In my dream, the world had suffered a terrible disaster. A black haze shut out the sun, and the darkness was alive with the moans and screams of wounded people.
Suddenly, a small light glowed. A candle flickered into life, symbol of hope for millions.
A single tiny candle, shining in the ugly dark.
I laughed and blew it out.
~The Joker, from a story I can't find, which is annoying, because it's awesome.
Of all time, the Joker is my favorite villain, and I'm very happy with the late Heath Ledger's portrayal of him in the Batman movie. So I thought about it, and thought, "Shit, the Joker's been in a lot of great stories in the comics." I thought I'd pick the five that I feel best define him. Maybe I'll make the top five a regular from now on.
Anyway, before we go, here's a few honorable mentions.
First honorable mention goes to the time that Joker shot Dick Grayson (Robin I) in the shoulder, making Batman increasingly scared for Dick's safety, leading Dick to leave the mantle of Robin behind. Not in the top five because the Joker would do something far more effective to another Robin later, plus it led to Dick becoming Nightwing, which is a million times cooler than Batman himself, so he's like a billion times more awesome than Robin in short shorts.
Second honorable mention goes to Batman: Dark Detective. Here's the cover. I think that says it all. Not in the list because the story itself wasn't notable.
Third honorable mention goes to the Alan Moore-penned Swamp Thing story where Anton Arcane has unleashed a mystical emotional plague on the world. In a scene showing reactions to Arcane's emotional storm, we cut to Arkham, where the nurses and doctors are starting to get scared. Finally, one doctor said, "Oh yeah, you wanna see something really scary? There.... the Joker's stopped laughing." Not in the list, obviously, because it's not a Joker story.
Final honorable mention goes to the Joker's monologue in the first Spider-Man/Batman crossover, which has him showing Carnage who's boss. Not on the list because, as a rule, crossovers shouldn't count. 'Cause it opens a can of worms. "Any idiot... can go out and slaughter a few thousand people. But where's the laughter and tears? The handstands and histrionics? In short... where's the theater?" Plus, Mark Bagley rules as an artist, and everyone should see how well he draws the Joker.
So here's the list.
5. Joker beats the living crap out of Jason Todd
Jason Todd, the second Robin, did not get over with fans very well. For one thing, he was an annoying little snot, undermining Batman every chance he got. He was the early attempt at a teenage rebel in the comics, and it wasn't executed very well. So, finally, DC left his fate up to the readers, by way of telephone votes. Of over 3,000 votes, the death option won by about 76 votes, so it was decreed: Jason Todd must die.
In the story in which they did it, Todd is on a search for his mother, and when he finally finds her, he finds out she's an international criminal, conspiring with the Joker. Appealing to her maternal instincts and good nature, he reveals to her his dual identity. Only, it turns out, Jason's mother is really an impure soul, and leads him right to the Joker, who takes the annoying snot by surprise, and beats the living crap out of him with a crowbar... in front of his mother. Then he straps her to a pillar and leaves them with a bomb.
While this particular scene does not have the pizazz of some other Joker moments and the story as a whole is, for me, below par, it really is a moment that cements (as if it weren't already) Joker's place as Batman's top villain, as the one person who is capable of taking so much away from him. Plus, he does it with a smile on his face.
Joker's murder of Jason Todd is the oft-cited in-story reason for Batman's grim, serious turn for the worse in the 90s and first half of the 2000s. As far as an in-story reason goes, there are few better.
4. Underworld Unleashed
James Jesse, the Trickster, is brought to Hell for a meeting of villains. The meeting is called by Neron, at the time DC's most serious version of the devil. Neron has promised the villains more power than they currently have (basically, the story is a retooling of the villains in general). One by one, Neron shows them the villains that he's already got on his side. It starts off with Kadabra, and the Trickster, with his internal narration, professes a certain level of fear and hesitation towards the Flash's magician antagonist. It then goes to Lex Luthor, who, of course, the Trickster respects, followed by Wonder Woman's arch-nemesis Circe, increasing the Trickster's level of fear. It then goes to Dr. Polaris, the master of magnetism, and the Trickster is realizing just how serious the power is getting around the table. But then, he sees one more figure at the table, and then he realizes who it is.
