Having debuted way back in 1940, The Joker has gone on to become the greatest villain in comic book history. Love him or hate him, Batman's longtime nemesis is the most iconic bad guy out there in the comic book realm.
Now over decades since his "birth", the Clown Prince of Crime has varied vastly in how he's portrayed. Initially a prankster with a penchant for giving people a laugh whilst committing petty crimes, for many years Mr. J was a constant menace yet never went all that far in the plans that he had. Of course, that would change as the years went on.
Many saw 1988's The Killing Joke as a turning point for The Joker, with him all of a sudden given a far more cynical, clinical edge to what we have seen before from the Harlequin of Hate. In the years following that, the gloves were firmly off as The Joker well and truly upped his game by carrying out some truly horrendous, heinous acts.
So, let's take a look back at the Jester of Genocide's 76 years of terror and explore his 15 most disturbing acts.
15 Wearing His Own Severed Face
Whilst we all technically “wear” our faces, The Joker did things a little differently during DC’s bungled New 52 relaunch.
In fairness, the New 52 did give us the whole Death of the Family arc, but that was great largely down to the brilliant work of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. In the build-up to that, though, came a new and twisted act from the Clown Prince of Crime.
Looking to make a splash, The Joker actually brought in Dollmaker to help him remove his own face before attaching it to the wall in Arkham Asylum like some prize poster.
Going even further, Joker would eventually end up wearing the severed face as a mask, clumsily attached to his face whilst tissue and bone were clearly visible around the edges. There were even times where flies, maggots and other creepy crawlies were seen in and around the rotting flesh that the Harlequin of Hate now had pinned to his head.
To many, the New 52 was a confusing, needless, mess of a relaunch for DC, but the Death of the Family and the new portrayal of The Joker was a brilliant way to refresh a legendary villain who, if we’re being totally honest, had become a little stale by that point.
14 Let It Rain
In the Lovers & Madmen tale, the Clown Prince of Crime unleashed his evil mind on the innocents of Gotham City.
The main threat that Mr. J poses in this story is that he unleashes a blimp towards Gotham’s Twin Towers. Not any blimp, though, for this blimp was full of poisonous shards of glass. Of course, Batman and the GCPD are always on hand to put a halt to The Joker’s truly evil plans, right? Unfortunately not in this instance.
As the Harlequin of Hate had intended, the blimp did indeed make its way to the Twin Towers and would indeed explode, causing chaos and carnage. The result saw the poisonous slices of glass take out a whole host of civilians who were on the streets below.
What resulted from this was a pile of grinning Gotham natives, as The Joker’s nefarious plan came off to perfection.
13 Blows Up A School
In the Kevin Smith-penned Cacophony arc, we see The Joker blow up an entire school full of children. Why would he do such an act? Well, merely as a show of intent and one-upmanship against fellow rogue Maxie Zeus.
Having been locked up in Arkham Asylum, The Joker has had his famed Joker toxin turned into a drug by Zeus. When Mr. J escapes courtesy of some help from Onomatopoeia, he decides to track down Maxie in a twisted game of marking his territory as he believes that his fellow villain is embarking on his turf.
It’s during this turf war of sorts with Maxie Zeus that The Joker casually destroys a packed school without even the slightest semblance of remorse. This was all done by Zeus making the foolish mistake of actually threatening The Joker. And unfortunately for Maxie, one of the doomed kids in the blown-up school was actually his nephew.
It just goes to show, never, ever, ever be stupid enough to challenge The Joker, for he will take things to the extreme.
12 Making Superman Look Like A Fool
In Action Comics #719, which was a Batman/Superman crossover, The Joker completely schooled the Man of Steel.
Targeting Superman’s ‘one true’ love, the Clown Prince of Crime infected Lois Lane with his venomous Joker toxin. Almost instantly, the Daily Planet reporter was plunged into a deadly coma.
When the Last Son of Krypton confronts Batman’s longstanding nemesis over what he’s done, he’s presented with quite the conundrum. Mr. J has a cure for Lois’ fatal condition, but that involves injecting himself with the aforementioned poison and mixing it with his blood. This will produce an antidote for Lois but will kill Joker in the process. So, does the Big Blue Boy Scout save his girl whilst killing the Harlequin of Hate, or does he choose to spare Joker’s life but allow his beloved Lois Lane to perish?
