laughing maniacally, manages to twist his own neck enough to finish the job.
It’s a memorable moment for the sheer brutality of this fight and the literal twist as Joker kills himself. This scene was also brought to life in animated form in DC animated film THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: PART 2, even utilizing internal dialogue both characters think into actual speech between Peter Weller’s Batman and Michael Emerson’s Joker.
1) “The Interrogation” (THE DARK KNIGHT) <
Honestly, there are several Joker moments from Christopher Nolan’s magnificent THE DARK KNIGHT that are instantly memorable which people bring up when talking about the film; why so serious, corrupting Harvey Dent, his infamous magic trick. The real scene stealer though, and The Joker’s number one moment in his history, is sitting down for an actual conversation with Batman at police headquarters. Though it is not a pleasant conversation by any means, The Joker lays out why he and Batman are destined to be lifelong foes, mixing lies with truth. He sees right through Batman as he tells him “Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not. Even if you’d like to be.” It reaches a boiling point when The Joker plays the ace up his sleeve, forcing Batman to take violent action, but what does The Joker do? He laughs it off, recognizing the brutal irony that Batman, despite his strength and skill, is completely powerless in The Joker’s scheme.
The interrogation scene is one of raw power, leaving viewers completely mesmerized by both Christian Bale and Heath Ledger’s acting range. Ledger’s Joker just draws you in and even though he’s an insane monster and you should be repelled by him, you only want to see more of him. He has this way of turning you to his side with his philosophy, despite being a villain, and that is strictly because of Joker’s skilled way of blurring the lines between what you want to hear and what he wants you to think.
Chris Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David Goyer and Heath Ledger crafted a version of The Joker that will live on for its impact on the character and the superhero film genre. While Heath Ledger’s passing is incredibly unfortunate and depressing, it is a comfort knowing we get to watch his best work over and over again and his talent in THE DARK KNIGHT was recognized with a posthumous Academy Award, the only one ever given out to a comic book role.