13 JOKER Stories That Are Better Than THE KILLING JOKE

There are so many better stories …


UPDATED 8/23/17: Warner Bros. evidently has a Joker origin movie in the works, with Martin Scorsese in line to produce. I could have gone my entire life without a Joker movie and been fine with it but Scorsese’s involvement at least makes me take notice. (Assuming this all actually happens.)

Anyway, I’m really hopeful that the filmmakers don’t take their cues from The Killing Joke. The temptation will be great, obviously, but there are so many better Joker stories to choose from for inspiration (origin stories or not).

I wrote this piece a while back as The Killing Joke animated flick was hitting, but it springs to mind again with this latest news. So, once again, here are 13 JOKER STORIES BETTER THAN THE KILLING JOKE:

So The Killing Joke animated feature is going to be making its debut this week on the big screen and will be available for digital download.

I have no plans to see it. I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not a fan of Alan Moore’s sexually sadistic piece of storytelling (click here to read why — if you dare). And I’ve been pretty put off by the way people are so amped up that it’s earned its R rating (click here — again, if you dare).

But I don’t like to tear down as much as I like to build up. When I first wrote that piece on The Killing Joke last year, I suggested five alternatives. Now that the film is coming out to much hype, however, I’ve decided to go all in and offer 13 Joker Stories That Are Better Than The Killing Joke.

Some of them are dark and twisted. Others, less so. Some are from comics, others from the screen. All are entertaining and all will leave you more satisfied than Moore’s graphic novel.

Oh, and if you have a favorite you don’t see here, just add it in the comments or in whichever social-media thread you found this.

In no particular order:

Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986). Frank Miller’s vision of the Joker is one of the darkest to see print and this chapter of his magnum opus is the miniseries’ high point. The Joker isn’t just sinister — he’s terrifyingly dangerous.


Batman #251 (1973). The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, famously returned the Joker to his homicidal roots. It also happens to be a cracking good tale, with a classic cover, spectacular art, dramatic pacing and excellent sick humor.


Detective Comics #475-476 (1977-78). The Laughing Fish, by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers is a cornerstone Batman story that has influenced writers and artists in the decades since. Side note: That the entire Englehart-Rogers run (bookended by chapters including contributions from Walt Simonson and Len Wein) remains out of print is a crime against comics.

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The Dark Knight (2008). Now people will say, “Well, Heath Ledger was inspired by The Killing Joke.” To which I say: So what? I’m not against the notion of a stone-cold Joker who’s also a maniacal anarchist.


Gotham Central #12-15 (2003-04). Soft Targets, by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, is probably the best Joker story of the last 15-20 years and shows how average Gotham cops have to deal with a monster of the Joker’s scope. It also greatly influenced The Dark Knight. This is collected in the trade, Gotham Central, Book Two: Jokers and Madmen.


Batman #1 (1940). The very first two Joker stories — by Bill Finger, Bob Kane (signed, anyway) and Jerry Robinson — remain among the best, and major elements survive to this day. That Joker was a nasty piece of work.

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Batman #0 (2012). Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reimagine the Joker’s beginnings (to a degree) as head of the Red Hood Gang. The Joker’s never identified in the text, but it’s abundantly clear that the psycho leading the gang is the man who would come to terrorize Gotham in a much different way for years to come.


Detective Comics #168 (1951). Speaking of the Red Hood, check out the original story by Bill Finger, Lew Sayre Schwartz and George Roussos, which has been reprinted many times over.


Batman (1989). Jack Nicholson vamps it up and steals the show as the Clown Prince of Crime in Tim Burton’s film starring Michael Keaton. (Though Nicholson gets top billing.) The Joker becomes increasingly over the top during the course of the film, but rarely is he more downright frightening than when we first see him.


Batman #8 (1941-42). This early story by Bill Finger, Bob Kane (ostensibly) and Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, was reprinted in 1975’s Limited Collectors’ Edition C-37 and shows the Joker to be utterly without mercy. I mean, check out this little deadly move he pulls. I think of this whenever I’m driving down a twisty-turny highway at night. Good lord.


