Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Baker's Dozen Of The Very Best Joker Stories

Having expressed such a less-than-glowing opinion of Batman #17 in the last post here at TooBusyThinking, I thought I might at least put my arguments into the context of my own taste. And so, in this blog's tradition of Baker's Dozens, I offer up my favourite Joker stories. I make no claims for them being the most important, influential or outstanding of the hundreds of tales about the character. Nor have differentiated from stories in which the Joker is the lead and those in which he's been put to work as part of an ensemble. These are simply the tales that I've most enjoyed, and the order which they appear in reflects nothing but the order in which they were published.

Please do feel free to mention in the comments the comics that you would have chosen, and also to suggest which of my choices appear to be .... questionable.

Finally, I've completely ignored everything but the comics here. Almost 75 years of Joker appearances in the pages of DC's product was enough of a challenge in itself.

By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson et al

1. The Joker versus The Batman/The Joker Returns, Batman #1, 1940

By Bill Finger, Lew Schwartz, Win Mortimor et al
2. The Man Behind The Red Hood, Detective Comics, #168, 1951

By Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Charles Parris et al
3. The Joker's Crime Costume, Batman #63, 1951

By Alvin Schwartz, Dick Sprang, Charles Parris et a;

4. The Crazy Crime Clown, Batman #74, 1953

By Edmond Hamilton and Dick Sprang et al
5. Superman's And Batman's Greatest Foes, World's Finest #88, 1957

By Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff et al
 6. The Joker Jury, Batman #163, 1964 

by Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil et al
7. The Joker's Five Way Revenge, Batman #251, 1973

8. The Laughing Fish/Sign Of The Joker, DetectiveComics #475/6, 1978

by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Gerry Conway
9. The Last Laugh, Batman #353, 1982 

By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson et al
10. The Dark Knight Returns, 1986

By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm et al
11. The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, 1994

By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark et al
12. Gotham Central: Soft Targets, 2003/4

By Paul Cornell, Jimmy Broxton et al

13. Knight & Squire #5/62011

And coming soon, Sequart and Newsarama writer Forrest Helvie and his take on what makes a splendid Joker story, as well as his nominations for his own individual canon of Joker tales.


  1. Glad to see the Killing Joke isn't on your list. Always thought it was overrated.

    1. Hi Dina:- Oh, absolutely! Very over-rated indeed, dull as well as dodgy.

      I had to fight myself to accept that I still did have some time for TDKR, but the Killing Joke was never a comic I thought highly of.

  2. Good list, nice to see Gotham Central - it's been years since I read that but it still springs to mind as a favourite take on the Joker.

    The other one that springs to mind is Gotham Adventures #1:

    Which I initially read because it's free, but the Joker is both funny and sinister, even when powerless. There's a lovely scene of Hannibal Lector-ish insight into crime that comes from his sense of humour rather that his violent tendencies. AND it has a sense of moral maturity far in excess of many Batman comics aimed at adults.

    Beyond individual tales, it's kind of a shame that culture has shifted more towards portraying clowns as disturbing or scary. There's a certain poetry to the heroic creature of the night opposed by the colourful child's entertainer that's been diluted.

    1. Hello Mark:- Thank you for the kind words, and for the link to a comic which Comixology has up for free! I've just got it and though I've not had a chance to read it, a flick through looks very promising indeed. I caught the scene of the Joker explaining that he's escaped the handcuffs; very spooky.

      And it's true - though I hadn't thought of it - that the figure of the clown seems to have been entirey transformed in recent decades. I can't remember the last time I saw a clown represented in a way that wasn't associated with unconditional evil.

  3. Here's a rare one that I came across somewhat recently.

    The Joker appeared about 60 times between 1940 and 1960. (And since about 1990, he seems to put in that many appearances every year!) And a lot of the very best of those stories - such as Batman #1, Detective #168, Batman #63, and "The Joker's Utility Belt," from Batman #73 - have been reprinted over and over.

    But I came across one last year that I'm not sure has ever been reprinted. And it's very good!

    It's called "The Joker's Journal" and it's from Detective Comics #193 in 1953. The Joker starts an underworld newspaper! (And working for The Joker is almost as bad as working for J. Jonah Jameson!) I found a site where it was scanned and the commentary is hysterical! Just go to Silvercat's Paradise to read this long-forgotten gem.

    It may not crack anybody's Top Ten Best Joker Stories list. But I sure lover it!

    1. Hello Hoosier X:- I have never read it, and I thought I'd read most of them over the decades! How intriguing!

      (pause for following link and reading story ....)

