For over 80 years the clown prince of crime has terrorized the citizens of Gotham City with some of the zaniest and downright most despicable crimes in pop culture history. Known universally throughout the world with his green hair and sadistic smile, the Joker is quite possibly the most recognizable villain in mass media.
With the recent reveal of Jared Leto’s second go as the Harlequin of Hate in the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League, one that was received with mixed reviews, let’s face it the Snyder cut of JL is just going to be a four-hour recycled mess of a bad movie. Many comic and movie fans have asked the question what has been the best interpretation of the Joker over the years?
It’s hard say, “such and such was the best”, as the Joker’s character has been refined as time has passed. He started out as a sadistic serial killer, then a simple prankster, or in the 1960’s Batman TV show he was a comic foil for the square Batman played by Adam West, to a return to his roots during the 1970’s and 80’s, to a somewhat unbelievable killing machine monster in the modern era. Getting the character right is a challenge and those on this list in certain ways hit the bullseye at interpreting the Joker in all his maniacal glory.
10. Legends of the Dark Knight Joker - Images
Lost in the sands of time is this amazing retelling of The Joker’s first appearance in the now cancelled Legends of the Dark Knight comic series. This series, in bronze age continuity, focused on Batman’s early days as a crimefighter, picking up from the story arc of Batman Year One.
The Joker did not appear until issue 50, and we get a character in search of himself after his “accident” that turned his hair green, skin white, and lips red. The story brings a more modern take from the characters first appearance and while we see glimpses of who The Joker will become eventually, it is very low key at this point. A nutcase waiting to get out and introduce himself to the world. This story was retold again many years later, but with much more big bang moments, what makes Images so good is it presents a Joker about to embark on the life that will make him the biggest pop culture icon of all-time.
9. The Arkham Game Joker
By the time the Arkham Asylum game came out Mark Hamill’s Animated Series Joker was the standard for the portrayal of the character. The game piggybacks on many things that made the animated series such a hit and gives it a dark and more technological twist.
The mini movies within the game are some of the most visually amazing moments in Batman history. The characters look lifelike and you are gripped to the game. Am not a gamer, so I can’t really say if the game is good or not, but the visuals had me sitting next to my brother as he played. As for the Joker, it’s an animated series Joker pumped up to be even more wicked and evil for the gamer crowd. Hamill takes us for a ride and when it’s the clown prince you can’t stop looking and this Joker has many cool moments.
8. The Golden Age Joker
We can’t create a list like this and not include the very first incarnation of the character. Introduced in 1940 and based on the playing card and the film The Man Who Laughs. The Joker was unlike anything at the time, he was not a typical crime boss, or a mad scientist, instead he was a homicidal killer who got joy from murder.
The character for some reason gelled well with the dark hero, who dressed like a bat, one was bright and evil, the other dark and on the side of good. The character's popularity soared and was a mainstay until the 1950’s silver age came about, and the character became goofy and clownish.
7. Jack Nicholson Joker
Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman was without question one of the best films of the decade. Batman was back, and gone was the camp of the Adam West show, Burton’s style was based on the comic and would later be adapted for the Animated Series and in some aspects the great Batman miniseries The Long Halloween.
Jack Nicholson played an amazing Joker, a mix of The Dark Knight Returns, which was kind of a bible for the film, and Cesar Romero’s over the top performance. Nicholson has a lot of fun with the Joker and like the animated series captures the clown and the killer in a perfect balance.
6. The Bronze Age Joker
Probably the best era of the character in the comics is the Bronze Age, from the late 70’s to early 2000’s. Reestablished as a homicidal killer with a totally insane clownish demeanor, this Joker is just dangerous. As the years progressed this Joker killed more and more and by the late 80’s had done many unthinkable, and within the realm of reality, acts like cripple Batgirl and killed the second Robin, Jason Todd.
Why did the Bronze Age Joker work? Because he was seldom used, during the 1980’s when the Joker would appear it was an event, you knew something big was going to happen, stories like The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, and to a lesser extent but equally as good Joker: Devil’s Advocate are stories of the Bronze Age Joker at the height of his powers. While the art will look dated by today’s standards, the stories capture the best and worst of the Clown Prince of Crime. As the 2000’s progressed he became overused and his stories made him less and less believable and likeable.
5. The Dark Knight Returns Joker
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the greatest comic books ever written, Frank Miller’s Regan era story of an aged Batman who comes out of retirement to set things right again in Gotham City comes at a price. That price is the return of his most hated enemy. The Dark Knight Returns Joker is out of control, a psychopathic mass murderer, who wants to return to the spotlight again with the reappearance of his greatest foe.
The comic does an amazing job of capturing the Joker’s insanity, brutality, vanity, and his obsession with Batman. Their final showdown is one for the ages and begs one to ask the question, are the motives of the Joker only to spite Batman? And just how dangerous can an enemy be when his only focus is to do damage to his foe at the price of others?
4. Cesar Romero Joker
Wait? What? Yes, why? Well during the 1960’s the Joker had all but disappeared from the Batman comic. Due to the Comic Code and the strange sci-fi twist many Batman comics had taken at the time, the Joker was barely an afterthought, in TV terms, he was written out of the show.
In 1966 when Adam West’s Batman was a huge hit on TV, Cesar Romero’s zany, walking punchline Joker was a smash hit and forced the writers of the comics to bring him back. Sure, the character was more lighthearted, but had it not been for the success of Romero’s performance the Joker might have gotten lost all together. Think about that.
3. The Killing Joke Joker
Originally intended to be a stand alone Batman story, it became a part of Bronze Age continuity,
and is one of the most gut-wrenching Joker stories of all time, The Killing Joke presents a Joker who believes that any man forced to live out the worst day of his life can go insane. The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon and forces Commissioner Gordon to see pictures and go through an ordeal that is meant to drive him crazy. Batman eventually saves the day, but the comic hits a lot of points about the Joker’s character.
For one thing it presents a, and in the Joker’s own words, version of his backstory. It also shows what goes on in the mind of the Joker, and how far he has come as a character that he knows there is no saving him. The Joker plays the role of the bad guy, and based on his backstory presented in the comic, maybe the only role he was ever good at.
2. The Dark Knight Joker
Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the greatest interpretation of the character on the big screen. No offense to Jack Nicholson and Joaquin Phoenix who were wonderful in their takes on the character, but Ledger was the perfect Joker for the world Nolan was creating.
Sadistic, clever, brutal, and one step ahead, this Joker was perfect for the time he was introduced, an insane man who played and took advantage of the flaws of his foes. The audience felt that the Joker had the capability of turning the whole city and the moviegoer insane as the movie progressed. The scene where the Joker reveals his plan all along to destroy Gotham’s soul to Batman is vintage Joker. When you think you got him, he has you.
1. The Animated Series Joker
The 1990’s Batman: The Animated Series version of the Joker is the greatest of all-time! Why? No medium has better been able to take all aspects of the character and make it work perfectly in the world of the series, in this case a kids cartoon that was geared towards adults.
Mark Hamill’s voice is the voice heard by millions of Batman fans when reading a comic, that is how much the Animated Series has influenced the comic and media industry in general. The series, set in a contemporary world with a 1940’s modern feel, had a Joker who was sadistic and evil, as well as goofy and funny. The show truly captured everything that has made the Joker, the Joker, the perfect blend of the clown and the killer.