“I've demonstrated there's no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right?”
Joker has always been intrinsically linked to Batman -- and not just psychologically. Both are among the oldest comic book characters, with Joker first appearing in Batman #1, less than a year after Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27.
The two characters also have also been portrayed by two of the most prestigious succession of performers in both live action and animation. Now, in the course of a few weeks, we have one of the most iconic Joker stories of all time - The Killing Joke - being adapted as an animated movie, with one of the most popular Joker performers voicing the Clown Prince of Crime, followed by a brand new (and potentially extreme) version of the character in Suicide Squad.
While Mark Hamill and Jared Leto’s respective performances will be totally different versions of the character, neither is drastically separated from any other incarnation seen in the Joker’s 75 year history. A similar variance in multiple personifications of the Joker is even at play in DC’s Rebirth comics now, with the Mobius Chair’s reveal to Batman that there isn’t just one Joker, but three.
The three Joker’s reveal makes a lot of sense. The Joker has a history full of enough insane antics for three -- or even more -- villains. Whether he’s going by the Crown Prince of Crime, the Jester of Genocide, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, The Joker, or simply Mr. J, this clown has done some messed up stuff. Here’s the Most WTF Things the Joker Has Ever Done.
15 He Became an Iranian Diplomat
One of the more off the wall moments in Joker’s history happens during the events of A Death in the Family -- an arc that contains multiple messed up actions from Joker (more on that later). This specific plot beat involves Joker acquiring a nuclear missile, which he sells to a terrorist group targeting Israel, ever a political hot button topic.
Doubling down on the theme of Middle Eastern terrorism, Joker goes on to meet the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who names Joker as the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations. Now, as a diplomat from a foreign nation, Joker claims diplomatic immunity in the United States, protecting him from being prosecuted for his various… crimes.
Obviously this plot was a lot more socially acceptable during the Cold War, so future references to the event refer to the fictional country of Qurac instead of Iran. Ironically, Joker would also become a diplomat for Qurac years later in another attempt to gain diplomatic immunity after killing Jim Gordon’s second wife, Sarah Essen.
14 He Skins Monty
In 2008, Brian Azzarello wrote the graphic novel Joker, which is widely considered one of the Clown Prince of Crime’s most iconic stories. The comic is told from the perspective of a low level Joker henchman, Johnny Frost, who has just met up with Joker after his former lackey, Monty, managed to get him released from Arkham Asylum.
While Joker was away, Monty had climbed a few rungs in Gotham’s underbelly while running Joker’s organization in his absence. The only problem? He hired Harley Quinn as a dancer at his strip club, so when Johnny Frost and Joker show up, Mr. J isn’t super thrilled about the treatment of his Pumpkin Pie. He completely skins Montey from the neck down, forcing him to get on stage so he can see what it’s like when everyone just sees him as just a piece of meat.
It may not be one of Joker’s grander schemes, but it sure does show just how crazy he can be, veering away from the clown and more toward the psychotic killer, the version of Joker we’ve seen portrayed more and more in recent years -- and likely the most similar to what we’ll get from Jared Leto.
13 He Stole Mister Mxyzptlk's Powers and Ate China
In the early 2000s, the Emperor Joker story saw Mister Mxyzptlk, the impish inter-dimensional supervillain, become curious about what would happen if he were to grant 1% of his powers to a mere mortal. He selects Joker for this experiment, but the Jester of Genocide fools Mxyzptlk into actually giving him 99% of his power.
As anyone might expect, Joker’s use of these abilities isn’t exactly responsible. Using the powers to manipulate reality, he forms the world in his own image. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but that world is pretty insane, and it would take too long to chronicle his Empire in its entirety, but a couple things are worth mentioning.
Joker and Batman have always had a yin and yang sort of relationship. Joker hates Batman, Batman hates Joker, and on and on it goes. Now that he’s in charge, Joker finally kills Batman, repeatedly, bringing him back to life on a daily basis. His hate for the Caped Crusader makes him kill him, but his attachment to the Dark Knight always brings him back, just to kill him again in a never ending cycle.
