The Joker is one of the most popular villains across any medium, standing in his trademark suit head and shoulders above his other maniacal comic book brethren. His history is as checkered as his actions, but the constants all revolve around his beloved counterpart, Batman, much as other super villains are defined by their clashes with their heroes. The Clown Prince of Crime is far from the only comic book villain to cross a line or two, tearing at the sanity of these heroes that are supposedly indestructible.
As previously stated, The Joker has an ever-changing origin story that is altered, by his own admission, every time he tries to recall the details. Perhaps he was a down, unlucky comedian that, in the midst of a job to ail his money woes, fell into a vat of chemicals and emerged as the pasty-skinned menace. Such is detailed in The Killing Joke, a graphic novel that serves as a prime example to most Batman fans as a prime example of his and The Joker’s strange relationship. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight even played off of this ambiguous history with Heath Ledger’s portrayal constantly changing his origin story from being the victim of mobsters to a victim of a violent childhood.
The Joker separates himself in many ways from other comic book villains and does so through his impact on his hero. Throughout a lot of Superman, Spider-Man and other story lines, the villains come and go as macguffins, leaving the world in much the same way as previous issues. Batman’s most infamous villain does not much care for the people of Gotham, but he is well aware of everything that Batman loves, including these citizens, and will hurt, squeeze, and kill them to provoke a reaction from the vigilante. The Joker has crippled Barbara Gordon, killed one of Batman’s sidekicks, Robin, almost driven Commissioner Gordon to madness, and most recently, cut his own face off and kidnapped the entire Bat family to prove that Batman loved their struggles more than any of them.
As influential as The Joker is on the continuity of Batman, other maniacal schemers have done their best to make their mark on the world as well. Superman, the leader of the Justice League, had his entire world shaken to its core when he was killed by Doomsday, changing Metropolis in the process, even if he ended up coming back to life a few issues later. Spider-Man, with his own rogue gallery of baddies, also had to deal with the death of his love, Gwen Stacy, in comic book and movie mediums with the Green Goblin as the culprit both times.
The comic book medium has also had plenty of one-off stories that make The Joker’s collective crimes look pithy by comparison. A prime example of such is in the Watchmen graphic novel that featured Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt as a turncoat villain that is responsible for the deaths of the population of every major city on earth, allowing him and the other “heroes” to foster worldwide peace through fear. Batman even killed The Joker himself in a side series call The Dark Knight Returns, which is serving as the basis for the upcoming Superman V Batman: Dawn of Justice, setting the stage for a climatic battle with Superman at the end of that story arc.
Opinion by Myles Gann