Versions of the Joker, ranked
The Joker is probably the most popular comic villain of all time who has, over the years, been developed, reimagined, and rebooted many times over. The character lends itself to reinvention and redefinition and these are the best and worst ways he's been done. Note these versions can coexist within one version of the character as well
- •Sexually/emotionally dependent on Batman JokerBest example: Dark Knight Returns. A lot has been made of the Joker being the yin to Batman's yang, which is cool and all, but there are versions that turn the Joker psychosexually obsessive with Batman. This wouldn't be so bad if the depictions didn't lean so heavily on an old school version of "deviance" rather steeped in homophobia. Also making the Joker outright Pervy instead of more subtly infatuated is kind of lazy
- •No Face JokerBest example: New 52. For those not up on comics the Joker sliced off his own face and then stapled it back on in a display of DC's commitment to being SO EDGY. At the same time Joker took to wearing a drab jumpsuit. The whole move here was to emphasize the serial killer element to the Joker and turn him into Jeffrey Dahmer. But by turning him putrid they turn him boring. A grungy serial killer is less interesting villain and more horror show
- •Crime Lord JokerBest example: Burton Batman. The Joker isn't inherently not a crime boss but as a mobster he's a lot less fun. There are a lot of great crime bosses in Batman lore- Black Mask, Thorne, Two Face- that we don't really need a chaotic guy to be running a mafia. However this version often has Joker exploiting his position of power which can be great fun
- •Trolling JokerBest example: any time he ends up on a team. I'm a big fan of this one because it's mostly just more put together villains trying to rely on a deliberately no-fuck-giving loon. Often he just undercuts the plan for the sake of it. It's great fun to see villain infighting and Joker so blissfully not care about world domination. Also makes him a great counterpoint to the usual villain motivation of megalomania (i.e. Lex luthor)
- •Puzzle Trap JokerBest example: silver age comics. I have a soft spot for this one. The most kid friendly, this one amps up the clown element, often with Joker putting batman on like an exploding toy train or a lethal house of cards. Unlike the Riddler, another puzzle villain, Joker isn't motivated by smug outsmarting but rather like the kid smashing his action figures together or magnifying-glass-cooking ants.
- •Natty JokerBest example: cesar Romero. The Joker that wouldn't commit a crime unless his purple suit was perfectly pressed. Also left a lot of thematic elements like laughing gas and an acid spitting lapel flower. This also started Joker as walking arsenal with a magicians flair for pulling out new evil toys from his sleeve. But there's also something great about a villain insistent on dressing garishly and to the nines.
- •Laughing at death JokerBest example: red hood. The Joker sometimes doesn't care if he lives or dies. This makes him terrifying. Making light and cracking jokes even when he's getting bashed in the face with a crowbar. You often see this version falling from a great height or in a crashing plane laughing on the way down. It's like even when he loses he wins
- •Anarchist JokerBest example: Heath Ledger. A lot of people's favorite, this version is the Joker that likes seeing how fucked up he can make the situation. He doesn't need motive and that's what makes him dangerous. Often this guy shows up in comics just to make life difficult. One of the first joker stories involved him poisoning the city water supply. Why? Why not? Sure he often gives demands for money but you can tell that's not really what it's about
- •Heart of Darkness JokerBest example: Killing Joke. This right here- not a Joker people use a lot because it's so easy to mess up. Heath Ledger put a lot of this in his character but even then it became more "agent of chaos" by the end. This one just does to do and wants to make the world as mad as him. If you haven't read the Killing Joke do so. The basic plot of it is that anyone, no matter how pious, is one bad day away from being him, and he wants to prove it. But even if he doesn't he's having a blast
- •ContdAnd this is the one that exhibits the most glee when people act as badly as he does. This is the yin to Batman's yang because it's what batman is afraid of becoming. If he loses control then there's nothing stopping him from becoming a murder happy lunatic. This version of the Joker knows this and wants to see how much he can prod the bat. When done well this version is equally terrifying, hilarious, and intelligent- the best trinity of elements of the Joker and what makes the character so great