He also decides to consume the largest ever order of Chinese carryout, comprised of the entire population of China. That’s right, he eats over a billion people. While his treatment of Batman makes sense, his ravenous hunger for the people of the Middle Kingdom is a new trait for the character. However, considering one of the Joker’s character traits includes being insane and unpredictable, this might not be that wild of an event.
12 He Shot and Abused Barbara Gordon
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke isn’t only heralded as one of the best Joker stories of all time, but it’s also widely considered one of the best comic books of all time, period. The events of the book weren’t originally intended to be a part of mainstream DC continuity, but they nevertheless became a major fixture of Batman lore for decades.
In the story, Barbara Gordon answers a knock at her door to find the Joker, Hawiian shirt and all, pointing a gun at her. He shoots her in the spine, then proceeds to undress her and take inappropriate photos - which needless to say is sexual assault. Why did he do all of this? According to Mr. J, it’s just to prove a point.
In the context of The Killing Joke, Barbara’s treatment amounts to just that -- a joke. It’s only relevant to the story in the way that it is used to impact other male characters, as pointed out by comic writer Gail Simone when she was inspired to speak out against a trend of similar events, which she referred to as Women in Refrigerators.
Nevertheless, while the event in its original context may be questionable in retrospect, it has become a huge part of Batman canon, specifically in making Barbara Gordon into the Bat Family's source of tech and mission support, Oracle. Gail Simone herself wrote for both Batgirl and Birds of Prey for a while, and is largely responsible for taking an event that initially was used to do little but abuse a character for dramatic emphasis, and turn it into a major moment of empowerment for Barbara Gordon.
11 He Tried to Mentally Destroy Jim Gordon
If Joker’s treatment of Barbara Gordon wasn’t horrific enough, that’s only the first half of what he does in The Killing Joke. After shooting and photographing Babs, Joker also kidnaps Jim Gordon. He strips the Gotham City Police Commissioner naked and chains him up with bondage gear, forcing him to look at the nude photographs he took of Gordon’s injured daughter in an attempt to mentally break Batman’s long time ally.
The entire story is pretty dark and sadistic, possibly even a little more so than some of the more extreme ways the Joker has been portrayed, but nonetheless, it’s one of the main Joker stories long time fans will reference as one of the most iconic depictions of the character.
As such, DC decided to make The Killing Joke its newest animated film, featuring the most iconic Joker voice, Mark Hamill. Due to the very dark, very mature subject matter, The Killing Joke Joke also represents DC’s first ever R-rated animated feature.
10 He Let the Dollmaker Skin His Face
Joker underwent another major change during DC’s New 52 run. After allowing himself to get captured by Batman (again) and sent to Arkham (again), he allows the Dollmaker to surgically remove his face, before escaping Arkham (again) and disappearing for an entire year.
So, why did Joker remove his face? There could be a number of reasons. Batman initially tells Damien Wayne that it’s to send a message, although he doesn’t yet know what that message is. Dollmaker and Joker say it's the beginning of their rebirth, but Joker would later tell Batman that it shows that “Beneath my grin, though, is just more grin!” At the end of the day, whatever the reason for removing his face, the bottom line is that he’s just plain crazy.
There was no single major overarching plot surrounding Joker’s removed face skin, but the flap of facial epidermis nonetheless made the rounds, getting stolen by Harley Quinn, who uses it to roleplay with Deadshot, grotesquely strapped back on by the Joker for a period, and also sewn over the face of Duella Dent (who claims she’s the Joker’s daughter).
While the whole saga didn’t have its own direct payoff, the way Joker’s face floats around for a while is a testament to just how much Joker’s influence overshadows Batman lore, even when he’s not (entirely) present on the panels himself.
9 He Broke his own neck
Possibly the most influential Batman comic of all time, The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of an aging Caped Crusader who has come out of retirement to face a new mutant threat, resulting in The Joker also coming out of retirement to orchestrate one final confrontation.