Ever the hero, Superman stands by the notion that he cannot take a life, and ultimately decides to let Lois die rather than killing The Joker.
Luckily, this was all just a ruse from the Jester of Genocide, and Lois would shortly wake up. The poison from The Joker was actually non-lethal and this was all part of one elaborate joke.
Whilst this made Superman look like a horrendous partner for being willing to let the love of his life die in order to spare one of the most heinous villains on the planet, things got worse for Supes when Lois broke up with him in the very next issue. Ouch!
11 Wiping Out China
In the Emperor Joker story, the world we see is a very, err, different one. And by that, I mean it’s one moulded to The Joker’s own design.
How did the Clown Prince of Crime manage to do such a thing? Why, he stole the powers of C-list Superman rogue Mr. Mxyzptlk. Whilst Mr. Mxyzptlk, an imp from the 5th dimension, is a minor DC villain in terms of presence, his powers are actually quite impressive as they allow him to literally alter reality.
So, with Mr. J now in possession of such powers, he alters reality and carries out a whole host of heinous acts, not least killing Batman in a wide variety of ways each and every day in the ultimate Groundhog Dog situation. But worse than this, Joker actually ate the entire population of China in a bizarre take on Chinese food.
10 Abusing Harley Quinn
Even though she’s very much a villain, there’s always been a certain sense of sympathy towards Harley Quinn. Despite her unrelenting loyalty to her puddin’, The Joker’s other half isn’t necessarily as evil as some, yet she does some truly evil acts all to get the attention of her main squeeze.
From The Joker’s end though, all he does is abuse Harley time and time again. This became particularly prominent in DC’s New 52 relaunch, where The Joker returned to the scene in a big way. As expected, Harley was ecstatic to see the return of her Mr. J, but he welcomed the sight of her by punching her square in the face.
No matter what Harley does, she knows that she can never truly get her love reciprocated by the apple of her eye, and this was highlighted to the extreme when The Joker tied her up and tortured her by claiming that she wasn’t the first “Harley”, showcasing a pile of skeletons as being his previous partners-in-crime. And then there was the time when he shot her from point-blank range and left her for dead!
Regardless, Harley Quinn can’t help but be a glutton for punishment where the Clown Prince of Crime is concerned.
9 Martha Wayne Becomes The Joker
In Geoff Johns’ fan favourite Flashpoint arc, Barry Allen changes the present day completely by choosing to go back in time and save his mother from being killed.
The after-effects are massive; Barry himself has no superpowers and so isn’t The Flash; Kal-El is found by the military upon landing on Earth and kept hidden as an experiment, thus not becoming Superman; Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war with each other, causing carnage across the globe; and Cyborg – and let’s face it, nobody likes Cyborg – is the planet’s greatest hero.
It’s with the Waynes where there is even more interest, though, for it was Bruce Wayne who died that night in Crime Alley rather than his parents. As such, father Thomas goes on to become an alcoholic, ruthless, aggressive Batman who is prepared to kill. Mother Martha, however, takes an even darker route.
Yes, in Flashpoint, Martha Wayne actually becomes The Joker, carving a smile into her face as a way to deal with the death of her beloved son. And because hubby Thomas refuses to kill her, she knows that she can get away with whatever demented plans she has, such as manipulating Jim Gordon into killing Harvey Dent’s daughter before then killing Gordon herself.
Things wouldn’t end well for Martha, with her falling to her death at the news that the “real” timeline would see Bruce take on the Batman moniker.
8 Executing Alexander Luthor
With the alternative-world Alexander Luthor having played a key role in the shocking Infinite Crisis arc, it came down to The Joker to put an end to this Luthor’s plan.
Infinite Crisis had seen the Justice League’s Watchtower destroyed, Superboy die, and Batman’s deceased Robin, Jason Todd, return from the grave. It was a messed up time that truly shook up the DC comic book realm.
When the main world’s Lex Luthor and Joker took umbrage with Alexander Luthor for leaving them out of his plan to cause destruction, it was left to the Clown Prince of Crime to teach poor Alex a lesson in manners.
