When it comes to comic book supervillains, not many have racked up the body count of the Joker. Sure, the Joker’s somewhat lower down on the list of threats to the universe — though he’s had his cosmic moments — but when it comes to countless individual murders, the Joker is one character you really don’t want to be unlucky enough to share a story with. Whether the Joker is nailing victims with his buzzer, shooting them in the back, or peeling their skin off, he murders anyone he feels like murdering, without empathy or cause, and even the Joker himself doesn’t know how many people he’s killed… though it definitely numbers in the thousands.
Though the clown prince of crime hasn’t been up on the big screen since Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in The Dark Knight, this year sees his murderous return, with the release of the animated Batman: The Killing Joke, once again bringing back Mark Hamill as his voice, as well a new live-action portrayal by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, where he’ll be pitted against such villainous protagonists as Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
So out of all the Joker’s many murders, which significant ones stand out? Read below, for 15 characters killed by the Joker.
15. Henry Claridge
Though not the Joker’s first canonical murder, the first one that we ever got to see occurred all the way back in the very first issue of Batman, in June of 1940.
Henry Claridge is one of Gotham’s foremost wealthy socialites, a very protected man with a lot of privilege, so it comes as some surprise when a mysterious figure known as the Joker publicly announces that Claridge will die at the stroke of midnight. Though police officers are sent to Claridge’s home to protect him, their efforts fail: right at midnight, Claridge drops dead, having been secretly poisoned by the Joker many hours before. Shortly afterward, Claridge’s face contorts into the now-infamous rictus grin as a result of the poison, and the Joker’s legacy of terror begins.
14. His entire gang
From his very first appearance, the Joker has been a violent killer, but as the years went on and comic book storylines were softened in response to a controversial uproar over their subject matter, the Joker was reconfigured into little more than the wacky prankster seen in the 1960s Adam West series. This period of softness came to an end in 1973, when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams brought the old Joker back in a story titled The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.
After being released from the institution, the Joker — knowing that one of the five members of his old gang betrayed him to the police — decides he’s going to murder all of them, one by one. The plot point of the Joker murdering his own gang members has been adapted many times since, perhaps most notably in the opening of The Dark Knight, where this device is used to introduce Heath Ledger’s Joker to the audience for the first time.
13. Rachel Dawes
Speaking of The Dark Knight, though the movie contains quite a few characters getting offed by the murderous clown, the film Joker’s most significant victim is Rachel Dawes, Gotham’s Assistant District Attorney. Though depicted as being in a relationship with Harvey Dent, Rachel is also Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, the woman that he’s in love with, and the person on whom he’s pinned all of his hopes of one day no longer needing to be Batman. When the Joker takes this away from him, it takes their relationship to a new personal extreme, and creates the black hole that Bruce falls into in the next movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
Rachel is murdered in one of the Joker’s chaotic games, when he hires cops to abduct both her and D.A. Harvey Dent. Both are then tied up in gasoline-soaked rooms filled with explosives, with only enough time for one of them to be saved. Batman interrogates the Joker, getting the addresses for both locations, but the Joker swaps the addresses on him — so that when Batman tries to save Rachel, he instead arrives at Dent’s warehouse, and Rachel goes up in flames. This results in Dent becoming the murderous vigilante Two-Face, changing the landscape of Gotham forever.
12. Jerry Randall
Jerry Randall is a good natured bookstore owner whose biggest crime is idolizing Batman, which means he has more in common with the millions of Bat-fans all over the world than he does with many of the victims on this list. Admittedly, Jerry does take his obsession a little further than most; on many nights, he actually dons a Batman cape and cowl, and visits the real locations wherein Batman has previously fought crime, reenacting his hero’s victories.
Unfortunately for him, one of these reenactments brings him face-to-face with Gotham’s most colorful criminal and the Joker easily kills him. This is yet another murder that was paid tribute to in The Dark Knight, when a former police officer named Brian Douglas — who also happens to be part of a crime-fighting squad that dresses in Batman-like costumes and fights crime — is kidnapped by the Joker, and then tortured on camera in-costume before being murdered.
11. Mr. Freeze
The Joker tends to kill innocent people more often than he kills fellow supervillains, but he’s never been one to have standards. Mr. Freeze, one of Batman’s most powerful enemies, is another character who has faced death at the hands of the laughing madman. The confrontation occurs when the Joker’s goons leave him to work for Mr. Freeze. The clown prince of crime doesn’t take this betrayal too seriously, referring to Freeze as a “popsicle” and “glacier face” while gunning down the icy supervillain, finishing the non-battle with an electrical shock from his hand buzzer.