Their final conflict plays out as their conflicts normally do. The Joker starts killing people until Batman catches up with him and begins beating him senseless. This time, the conflict takes place at an amusement park, and the two of them wind up in the Tunnel of Love, where Batman decides enough is enough and is about to end Joker’s life, but ultimately backs off. This prompts the Joker to play his final joke on the Dark Knight by snapping his own neck, depriving Batman of the opportunity to deal the blow himself while still pinning Batman with responsibility for his death in the eyes of society. Joker always gets the last laugh.
8 Made Superman think Lois Lane Was Doomsday
In another Elseworlds story, Injustice: Gods Among Us -- a prequel comic book covering the lead up to the video game of the same name -- Joker takes a break from Batman, putting Superman in his sights this time. Desiring to torment the Big Blue Boy Scout up to his breaking point, Joker paves the way for the Man of Steel to become the villain in the events of the game.
In the book, Superman had just discovered that Lois Lane was pregnant with his child. Joker murders Jimmy Olsen, and kidnaps Lois, hooking a monitor up to her heart, and wiring a nuclear warhead to explode should her heart stop beating. When Superman arrives to rescue her, Joker gasses him with Scarecrow’s fear toxin, causing him to see Lois as Doomsday. Before he realizes what’s happening, he’s pummeling “Doomsday” into the Earth’s upper orbit. Needless to say, this kills Lois, his unborn child, and everyone in Metropolis, setting Superman down the dark path that results in the evil dictator Supes in Injustice, a Man of Steel not all that different from what we see in Batman v Superman’s Knightmare sequence.
7 He Murdered Jason Todd
One of the more unique moments in all of Batman history came in 1988 with the Batman: A Death in the Family story. Dick Grayson had moved on to become Nightwing, and Batman had taken on a new boy wonder, Jason Todd. Unfortunately, fans didn’t like the way the green tights looked on Jason nearly as much, so DC let its fans make the call: should the Joker kill Jason Todd? This is the days before the internet, so they gave fans a dial in number to cast their votes. And vote the fans did, with "kill" winning by a narrow margin of less than half a percent.
The fans had spoken. When Jason Todd tries to track down his long lost mother, the Joker abducts them both, proceeding to beat Jason with a crowbar before abandoning them in a warehouse with a ticking time bomb. Jason attempts to shield his mother from the bomb, but he’s too late, and both perish in the explosion. This is a comic book, so of course he would return from the dead years later, but that doesn't make the image of Joker swinging a crowbar any less brutal.
With confirmation that the ruined Robin suit seen in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is in fact Jason Todd, and one of Jared Leto’s Joker’s many tattoos is an image of a robin struck with an arrow, don’t be shocked to see the DCEU pull from this story as it continues to expand its shared universe.
6 He Split His Own Tongue
During the events of Batman R.I.P. some generally crazy things go down, one of which happens when Batman is investigating a new organization: The Black Hand. Batman is tormented by this organization. They’ve planted subliminal messages all around Gotham, and one of their members -- Jezebel Jett -- has become Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend. Eventually, Black Hand is able to break Batman, who resorts to a "backup personality" he’d created for himself: the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh goes to Arkham to stop the Black Hand, but he encounters the Joker, who’s not to pleased about a perceived change in their “yin/yang thing.” Then, Joker takes a razor blade, and licks it, splitting his tongue. The reason for this isn’t very clear, but at this point, Batman has adopted a backup personality, and is wearing a costume manufactured from red, yellow, and purple rags, and Joker had previously survived a gunshot wound between his eyes -- so a little tongue splitting seems like a fitting progression.
5 He Tried to Copyright Fish.
Outside of his classic criminal escapades, Joker has also attempted a multitude of business ventures over the years. One of the most classic is depicted in Detective Comics #475 and #476, and later adapted for use in Batman: The Animated Series.
The event in question begins with Joker poisoning Gotham Harbor, as he does. Only this poison has a different effect than his normal laughing gas routine. The poisoning of the harbor leads to a strange mutation in Gotham’s fish, giving them massive Joker-like grins. Seeing his likeness in the fish, Joker heads straight to the copyright office, intending to acquire the rights to the Joker Fish and ensuring himself a percentage of the sale of every affected fish in the City of Gotham.