Whilst Lex watched, his alternative-world son had part of his face destroyed by acid before The Joker shot him directly in the head from point-blank range with a shotgun. Safe to say, that was that for the alternative Alexander Luthor.
It may have been The Joker taking out essentially a fellow villainous sort, but it was still a vicious and clinical moment in Joker lore.
7 Pushing Superman To Breaking Point
In Injustice: Gods Among Us, longstanding DC fans were given a phenomenal beat-em-up game that had a rich narrative centred around a Superman who had turned on the world and who sought to rule it with an iron fist. What caused the Man of Steel to snap? Why, that’d be The Joker.
As explained in the opening moments of the game, and also in the accompanying prequel comic, the start of Superman’s turn to the dark side began when he punched right through The Joker’s chest.
It was revealed that the Clown Prince of Crime had actually duped Superman into killing millions of innocent Metropolis citizens, including his ‘one true’ Lois Lane and their unborn child. It was pretty heavy stuff, and it was finally enough to push Superman way past his breaking point.
Many have been tormented and teased by The Joker and his horrendous acts over the years, mainly Batman and Jim Gordon, but what he did to Superman was extreme even by his own deprived standards. As a result, he’d have his heart ripped out of his chest in an act of revenge by the Big Blue Boy Scout.
6 Killing Innocent Children
Killing anyone is bad enough, but killing a group of innocent children is the worst of the worst. Of course, that’s something that the Clown Prince of Crime has taken great pleasure in doing.
To many a Bat fan, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is considered the very best Batman tale of all time. In fact, many see the story as the very greatest graphic novel in history, full stop. And whilst the first half of the story sees a catatonic Joker well and truly in the background, the Jester of Genocide made his mark in the biggest possible way by the time the story came to a close.
Heading towards what he knows will be his final confrontation with the Caped Crusader, The Joker makes one final attack on a bunch of innocents by feeding a group of kids a batch of tainted, poisoned cotton candy.
After this, the final battle would be upon us as Batman confronts his greatest nemesis for one last time. The Dark Knight brutalises his long-time foe, but doesn’t kill him. Instead, The Joker uses his last breaths to snap his own neck and make it look as if the World’s Greatest Detective finally reached his breaking point and killed him.
5 Killing Jim Gordon’s Wife
Poor Sarah Essen. She never stood a chance.
During the No Man’s Land arc that ran in 1999, the second wife of Jim Gordon was killed by the Jester of Genocide, The Joker. This wasn’t the first time that the Clown Prince of Crime had caused anguish, pain and torment for Gordon, but it was one of the more brutal of The Joker’s Gordon-centric crimes.
As Gotham lay in turmoil in the aftermath of the earthquake, several of Batman’s greatest rogues made their plays to take control of the splintered and shattered society. Joker’s “move” first involved killing Lieutenant William Petit on Christmas Day, before he then turned his attention to kidnapping all of Gotham’s babies.
With The Joker seeking refuge in an abandoned police station, it was Sarah Essen who stumbled upon Mr. J’s plan. Batman’s long-time nemesis would shoot Essen in the head after he purposely dropped a baby for her to catch.
It was a horrendous act from The Joker, and it led to Jim Gordon finally snapping and seeking vengeance on one of comics’ most iconic villains. Luckily, Batman would manage to convince Gordon out of doing something that he’d later come to regret.
4 Death Of The Family
Whilst each and every member of the Bat family have had their own issues with The Joker over the years, the events of the Death of the Family arc saw the Harlequin of Hate cause chaos for the whole family in one of the most fan-favourite comic book arcs of recent years.
Having been missing for a year, The Joker returned to target his long-time nemesis and his supporting characters in a way that made a bigger impact than we’d seen for many a year where Mr. J was concerned.
To give a summary of exactly what The Joker did, nobody was safe as he looked to wipe out anyone close to Batman in a twisted game centred around wanting Bats to himself; Jim Gordon was spiked with a blood thinner that started to drain his body of its entire blood supply; Alfred was battered with a hammer before being poisoned with a toxin; Barbara Gordon’s mother had her finger chopped off after she was kidnapped; Dick Grayson’s ex-girlfriend Raya Vestri and his close pal Jimmy Clark were killed; Damian Wayne was forced to fight a toxin-infused doppelganger of his father; and Jason Todd and Tim Drake were beaten and tied together.
