Five Twisted Joker Stories Better Than THE KILLING JOKE

Funny thing, the Internet. You get up on a Sunday morning, spout off, post it and people — to quote a great villain — “start losing their minds.”


A couple hours ago, I posted a piece about my disdain for The Killing Joke in the context of the controversy of the Batgirl #41 variant cover that dredges up that ugly story.

I guess I touched a nerve. I’m surprised and not at the same time. People have already had a lot to say about the piece, good and bad — and keep those comments coming folks, either below or on Facebook: Debate is good. Yay, America.

Anyway, the column speaks for itself.

But I am gonna double down on the notion that you can tell a great, twisted Joker story without resorting to sadistic sexual torture. Here are five of them. Feel free to add your own. There are many to choose from.

Batman #251, 1973


The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams is the first Joker story after the 1966 Batman series went away. It 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 influenced writers and artists — in the best possible way — in the decades since. Side note: That the entire Englehart-Rogers run (bookended by chapters including Walt Simonson and Len Wein) remains out of print is a crime against comics.

The Dark Knight, 2008


I don’t have to point this out, do I? 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. It also greatly influenced The Dark Knight. (And of course this whole series begat the TV show Gotham.) This is collected in the trade, Gotham Central, Book Two: Jokers and Madmen.

Batman #1, 1940


The very first Joker story — by Bill Finger, Bob Kane (signed, anyway) and Jerry Robinson — remains one of the best, and major elements of it survive to this day. Oh, and that Joker was a nasty piece of work.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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    • Thanks, Jose. I seriously considered Return of the Joker. There really are so many to choose from. “The Laughing Fish” episode combined the top two stories on this list, of course.

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  1. Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker . . .

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  2. I actually am really enjoying the Snyder version of Joker. I think you can kinda combine both Death of the Family and Endgame into the same story, as the Joker’s motivation and sheer visciousness is coming from his rejection by Batman at the end of DoTF. I do kinda agree that the Killing Joke was rather tasteless, but I also think it was a good story that cemented EVERYONE’s hatred of the Joker in the DCU. I think that that was the turning point for the Joker from simply Batman’s #1 badguy to someone everyone in the DCU needs to be wary of. Do I agree with publishing the cover? Jury’s still out on that. Freedom of expression and all that, but the image is disturbing considering the state of domestic violence in the US, highlighted by the woes of the NFL.

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  3. I like the Killing Joke, but I do think it’s overrated. As much as I think the bashing over the recent cover isn’t needed, I also believe that Moore sexualizing that whole part by taking pictures of her naked were not needed. If Gordon were weaker, seeing his daughter shot and bleeding would have ruined him whether she was naked or not. One of my favorite Joker stories, recent as it is, is the Man Who Laughs. The Joker from No Man’s Land was done well too. I think some writers almost try and overdo it with the Joker. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Snyder’s version of the character, but he doesn’t seem like much of a mystery and his motives are all too clear. I enjoy my Joker as being somewhat mysterious. The not knowing aspect is part of the appeal to me. Lately, he has seemed a little too controlled, to the point that it’s way too obvious. I always knew he was smart and had a plan but now they practically give him reasons as to why he does certain things. Joker never had reasons to why he did things, besides the fact that they were fun to him. As the reader, we sensed he had other reasons for doing things, but it has been too obvious lately. Sorry for the long response.

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    • Wow, do not apologize for a long response when it’s this thoughtful! Well said, even if we don’t agree on everything here. Thanks, Jeff!

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  4. Eh… for me, there’s nothing of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

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