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The most heroic thing the Joker has ever done

If the Joker has had one consistent quality throughout all of his many depictions over the years, it's his dedication to pure chaos. (Well, that and his hatred of the Batman.) With his backstory having been kept purposefully murky in the pages of DC comics, it's folly to even to try to pin down any motivations for his actions; he simply schemes, maims, hurts, and kills, apparently for no other reason than the sheer joy these delightful activities bring him.

But, as we all know, there are many worlds in the DC multiverse — and as we venture further from the main continuity, we find that often times, there are different versions of iconic characters, ones who often don't conform to our image of them. Believe it or not, there have been many instances in which the Joker was a force for good… sometimes for self-serving reasons, sure, but other times for reasons that were truly noble. We took a deep dive into DC history to find out: what's the most heroic thing the Joker has ever done?

We begin with "The Laughing Fish," a story told in Batman's Detective Comics #475, published all the way back in 1978 (which would one day inspire an episode of Batman: The Animated Series). In it, the Caped Crusader is dismayed to discover that a large number of fish are turning up in Gotham Harbor which bear a suspicious resemblance to the Clown Prince of Crime. Sure enough, the Joker shows up at the patent office to attempt to patent his "creation," but is rebuffed, as the patent clerk explains that it's not possible to patent a natural resource — nope, not even fish with clown faces.

The Joker is miffed enough to randomly murder one of his henchmen on the way out, but he puts his scheme on hold when he discovers that local businessman Rupert Thorne may have learned Batman's secret identity. Joker — having no interest in who Bats really is, and concerned that the revelation of his true identity could lead to his rival's downfall — accosts and threatens Thorne, leaving the poor guy alive only when he's satisfied that Batman's secret is safe. Okay, so perhaps it wasn't a moment of pure heroism — but he did provide Bats with a secret assist, and may very well have ensured that his nemesis could continue to operate, keeping Gotham safe. (Well, as safe as it can ever be, anyway.)

In contrast, consider the events of the 2017-2018 White Knight limited series, a standalone Elseworlds tale in which Batman — driven to the absolute brink by the Joker's antics — loses control and begins to endanger the lives of Gotham's citizens with his overzealous pursuit of the insane clown. After Bats beats the Joker badly enough to put him in the hospital, the criminal suddenly appears to be cured of his insanity.

Joker performs a heel turn, announcing that he is reformed and that Gotham — the city he professes to love — deserves better than the Dark Knight. He resolves to become the city's titular "White Knight," and begins using his real name, Jack Napier (the same name given to him in Tim Burton's 1989 flick Batman). He wins a lawsuit against the Gotham PD for allowing Batman to beat the snot out of him, runs for city council, and is elected — all very, very un-Joker-like things to do.

Of course, the change doesn't take, and Napier slowly reverts to his Joker persona. But before the change is complete, he turns himself in, makes a full confession to all of his crimes, and allows himself to be committed to Arkham Asylum. As a result of the whole ordeal, Batman realizes that he had indeed basically lost it, and he reveals his true identity to Commissioner Gordon as a failsafe in case he should do so again — an action he probably never would have taken if the Joker, of all people, hadn't pointed out the error of his ways.

There have even been instances in which the main continuity version of the Joker briefly reformed in order to prevent the emergence of a greater evil. In the 2017-2018 crossover event Dark Knights: Metal, Batman discovers the existence of a "dark multiverse" which is intruding upon his timeline. He unwittingly unleashes the dark god Barbatos, who inflicts no fewer than seven evil versions of Batman upon the world, including an incredibly potent agent of malevolence: the "Batman who Laughs," an alternate universe Bruce Wayne driven utterly insane by his battle with his world's Joker.

Barbatos and the seven evil Batmen (a great band name if we've ever heard one) plan to port over an army from the dark multiverse to conquer the world, but the plan is thwarted by the Justice League. However, Barbatos has a backup plan: to use the combined dark energy of the imprisoned Over-Monitor, the Anti-Monitor, and the Batman Who Laughs to wipe out all of existence. But then, an unexpected wrinkle — Batman and the Joker team up, defeating the Batman Who Laughs and removing a critical component of Barbatos' scheme. We suppose that if there's nothing in existence, there's nobody for the Joker to torment… but the fact remains that is not for the villain's flipping at the crucial moment, all may have been lost. That is to say, the Joker technically saved the entire multiverse.

It's one thing to see the Clown Prince of Crime momentarily operating on the side of good in order to preserve the status quo (or, you know, everything that exists), but it's quite another to see him depicted as a downright goody two shoes. This was the case in the 2018 Elseworlds story Superman: Distant Fires, in which the world suffers a nuclear apocalypse which depowers all of its surviving heroes and villains. In addition, the radiation creates dangerous mutant monsters, from which the survivors take refuge in the jungle city of Champion.

The event has an interesting effect on the Joker: it turns him sane. He uses his intelligence to become a respected leader in Champion, helping to plan out new cities and devise ways to keep them safe from the roving band of mutants. 

Of course, the story doesn't end well. The adult Bill Batson/Shazam, attempting to regain his powers, repeatedly calls down the magic lightning which should lead to his transformation (it does, but only for a matter of minutes). The lightning further destabilizes the Earth, and Superman realizes that the worsening instability will very soon render the planet uninhabitable. He sends Bruce Kent (his young son with Wonder Woman) into space as the Last Son of Earth, echoing his own origin story, and remains behind to die with his adopted planet and everyone on it. Cheerful! But, the story did give us the most truly virtuous version of the Joker we've ever seen — except, perhaps, for one.

1996's Catwoman Annual #3 gave us another Elseworlds story titled "Legends of the Dead Earth," which presented the most warped depiction of the Batman/Joker dynamic ever put to page. In its world, Batman and Catwoman are a feared criminal duo, and the Joker isn't the Joker at all — he's a police detective named Jack Bozer, and even though his face is still scarred from the same dunk into a vat of acid that nearly every version of the character suffers, his sanity and sense of morality are fully intact.

When the Bat and the Cat attempt to pull off the biggest crime Gotham has ever seen, they're foiled by Bozer and an alternate universe version of the Riddler, also a police detective. Helping them take down the crooked pair: their son Dick Wayne, an alternate iteration of Dick Grayson, who (as in the main continuity) would go on to a superheroic career in the guise of Nightwing. Bozer's success in thwarting the plot leads to a promotion, and as the story ends, he's installed as the new police commissioner of Gotham City.

Yes, that's right: there's a stray universe out there in which the Joker, the most wickedly malevolent criminal in perhaps all of comics, is the highest police official, the strongest force for law and order, in all of Gotham. But fans, take heart: there are only about a billion other universes in which the Clown Prince of Crime is just as nasty, murderous, and morally corrupt as the version we've all come to know and love.