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Batman #321 (1980). Len Wein and Walt Simonson take a typically silly Joker premise — it’s his birthday and so he captures Batman and his allies as a gift to himself — and make it mirthfully malevolent.


The Joker also pulls one of his signature psychotic moves:

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Pop Goes the Joker/Flop Goes the Joker (1967). Cesar Romero’s Joker wasn’t a killer, but he was riotous nonetheless. This is not just one of the best Batman ’66 episodes starring the Joker (click here to check out some others) this might be Romero’s finest performance.


Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000). This story is almost as unsettling as The Killing Joke itself but doesn’t cross the line. Of all the stories connected to Batman: The Animated Series, this is one of the best — and the best featuring the Joker.


Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. You forgot Joker: Devils advocate

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    • Good stories. Not better than Killing Joke, though. You’re saying the Batman movies are better than Alan Moore / Brian Bolland’s work? Not even close, I’m afraid

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      • Soft targets,TDK and Return of the Joker are better than TKJ.

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  2. in the killing joke the joker had too do somthing that bad to prove his point, nobody likes sexual crimes against women but thats really the kind of thing a phsycopath as the joker would do in reallity. Everybody has a cruel story about what has happened to them in life. They can either go downhill like the joker or do good from it like batman.
    and it just shows how good gordon is to prove joker he is sane to not want to kill him. the joker would love if gordon killed him because then his point is proved that anyone can go bad and their is no justice.
    The comic book has alot of meaning to it.

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  3. Dark Knight is the best Batman´s comic and picture. But… common! the rest is not better than Killing Joke… Maybe in the same level

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  4. Pretty easy to see what’s going on here. Many fans who once hailed “The Killing Joke” as “the greatest Joker story of all time from all over the net are trying to retcon as being the worst thing ever because of a POSSIBLE rape in order to conform to popular SJW wisdom. The Joker is an evil man who does evil things. In virtually every story he’s been featured in-including many of the story choices listed above-The Joker most likely cold bloodedly murdered at least one innocent person. This is apparently fine, Let him slap his girlfriend or assault a beloved ally of his greatest enemy in an effort to break his sanity-and everyone goes nuts. If it were Batman doing these things, I’d be right there with you. It’s not in his character. But The Joker is the embodiment of the very worst things that lurk in the human psyche. Can’t be shocked or outraged when acts like it.

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  5. I was in my 20’s when The Killing Joke came out. At that time, I was quite enthusiastic about it. However, as the years have past, I have become less and less enthralled with it to the point that I wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” I am a pretty conversative guy and have little patience for the PC/SJW crowd, so my dislike of the book has nothing to do with that. Maybe it’s just the subject matter. Maybe it’s the sadistic way that a character that I have adored since I was 7 years old was treated. Maybe it’s because DC decided to place it in continuity and keep the Barbara Gordon out of action for 25 years. I don’t know – maybe I am just getting old (I am in my 50’s now) But, I now find The Killing Joke to be a repulsive piece of work.

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    • Boy, Sean, that about nails it. I’m liberal. You’re pretty conservative. My problems with it don’t come from any PC angle, just my gut.

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      • I am thoroughly unimpressed with TKJ. Honestly, I feel like the whole point of the story was just to disturb the reader. It was simply gratuitous. The plot revolves around the villain shooting and raping a man’s daughter, to antagonize him. What exactly is so special/interesting about that? Other than briefly examining the more complex aspects of the Joker and Batman’s relationship, and the Joker’s possible origin, the only thing unique about the story is its crossing new lines in what is considered inappropriate.

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  6. Nice list. Still can’t wait for The Killing Joke movie.

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  1. The Worst Thing DC Ever Did Was Publish THE KILLING JOKE | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] (UPDATED 7/24/16: For 13 JOKER STORIES Better Than THE KILLING JOKE, click here.) […]

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