And so we approach the release date for the massively anticipated adaptation of DC’s The Killing Joke,
Adapting — in which Joker shoots Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in the spine, paralyzing her as a means by which to torment and break her father, Jim Gordon — is a bold move. It’s the first time The Killing Joke will be brought to the screen, and with the iconic voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker, it’s shaping up to be one hell of a show.
So, will this open the door for more R-rated Joker adaptations? The pages of DC comics are rife with opportunity to bring more of Joker’s insane brutality onto the screen, and we’ll be seeing a least some of that in the upcoming Suicide Squad, set to land August 5 in the US.
Here are our top picks of some Joker stories we think could make the leap to the big screen, or be animated on the smaller one. Which is your favorite?
1. A Death In The Family (1988-89)
Starting with the obvious — and one that we might actually see in the DCEU — is A Death In The Family, the storyline which chronicles the death of Jason Todd. Batman v Superman pretty clearly laid out in our minds the events of this particular story, when with “Ha Ha Ha Jokes on you BATMAN” scrawled across the chest.
In A Death In The Family the second Robin — Jason Todd, who was largely disliked by fans — is brutally beaten to near death by a crowbar wielding Joker, and then blown up by the Clown whilst trying to save his biological mother, just for good measure. Batman arrives on scene too late to save Jason’s life, and the iconic panel scene of the Caped Crusader cradling his protégé’s dead body has gone on to become legendary.
A Death in the Family perhaps hasn’t aged as well as some of the other stories in the Batman canon — but it’s still a hugely important moment in the life of the Dark Knight, and one which still resonates with fans nearly 30 years later.
It’s also a stark display of both Joker’s brutality and slipperiness. In it we get an insight into how the Clown Prince manages to avoid captivity and prosecution through legal loopholes, whilst rubbing Batman’s face in the fact that the Dark Knight’s morals prevent him from ever truly stopping Joker.
2. Batman: No Man’s Land (1999)
Whilst Joker has historically been part and parcel as the tormentor of Batman, it is arguably the Gordon family who have suffered most at the Clown Prince’s hands. From Joker paralyzing Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and attempting to psychologically break her father Jim Gordon in The Killing Joke, to Joker kidnapping Barbara’s mother and cutting off her finger in Death of the Family, to this brutal storyline from the No Man’s Land crossover of the late 1990s.
No Man’s Land chronicles a period in Gotham City following an devastating earthquake, which left the city essentially abandoned and cut off from the rest of the United States (think The Dark Knight Returns). As you can imagine, Gotham pretty quickly descends into a crime free-for-all, the perfect environment for Joker to thrive.
So what does the Clown Prince of Crime do with this? Why, he kidnaps 36 babies, of course, tasking Batman to find them before the morning, when he plans to blow them all up. Hiding the children in the police station, Joker and his broadway show worth of babies are discovered by Sarah Essen — Commissioner Gordon’s then-wife.
She pulls her gun on the mad clown, but Joker already has a room-full of babies to use as hostages. He throws one of the babies at her, which she drops her gun to catch. Points for being a good person Sarah, but that doesn’t get you far when it comes to Joker.
As she catches the child Joker shoots her point blank in the head, leaving her dead body to bleed out all over the room full of children — we even get treated to a panel of the babies splashing around in her blood. There’s cold, and then there’s Joker cold. He then promptly walks out of the station and surrenders, just as Jim Gordon learns that his wife has been killed.
Confronted by Gordon outside the station, Joker tries to goad the Police Commissioner into shooting him by threatening to go after Jim’s son next, after murdering Sarah and crippling Barbara. Rather than sacrifice his own principles and sink to the Joker’s level, Gordon settles for shooting him in the knee instead — payback for Barbara, Joker notes — before collapsing into Batman’s arms.
This is another important moment for Batman, as he puts his own morals aside to tell his friend Jim Gordon that he won’t attempt to stop him from putting down the man who just killed his wife. Gordon resits the overwhelming urge though, proving again that he’s one of the good guys, but also leaving Joker alive to go onto bigger and worse things.
3. Superman: Emperor Joker (2000)
Let’s take a step into bizarro land now with the Emperor Joker storyline of the Superman comics, which involves the Man of Steel ending up in an alternate universe created by the Joker himself. In this upside-down world the Justice League members are pathetic criminal versions of themselves, whilst the JLA itself is comprised of super villains and Superman is locked up for the murder of Lex Luthor.
As Superman begins to unravel the mechanics behind this world he discovers that Joker has stolen the power of the villain Mr. Mxyzptlk, the super-powered trickster imp from the 5th dimension. Joker used Mr. Mxyzptlk’s power to recreate his “perfect” version of a universe, which of course is batshit insane. Basically, Joker + Reality Altering Powers = bad idea.
And of course Joker sets his sights upon Batman — using his powers to constantly kill and resurrect the Dark Knight in a never ending cycle of torture. Batman is crucified when Superman first finds him and later has his mouth sewn shut, is eaten alive by vultures and buried alive repeatedly — always brought back by Joker to face another horrific death.
Superman: Emperor Joker is a notable storyline because not only does Joker nearly destroy the universe itself by tearing apart the fabric of reality with his powers, he also finally manages to break Batman.
The memories of the continuous torture Batman suffered at the hands of Joker threaten to overwhelm him, destroying his sanity. Superman is forced to absorb Bruce’s memories of the torment into his own mind, in order to spare Batman of constantly reliving the cycle of trauma.
4. “Death of the Family” (2013)
If A Death in the Family is too old-school for you, how about “Death of the Family” — a crossover arc from DC’s New 52 run? “Death of the Family” was penned by Scott Snyder, , and it’s set to go down as a classic in Joker history.
“Death of the Family” is famous for being a follow up to the Detective Comics story where Joker has his own face surgically removed by Dollmaker, leaving it pinned to the wall of his cell at Arkham Asylum before escaping. After spending a year underground he returns — wearing the skin from his face as a mask. But that’s far from the most disturbing part of this story.
Joker decides that Batman’s extended superhero crew — the Batfamily — are weakening him, so sets out to take them all down. He psychologically tortures Catwoman (Selina Kyle) and Harley Quinn, and kidnaps Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Robin (Damien Wayne), Alfred Pennyworth, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Red Hood (Jason Todd) and Red Robin (Tim Drake) in order to lure Batman in.
When Batman finally confronts Joker he’s forced to play a part in a gruesome mock dinner party, surrounded by his bound and bandaged allies, all covered in gasoline which shall ignite should Batman attempt to move. The fun part? Joker tricks them in believing he has severed each of the faces of Batman’s family members, serving them up to each other on dinner platters.
The Joker is seemingly killed at the end of this arc but as we all well know, no good Joker stays dead for long.
Death of the Family is an interesting one, as even though the Joker could have killed or mutilated the people closest to Batman he choses not to — instead settling for psychologically torturing them as a means to get to Batman whilst breaking down their own psyches at the same time. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why he has endured as one of the finest villains of popular culture.
The Killing Joke is set for a July 25, 2016 release.
Which is your favorite Joker story? Tell us in the comments below!
MP Staff Writer, thinking too much about comic books since 1992.