"Oh," he says. "Oh GOD."
The Joker is the least powerful person on the table, but he's the only one who's capable of injecting such abject fear into The Trickster. And the kicker of it all is that one line that follows it.
"When villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories."
3. Joker kills Sarah Essen-Gordon
About some time after Joker shot Barbara Gordon in the spine (see number two), he took someone else away from Commissioner Gordon: his wife.
Now, it must be noted that Joker is doing all of these things to break Jim Gordon. Any maniac could go out and slaughter a few thousand people, as noted before, but when the Joker kills someone close to Gordon, it's for the express purpose of breaking Jim Gordon. He is not out to kill Jim Gordon. He wants Jim Gordon to go mad.
So, at the end of No Man's Land, the year-long Batman story that had the US turn its back on an earthquake-ravaged Gotham City, the Joker resurfaces and kidnaps a bunch of babies, and gives the good guys a set amount of time to find them. Along the way, Commissioner Gordon's wife, Sarah Essen, has a malfunction involving her police communicator, and must return to police headquarters to get a new one. Unfortunately, that just so happens to be where the Joker is hiding the babies, even holding one in his arms, tenderly.
Sarah pulls out her gun, and tells Joker to drop the baby... so Joker does, at which point Sarah has no choice but to drop her gun and catch the baby. The Joker then, calmly and very seriously, without any hint of histrionics, pulls out his own gun and shoots Sarah in the head.
But that's not where it gets good. Jim Gordon, along with the entire GCPD, corners the Joker as he exits police headquarters and surrenders. Once Gordon learns what the Clown Prince of Crime did to his wife, he pulls out a gun at him, and tries to justify killing him, using his murdered wife and crippled daughter as the two main reasons. Batman, whose code against killing is as strong as it ever was, decides he can no longer blame Gordon if he does shoot the Joker, as he's lost so much.
Gordon comes to a decision, and decides to shoot the Joker in the knee. The Joker then screams, saying he might never walk again, like Gordon's daughter...
...and then laughs, because he gets the joke.
That is a deranged mind, folks.
2. The Joker Shoots Barbara Gordon
In Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, oft-recognized as the definitive Joker story, Barbara Gordon is enjoying a night at the house with her father, Commissioner Gordon. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Barbara, smiling, goes on to open it, finds the Joker, standing there with a gun. And without a single narrative caption, thought balloon, sound effect, or word of dialogue, the Joker shoots her, right through the midsection.
As Commissioner Gordon goes on to check on his fallen daughter, the Joker's men subdue him, as he's the one they came for anyway. While they're doing that, Joker smiles, and compares Barbara to a used library book, referring back to her old days as a librarian. It's one of the most callous, heartless things I've ever seen, and you can tell he's enjoying every single witticism that comes out of his mouth.
One of the things making this moment so effective is its permanence. Since then, Barbara Gordon has remained paralyzed, waist-down for life, with the Joker never knowing that he had ended Batgirl's career.
Because another thing making it effective is the fact that he just didn't care. It was all random happenstance. Joker was there for Jim Gordon, without any intent to kill him. It just so happened Babs opened the door, and you simply don't get in the Joker's way.
1. The Laughing Fish
In the classic story, "The Laughing Fish", which was also adapted into the animated series (with improvements, such as Harley Quinn), the Joker poisons a large number of the fish in Gotham City so they all have his distinctive smile on them.
Because a bunch of fish now look like him, he goes to the copyright offices and demands a cut from all sales of the fish, and that they all be deemed his intellectual property. The guy behind the counter tells him you can't copyright fish, as they're a natural resource.
The Joker's response? "But Colonel Sanders has those chickens, and they don't even have a mustache! You see now why I resort to crime."
Within the next 12 hours, the man who told the Joker he couldn't copyright his fish was dead, and two more people died before the Batman finally caught him.
Why is this number one, you ask? It just illustrates what the Joker really is. Why does he put his face on fish, knowing full well he could never copyright a natural resource? He thinks it's funny. And if you don't agree with him, then sorry. You're dead.
And he does it all with a smile on his face.
Well, those are, in my opinion, the most definitive Joker moments ever! Agree? Disagree? Let me know.