Unfortunately for Joker, fish are a natural resource -- no matter who they look like -- so the copyright office turns down his request, sending the Harlequin of Hate on a murderous quest to kill every clerk in the line of succession at the copyright office until he gets what he wants. The trail of victims had a fairly obvious connection, so it didn’t take Batman long to track down his nemesis and put an end to his antics.
4 He Threw a Temper Tantrum at the US Postal Service
For such a major supervillain, the Joker gets into a lot of petty feuds. Some might say he takes himself too seriously at times, but that’s obviously not the case. One such feud is chronicled in the one-shot comic Joker: Devil’s Advocate in 1996.
In Devil’s Advocate, the US Postal Service commissions a new stamp to celebrate famous comedians. Finding great offense at his exclusion from the stamp’s lineup of jokesters, Mr. J launches a one man war on the Post Office. It begins with a simple defacement of a post office branch in Gotham City, but soon residents all over Gotham are dying, victims of the classic Joker Toxin.
When Batman finally catches Joker, Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime denies responsibility for the toxin related deaths, claiming he’s far too intelligent to get caught up in such petty crime -- even though he doesn’t deny responsibility for the other crimes against the Post Office. Batman is able to uncover the true murderer, saving Joker from death row, which only serves to demoralize Joker, knowing he was saved by the detective work of his greatest nemesis.
3 Everything He Does to Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn was originally introduced by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in Batman: The Animated Series, but the popularity of the character soon lead to her history being adopted by main line DC Comics continuity. While it does appear that Joker and Harley are normally in love, the relationship is anything but healthy, and Harley is usually the one getting treated improperly.
It’s almost too difficult to pick out any single story as the most definitive WTF moment of their relationship. Things are messed up from the very beginning. They originally meet when Harley is Joker’s psychiatrist, where he emotionally manipulates her to the point that she depends on his abuse -- which she comes to conflate as affection. There are multiple instances during their history where Joker’s treatment of Harley becomes violent, or even sadistic, causing her to leave him, but her dependence on him always leads her to return.
2 He Might Not Be Insane, But Super-Sane
While the Joker is traditionally accepted as a mentally unstable super-criminal, writer Grant Morrison actually suggests the opposite might be true in his Arkham Asylum series, positing that Joker isn’t insane, but super-sane. Super-sanity means that Joker’s IQ is so high that his perception of reality borders on breaking the fourth wall, causing him to not accept any singular identity, often adopting an entirely new personality when he escapes from Arkham.
Super-sanity is something of a cross between Deadpool and Dr. Manhattan, bordering on fourth wall breaking, where Joker sees himself and the world around him, but doesn’t feel empathy for any singular being, instead focusing on the irony of life, particularly when looking at the actions of a vigilante such as Batman.
While not all fans love or accept this theory on Joker’s mental state, it does go a long way to explain how he can be a clown that frequently outsmarts Batman. It may even tie back into Rebirth’s “3 Jokers” reveal.
1 He Stole a Little Kid's Report Card
Joker has gone to great lengths to implement a number of schemes over the years, with motives ranging from committing insidious savagery to just being a mindless menace. He’s even pulled a few head scratchers over the years, but none were quite so petty as when he stole little Johhny Blake’s (no relation to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises) report card in Batman #13.
The issue shows Joker simply running past and snatching the report card from the boy as he retrieves it from his mail box. This might seem like a simple prank intended solely to bring a small boy to tears (assuming he was proud of his grades), but Joker’s motives weren’t purely mischievous. The stolen report card was only a component of a much larger plot to steal sensitive documents containing the signatures of Gotham City’s rich and well-to-do.
It may not be Joker’s most nefarious scheme, but it may have appeared more wicked at a time when bank fraud was easier and teachers had more in their bank accounts.
Do you have a favorite WTF Joker storyline you don’t see here? Let us hear about it in the comments!
Batman: The Killing Joke will be in theaters on July 25th and 26th, and Suicide Squad will hit theaters on August 5th.