      You're right! It's great fun, and certainly deserves to have been reprinted in one of the various Joker collections. The joy that's taken by Reed and Schwartz in putting together the features of the paper is evident, isn't it?

      Thank you!

  4. At the risk of being too vague, there was an issue of Detective Comics featuring the Joker and Robin from a few years ago that I really liked. It was written by Paul Dini, and the plot involved the Joker capturing Robin and driving around Gotham threatening to run people over. That issue is my favorite recent Joker story (other than "Soft Targets") and should be easy to find despite my forgetting the issue number.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- I have a vague memory of reading a preview if that, being determined to check it out, and then strangely enough, I've no memory of forgetting to do so.

      Easily Googled. Thank you for the nudge. (Always up for reading Paul Dini comics!)

    2. It's Detective #826, and it's definitely a highlight for "recent" Joker stories.

      (Of course, I consider the delicious arc in Detective Comics #671 to #673 to be a "recent" Joker story - and a darn good one, too - and I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked to find it was first published in 1994.)

    3. Hello Hoosier X:- Thank you! That will go into the Ebay search engine pronto.

      "and I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked to find it was first published in 1994."

      Oh, if you start me on THAT .... I'm always stunned to find that Watchmen and TDKR are close to their 30 year anniversary.

      How did that happen?

  5. I can't remember the last time I saw a clown represented in a way that wasn't associated with unconditional evil.

    Has Ronald McDonald's decades-long struggle against the horrible Hamburglar been for naught?

    Top list, sir. And I hated TKJ at first sight - to say it did a disservice to the characters of Batman, Babs and Jim is a huge understatement. A good man is humiliated. A good woman is crippled. And Batman LAUGHS with the Joker, because really, they're just two sides of the same coin.

    No Alan Moore and his modern acolytes, they are not. One is a hero, driven, eccentric, but not insane. The other is a murderous madman.

    1. Hello Martin:- There must be a host of pseudish arguments to be put forward for the association of the clown with evil. But I'm certainly willing to blame Ronald &!$% McDonald for the situation, and just about everything else too.

      I couldn't agree with you more about the Killing Joke. It's a book I loath. While I think I can understand something of what Moore was trying to say, I believe his method was misjudged. Misjudged in a great deal, in fact, from the shooting of Barbara Gordon to the shared gag at the end. While I do believe that Batman understands and sympathises with the Joker's disorder, I don't think that such would be expressed that way. If the closing scene was meant to represent sympathy with the disordered, it actually came across as something far more obtuse and repellant.

      But then Moore often struggled with the Batman in his time at DC. While I found much of what he did with DC's super-people to be quite wonderful, Batman was a character he could never get to grips with. I wonder if Wayne was too much a representation of values which sat badly with Moore's own beliefs.

  6. Hello Colin:

    I am a moderate on THE KILLING JOKE. It is a lot of craft applied to nothing very much. If it were not the last story Moore did for DC and the origin of Oracle, then it would likely be largely forgotten.

    To me, Batman is 'about' the Apollonian mind trying to order and control a Dionysian city (or universe). The central tragedy of the loss of his parents is the first dose of disorder into Bruce Wayne's young life. The various villains he fights are pleasure seekers of one kind, or another. The sixties TV show made a smart decision in pairing most of them with a themed gang and/or an opposite sex companion.

    Harley Quinn is the ultimate expression of that trend, but she is hardly the first sexy woman to consort with the Joker. While the Joker does not seem to be sexual in any conventional sense, he is a pleasure seeker that is indifferent to the consequences of those pleasures on others. That is what makes him a foil for the Batman.

    The best Joker stories for me are the ones that understand that.

    1. Hello Dean:- I think your description of The Killing Joke as "a lot of craft applied to nothing very much" is a splendid one. It might be argued that the fate dealt out to Barbara Gordon is the one thing of substance there beyond Brian Bolland's art, and of course, that appears not to have been intended.

      And I think you nail the Joker in a way that I wish many of those charged with the character would. The Joker is there to enjoy himself without reference to consequences. That doesn't mean that he has to portrayed as yet another serial killer/terrified of the masses. (Particularly since he's just been replaced as the protagonist in Detective by yet ANOTHER serial killer/psychopath.) The fact that its the transgression and not the ends of his actions makes the Joker just as interesting when he's robbing children of sweets as when he torturing super-people. In fact, I'd prefer the former after all this Nu52 (very little) blood and (hardly any) shock ...