Later on, when the classic Batman: The Animated Series brought new dimensions to the character of Mr. Freeze, with widespread acclaim, the character was quickly revived in the comics, and rewritten to more closely resemble the TV version. However, since this resurrection wasn’t intended from the outset and Mr. Freeze does die in the original story, we’re going to count this one as a confirmed Joker kill.
Monty is a minor character, with only one appearance to his name, whom we might not remember today… if not for the horrific, gruesome way that he gets treated by Batman’s archenemy in Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s dark 2008 graphic novel, Joker.
The owner of a sleazy strip club and a high ranking member of Gotham’s criminal underworld, Monty is unlucky enough to run afoul of a newly-released Joker. Monty makes a couple of big mistakes around the most dangerous man in Gotham, putting him on shaky terms with the murderous clown — but perhaps the worst of his mistakes is not only hiring Harley Quinn as a stripper, but then gawking at her a bit too visibly in front of Mr. J. The Joker repays Monty’s deeds by skinning him alive from the neck down and then parading him onstage in front of his own audience.
9. One Joker Kills Another Joker
On the reverse end of the things, the DC Animated Universe that began with Batman: The Animated Series sees the Joker finally meet his end at the hands of his own creation: another Joker.
In a flashback sequence in the movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, it is revealed that Batman and the Joker’s conflict comes to a head when the Joker goes so far as the kidnap the teenage Tim Drake, the current Robin, and then proceeds to torture and brainwash him. Tim is disfigured, broken down, and transformed into the Joker Jr., or J.J. for short, while Batman spends three weeks hunting from warehouse to warehouse, desperately trying to find his missing sidekick.
When Joker reveals to Batman what he has done, he then orders Joker Jr. to shoot Batman with the Joker’s trademark “BANG!” stick, in order to close out their eternal fight with an ironic final victory against everything Batman stands for. Instead, Tim Drake breaks free from his brainwashing just enough to aim his gun at the Joker, impaling the clown with his own weapon.
8. Lois Lane
Without a doubt, Superman’s greatest soft spot is not kryptonite, but his undying love for the mortal woman Lois Lane. When it comes to enraging a being as powerful as the last son of Krypton, you’d have to be a total lunatic to take Lois Lane away from him. And the Joker, well…
In the storyline Injustice: Gods Among Us, an alternate universe depiction of a world wherein Superman, driven mad, has taken over the Earth and established a new world order, the chain of events that eventually destroys the DC universe as we know it begins with the Joker. In yet another one of his sinister games, the Joker uses the Scarecrow’s fear toxin to trick Superman into not only killing Lois Lane, but also syncs Lois’s heartbeat to a nuclear warhead, meaning that her death results in the entirety of Metropolis being destroyed. Superman tracks down the Joker and drives his entire arm right through the madman’s chest, killing him instantly, beginning his transformation from superhero to supervillain.
Considering that Batman: The Killing Joke may be the all-time definitive Joker story, it comes as some surprise that the central event of the graphic novel doesn’t involve a literal murder: rather, it depicts the destruction of an iconic hero, who is forever changed by the Joker’s actions.
Wanting to prove to Batman that anyone, even the most honorable people among us, can be driven insane by “one bad day,” the Joker targets Batman’s friend Commissioner James Gordon. To tear Gordon’s psyche apart, Joker knocks on the door of his daughter, Barbara Gordon, who moonlights as Batman’s trusted vigilante partner, Batgirl. He then shoots Barbara point-blank, paralyzing her from the waist down. Instead of killing her, Joker strips her naked and takes a series of photographs, which he uses to torment Commissioner Gordon.
Though Barbara survives this story, the Joker does succeed in killing Batgirl. However, Barbara uses her knowledge of computers to become the information broker known as Oracle, a hugely important figure in Gotham City’s future.
Frank Miller’s classic dystopic epic, The Dark Knight Returns, depicts a future where an older Bruce Wayne has retired, and mutant criminals now run amok in Gotham. When Batman returns, the Joker awakens from a depressed, catatonic state — having felt that without Batman around, he lacked a purpose — and manipulates his way onto a live talk show interview, claiming that he’s been “cured” of his psychosis. On the air, he then murders all of the guests at the talk show with gas and escapes.