Having previously had his face cut off by Dollmaker, The Joker was even more unhinged now than he’d been in many a year, even going as far as to fight with his other half, Harley Quinn.
Sticking with the faceless theme, a drugged and beaten Batman would at one point wake up at a table that had his nearest and dearest sat around. What was particularly twisted here, though, is that The Joker had covered each of the Bat family members’ faces in bandages and convinced the Dark Knight that he’d cut their faces off and was about to feed them to them.
3 Beating Jason Todd To Death
Jason Todd may have wound up returning from the grave in 2005, but his death was one of the most traumatic in the history of Batman tales.
A Death in the Family was the tale in question, with a cliffhanger giving fans the option to vote whether Jason, the second Robin, would live or die. Having never particularly taken to the angsty Jason after he tried to fill Dick Grayson’s booties, the fans voted to have Jason Todd killed off.
Now whilst it was the fans who chose to kill off Jason, it was left to The Joker to carry out the deed.
Playing on Jason’s emotions where his estranged mother was concerned, The Joker lured the latest Boy Wonder out to Ethiopia. With Batman not yet at the scene, the Jester of Genocide would famously beat Jason to a bloody pulp thanks to the help of a crowbar. The second Robin would then be tied to his mother as a bomb was set off.
In one of the most famous panels in comic book history, Batman would get there too late and would be left to pull the lifeless corpse of his sidekick from the rubble that remained after the explosion.
2 Crippling Barbara Gordon
The Killing Joke is the stuff of legend, often revered as the very best Joker story of all time. In fact, to many, this is seen as the definitive origin of the Clown Prince of Crime. Then again, not having a true definitive origin is kind of part of the twisted fun of The Joker.
In this fan favourite tale, Mr. J decided to show the world that having just one bad day can lead to anyone going insane. To do this, he targets one of Batman’s closest allies, Jim Gordon.
With Gordon held captive, The Joker decides to really turn the screws on Jim by turning up at the door of his daughter, Barbara. This was no friendly visit, though, and the Harlequin of Hate would carry out one of his most treacherous acts by shooting Barbara through her spine, paralysing her and leaving her confined to a wheelchair as a result.
Going even further, The Joker would then strip Barbara and take photos of her naked, wounded body and use these pictures to torment Jim Gordon even further. It’s worth noting that, during this attack on Babs, many fans have speculated that Batman’s nemesis actually raped Barbara, although that’s never been categorically confirmed or denied by DC brass.
If all of this wasn’t enough, Jim was then made to run a twisted gauntlet that was covered in large photos of his naked daughter, with the aim being to drive him to his breaking point and to show the world that any sane man can be sent insane by just having one remarkably bad day.
To many, The Killing Joke signified the moment that The Joker went from fun, slightly twisted villain to full-on brutal monster.
In the graphic novel known simply as “Joker”, the Clown Prince of Crime commits some of his very worst acts. So messed up is this bizarre and brutal take on The Joker, he evens bears more than a passing resemblance to Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, although there is also plenty of Heath Ledger’s Mr. J in there as well.
This story saw The Joker take a poor soul by the name of Jonny Frost under his wing. Unfortunately for Jonny, Joker found out that his newbie had previously met up with rival villain Two-Face. Not taking too kindly to what he deemed as cheating on him, The Joker wants to even the score against the troubled Jonny Frost.
To level things out, though, the Harlequin of Hate goes as far as actually raping Jonny’s ex-wife.
If that wasn’t shocking enough, this take on The Joker followed that up by torturing a bank president. Whilst it was left a little to the imagination, fan theories point in the direction that Mr. J made this bank president masturbate over a picture of his own daughter.
Moving on to another victim, an unfortunate guy called Monty ran afoul of The Joker and ended up skinned from head to toe as a result.
When it comes to truly disturbing and sick incarnations of The Joker, this is one that stands on a pedestal all of his own.