He is the greatest villain of them all. He is the evil that tests Batman and makes the hero better. He is an uncontrollable force of chaos, more akin to a hurricane than a criminal, who strikes without warning. He believes that life is a chaotic farce and everything exists as part of a twisted game between him and Batman. He is the star of comics, television, cartoons, and film. He is the Joker, one of the most enduring symbols of evil in the last century.
The Joker is no match for Batman physically, so when he puts one over on the Dark Knight, when he “gets” him, it has to be a masterpiece of chaos and violence. These are just some of the greatest moments when the Joker put one over on his eternal adversary.
10. Death of the Family: The Dinner Scene
Almost Got Him moment: Made Batman believe he skinned his children. And he coulda done it too…
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave us a Joker for a modern age. He embraced what went on before but really upped the ante in terms of intensity. Snyder’s Joker wore his own severed face as a mask and threatened the sanctity of such long standing but icons like Alfred and James Gordon. It all culminated in a dinner scene at the Batcave as a brainwashed Alfred seemingly serves each member of the Bat family, Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, and Damian Wayne their own severed faces.
The pages read like a fevered nightmare as the Robins and Batgirl all sit starring at their own amputated visages. Staying true to his character, the whole thing was a joke, and the Bat family were unharmed, but their confidence in their mentor and their own safety was shaken forever because of the Joker’s actions.
9. Mad Love (Batman: The Animated Series)
Almost Got Him moment: Harley beat Batman, and Joker created Harley. Although Mr. J didn’t quite see it that way.
The final episode of the New Batman Adventures is also its high point. The story deals with the origin of Joker’s moll, Harley Quinn, but it also serves as a reminder of just how all-encompassing the Joker’s twisted ability to manipulate anyone is. It was the first time fans learned that Harley Quinn used to be the Joker’s psychologist, and through sheer charismatic manipulation, he was able to mold her into his own twisted image. He made an educated woman, an expert of the inner workings of the psyche; believe that the world is a meaningless joke. Through the Joker, Harley had become a competent criminal, one who did what even he could not, successfully capture the Batman.
In a moment that transcended traditional animation, the Joker shows just how depraved and selfish a soul he truly is by slapping Harley for making him feel inadequate because she defeated Batman and not him. The whole episode dealt with a broken woman’s devotion to the Joker, and her entire world came crashing down in one moment of shockingly realistic domestic violence.
8. Infinite Crisis “You Didn’t Let the Joker Play”
Almost Got Him Moment: Joker saves the multiverse, in a way that the Justice League couldn’t. Take that, bats!
Infinite Crisis was a huge, continuity laden epic all boiled down into the essence of a Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman story. It was one of the biggest stories DC had ever attempted and it did shake the very foundation of the DC Universe, but with all the cosmic shenanigans, the story’s finale centered on one sick man, with no powers, forcing his will into the proceedings.
Alexander Luthor, the son of Lex Luthor of Earth-3, is the antagonist and the catalyst of the events of Infinite Crisis. His machinations are godlike as he manipulates multiverses like gears of a clock. Alex Luthor recruited some of Earth’s most dangerous villains to fight his battles against the heroes of the multiverse. Luthor dismissed the Joker as an unpowered wild card, a man who would be difficult to manipulate and useless in a fight against Supermen and Green Lanterns.
The Joker did not appear in any part of the epic, but is revealed by the prime reality’s Lex Luthor at the story’s climax. Joker sprays Alex with his signature acid flower and shoots him in the head, with a smirking Lex, who did not wish to share the villainous spotlight with the younger Luthor, declaring that Alex’s one mistake was he “didn’t let the Joker play.” This moment reveals that it could be a god, monster, or cosmic manipulator, whatever the case; the Joker is still more dangerous with a gag flower and a bullet. Sometimes the universe needs a master of chaos to do the things heroes can’t.
7. Batman 1966 TV Series: Cesar Romero’s ‘Stache
Almost Got Him Moment: Every death trap, every gag, every cliffhanger. Shoulda taken those utility belts, Cesar.
Sure, the camp vibe from the 1960s Batman TVseries set comics back a few decades. Even when Watchmen was being published, the public perception of super-heroes was still “BIFF POW WHAM!” Yet, for many young children of the ’70s and ’80s, the series was a gateway drug into the world of comics. While Romero camped up some truly ridiculous plots, there was something about his demeanor as the Joker that still strikes a chilling chord. That special way he had of frowning while wearing a painted on smirk, and the white face caked on over Romero’s signature ‘stache gave his Joker a sinister heir that transcended the shows limitations.
For many generations Romero’s performance defined the Clown Prince of Crime. Every time Romero appeared, he and his ‘stache would come within inches of taking out Batman and Robin turning his every appearance into an “almost got him.”
6. Batman #1: The First Appearance
Almost Got Him Moment: It all began here. Joker committed murder right under Batman’s nose until Batman figured out the eternal game.
Many times, especially in the Golden Age, a character’s first appearance only gives a readers a fraction of an indication of what the character would become. The Joker, being the Joker, defies expectations, and everything a fan needs to know about the character can be found in that first appearance in Batman #1. His use of poison gas, his terrifying penchant for popping up out of nowhere, his need to intellectually challenge Batman, all add up to relatively the same character that exists today.