Batman and his new Robin, Carrie Kelly, track down the murderous clown to a county fair. After a last fight between the two of them, the Joker ends their decades-long conflict by snapping his own neck, committing suicide and implicating Batman for murder in one final act of malice, dying with a smile on his face.
5. Alexander Luthor, Jr.
The Joker may not have killed Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor, but he did kill the next best thing: Lex’s son from an alternate timeline, the last survivor of his world, beamed away as an infant.
This Alexander Luthor is initially a heroic figure, but his machinations eventually have devastating consequences for the multiverse. While disguised as the DC Universe version of Lex Luthor, he forms the Society of Villains, and attempts to merge multiple realities of Earth together. This plot is foiled by DC’s heroes and Alexander flees. Afterward, he is tracked down to an alleyway by Lex Luthor and the Joker, the latter of whom is none too pleased that he wasn’t included in the Society of Villains. As Lex taunts his alternate reality son, the Joker mutilates his face with his acid flower, and then then shoots him in the head with a shotgun.
4. The Entire Royal Flush Gang
The Royal Flush Gang are a team of playing card themed bad guys whose membership names and roles are traditionally centered around the top cards of a deck: King, Queen, Jack, Ten, and Ace. The Royal Flush Gang eventually expands into a massive criminal organization that stretches across the United States, with cells in every city, each cell containing 52 members named after an entire deck of cards. The Gang usually fights the Justice League, but it’s no small irony that at least one cell gets flushed out by a Joker.
After the Joker is rejected by the Society of Villains for his instability– the same rejection that later leads him to kill Alexander Luthor– he goes to a casino to confront a cell of the Royal Flush Gang that has been granted inclusion into the Society. The Joker kills the whole gang, finishing off with the King.
3. Batman, Over and Over Again
Emperor Joker, the Joker’s most cosmic story to date, is a tale of the infinite havoc that is caused when the Joker gains godlike reality-altering powers. Not surprisingly, this all-powerful Joker begins tearing the universe apart at its seams, creating a new world wherein Bizzaro is the hero of Metropolis and Superman is trapped in Arkham Asylum, while also performing such bizarre actions as eating the entire population of China.
The worst fate of all, though, is reserved for Batman. In the world that Emperor Joker creates, Batman is tortured, killed, and resurrected every day, in an infinite loop, a fate reminiscent of the Harlan Ellison classic I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.
Luckily, Superman manages to save the day and reverse the damage that Joker has done to the universe, reconstructing reality from the moment the Joker started playing with it. However, the many life and death experiences that Batman was forced to endure leave the Dark Knight’s mind completely shattered. With the help of the Spectre, Superman has Batman’s memories of constant death and resurrection transferred to him instead, so that Batman won’t have to forever relive the horrible tortures he suffered at Emperor Joker’s hands.
2. Sarah Essen
As if paralyzing Jim Gordon’s daughter wasn’t enough, the Joker further rubs salt in the wound when, during the No Man’s Land Storyline, he murders the commissioner’s wife.
This death occurs when the Joker performs one of his most horrific actions to date, kidnapping dozens of infant babies and holding them hostage in the basement of the Gotham police station. Sarah, as a member of the police department, races to the scene and holds the Joker at gunpoint. However, the homicidal clown then tosses one of the babies at her, resulting in Sarah dropping her weapon to catch the infant — and then taking a bullet in the head from the Joker. Oddly, the clown is unamused by all of this and, shortly afterward, he surrenders himself to the authorities.
Of course, probably the one atrocity the Joker has committed that has impacted Batman the most is his calculated destruction of Jason Todd, the second adolescent to take on the identity of Batman’s partner, Robin. In the storyline A Death in the Family, the Joker secretly leads the Boy Wonder to discover his long-lost birth mother, Sheila, whom the Joker has been blackmailing. The Joker brutally beats Jason with a crowbar and then locks Robin and his mother in a warehouse with a time bomb. Batman is unable to reach the warehouse before the bomb goes off, leaving both Jason and Sheila dead.
Even though Jason Todd is eventually resurrected through the use of Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits, there’s no question that this personally-charged murder is the hardest blow that the Joker has ever dealt to Batman, and the repercussions of it still reverberate through Batman comics today.
Due to the fact that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice depicts a battle-damaged, spray-painted Robin costume, it seems likely that we’ll at some point see this violent encounter depicted onscreen. When Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker are finally seen coming to blows, the villain’s murder of Robin will likely play a key role in their conflict.