Based on actor Conrad Veidt in the silent film The Man Who Laughs, the Joker was a rarity for his day, as most villains were used to challenge the hero for one story and then fade away. Not the Joker, who endured, and despite some shifts away from the characters vile roots, he still exists almost identical to his 1940 appearance. This first story is so enduring that Chris Nolan adopted many elements for his first act in The Dark Knight including the unforgettable poison booze glass murder of Commissioner Loeb.
Even in his first appearance, committing crimes right under the Dark Knight’s nose, was a great moment of mastery over Batman.
5. Batman: No Man’s Land: The Murder of Sarah Essen Gordon
Almost Got Him Moment: In Gotham’s darkest hour, Joker managed to destroy the life of Batman’s best friend.
While Gotham was crippled and cut off from the rest of America’s infrastructure by a massive earthquake, the Joker strikes, kidnapping all the babies of Gotham. The Joker is confronted by James Gordon’s wife, Sarah Essen, and tosses her a helpless infant. When she catches the child, the Joker shoots her between the eyes.
Many people treat the Joker as sort of an anti-hero, the freedom his manic behavior allows him is attractive to many fans, but this moment shows that the Joker is a brutal thug looking to take advantage of a tragedy to suit his own twisted machinations. The Joker took a delight in Gordon’s torment, promising even more pain in the future. The shooting of Sarah Essen, an honest cop and loving wife, stands as a constant reminder of the Joker’s cruelty. Batman’s inability to save his friend’s wife stands as one of Joker’s greatest victories.
4. Batman (1989) “Bob…Gun.”
Almost Got Him Moment: Batman robbed the Joker of his fun, but despite Batman’s careful planning, someone still died.
There are many fantastic moments created by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. From his fantastic origin sequence in Axis Chemicals, to the murder of his boss, Carl Grissom (played by the great Jack Palance), to his climactic church battle with Batman, but his greatest moment, like all great Joker moments, was random and chaotic.
At the beginning of the film’s third act, the Joker tries to poison Gotham with gas filled balloons, when Batman swoops down in the Batwing and drags the balloons away, the Joker is incredulous. Like a kid who had his favorite toy snatched by a playground bully, the Joker pouts and asks his most loyal henchmen Bob the Goon, for a gun. Bob, ever loyal to his boss, complies and the Joker, without changing expression, shoots Bob in the gut. Batman ruined the Joker’s fun, and someone had to die, even if it was someone loyal and useful to the Joker. Even though Batman seemingly saved Gotham, people still died, making Batman’s victory incomplete.
3. A Death in the Family “The Crowbar”
Almost Got Him Moment: He killed Robin. Duh.
Yes, it was gimmicky to have fans call a 900 number and decide whether Jason Todd’s version of Robin would live or die. Yes, it robbed the story of any organic creatively, but even the most jaded reader has to admit the death itself remains shocking to this day.
Over the years, the Joker has used many gimmicked gags and traps to take down Batman and his family, but when it came to the moment where the Joker finally was able to kill a Bat Hero, he was just a thug wielding a blunt instrument. It was another reminder of just how dangerous and brutal the sometimes likable clown can be.
Out of Todd’s death, DC was able to ignite literally hundreds of story ideas from the arrival of Tim Drake, to Todd’s resurrection as the Red Hood. From one violent act with a crowbar, the Joker created a legend.
2. The Dark Knight “The Interrogation Scene”
Almost Got Him Moment: He did what no else could do, made Batman powerless.
One can fill a list of great Joker moments on Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight alone, but one stands out above the others. Yes, even above the pencil trick. After the Joker is captured, Batman and Gotham’s Finest believe that the ordeal is finally over, until the Joker turns his trump card, revealing that he kidnapped, not only Gotham’s beloved D.A. Harvey Dent, but Batman’s true love, Rachael Dawes, as well. There is one thing all the crooks and villains had in common in the Nolan Universe; they feared Batman.
Not the Joker.
At this moment in the interrogation room, fans and Batman realized that Batman had no power over the Joker. That the Joker did not care about pain, he couldn’t be intimidated, bribed, or threatened. The more violent Batman became, the funnier the Joker found the situation. This was a new type of villain, one who could not be controlled, a swarm of hungry locusts in a man’s form gleefully destroying everything in his path.
As Batman races to save Rachel and Harvey, with just a few words (and a very well hidden cell phone bomb) the Joker is able to escape police custody. As Batman pounds on the Joker, it becomes clear just what an uncontrollable force the Joker is.
As Rachel burns, the Joker wins.
1. Dark Knight Returns ”The End”
Almost Got Him Moment: In his final moment, the Joker made Batman’s beloved Gotham see their hero as a murderer.
Nothing defines the relationship between Batman and the Joker, like the proposed final conflict. In Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns, when Batman returns to Gotham after years of retirement, the Joker awakens from a coma to challenge the Dark Knight. Miller postulates, that without Batman, the Joker would cease to be, only returning when his other half was active. It was their final battle, and a battle in which Joker won. For decades, Batman refused to kill the Joker, but as the Joker snaps his own neck while laughing hysterically, it makes the world believe that one of Earth’s greatest heroes has finally turned murderer.
By destroying Batman as a symbol for justice and turning him into a symbol for selfish vengeance, the Joker turns the public, the government, and even Superman against Batman in the process. The Joker had won his greatest victory.