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The Worst Things The Joker Has Ever Done

All of the best Batman villains are twisted reflections of the Caped Crusader. They all represent a part of his own personality, his damaged brain, or his worst fears about himself. That's why the Joker is Batman's greatest villain and one of the best bad guys in comic book history. He's willing to do absolutely anything, no matter how psychotic or depraved, to convince Batman they're basically the same.

So, in a way, the Joker is the most dedicated troll of all time. He's just trying to get a reaction out of Batman, one that proves his point. And along the way, he's done some pretty horrible things to try to make that point.

He killed James Gordon's wife

After Commissioner James Gordon divorces his first wife, he begins dating a woman by the name of Sarah Essen. Soon, the two get married, and despite Gordon's dedication to his job, he's pretty happy with his new bride...until the Clown Prince of Crime shows up. The Joker can't stand it when his enemies experience any semblance of joy, so he sets out to ruin James Gordon's life.

In the finale of the epic Batman storyline No Man's Land, the Joker kidnaps every baby in Gotham and holds them captive in the basement of the Gotham Police Department. Sarah, a detective, is the first to arrive on the scene, but she stumbles straight into the madman's trap. The Joker tosses a baby at Sarah, and as she tries to catch the child, he shoots her in the head. And as the Joker leaves the scene of the crime, the babies begin crawling on Sarah's bloody corpse. Disturbing, right? Somehow things are only going to get worse from here.

He paralyzed Barbara Gordon

Of all the atrocities he's ever committed, the Joker is probably best known for paralyzing Barbara Gordon. The grisly act occurs in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, when the Joker decides to hit Batman where it hurts the most. His plan involves reducing the Dark Knight's most trusted ally, James Gordon, to a blubbering heap of his former self.

So how does he plan on destroying Batman's friend? Well, he simply knocks on Barbara Gordon's door, and when the commissioner's daughter says hello, the Joker shoots her in the stomach. The bullet shatters her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Then, adding insult to injury, the Joker shows Gordon photos of his daughter's naked, bleeding body, all while forcing the poor guy to strip nude and ride through a horrific funhouse. Man, talk about one bad day.

He tried to copyright fish

One of the craziest crimes the Joker ever committed doesn't involve murder, but that's not for a lack of trying. In one unusual story, the Joker plans on poisoning Gotham Harbor, but the toxin ends up mutating all the fish, leaving them with white faces, red lips, and creepy grins. Sensing an opportunity, he tries to copyright these creatures so he can sell them and make a fortune. However, his plans are foiled by a copyright office employee who explains that fish can't be copyrighted. Frustrated with his failing business plan, the Joker lashes out, murdering a bunch of clerks until Batman puts an end to his fishy scheme.

He's the world's worst boss

Joker, a standalone graphic novel by Brian Azzarello, draws inspiration from The Dark Knight's more realistic take on the Joker but then adds ten more scoops of crazy. The main character is a low-level thug named Jonny Frost who acts as the Joker's chauffeur once the supervillain is released from Arkham Asylum. But after Frost takes a secret meeting with Two-Face (who's waging a deadly turf war with the Joker), the psychotic clown gets revenge by raping Frost's wife.

At another point in the story, it's strongly suggested the Joker makes a wealthy bank president do something pretty icky to a picture of his own daughter. It gets even worse when a henchman named Monty ticks off the Joker and winds up being skinned alive. So yeah, it's safe to say this isn't the most lighthearted Batman book ever written.

He ate China

In the nine-part story line known as Emperor Joker, Mister Mxyzptlk, the magical trickster who's often a thorn in Superman's side, wonders what it would be like if someone from the earthly realm had his powers. Curious, he gives the Joker just one percent of his magic. But the Joker is a pretty clever clown, and he tricks Mxyzptlk into revealing his true name, a ploy that gives Joker almost all the imp's power. A little over a minute later, the Joker uses his almighty abilities to reshape reality into his own image. With these incredible powers, he entertains himself in the kinds of ways you'd imagine the Joker would. That includes eating the entire population of China. Yes, you read that correctly. He eats everyone in China, and in true Joker style, he uses a pair of chopsticks. Talk about a sick sense of humor.

Having friends for dinner

Toward the end of the comic book Death of the Family, the Joker captures Batman and sits him at a long dinner table. And as you might expect, the Dark Knight isn't the only guest at this party. The Joker has also "invited" Batgirl, along with the current and former Robins. They're all bound and have their faces covered with dark hoods. In front of each victim, there's a serving platter covered with a sterling silver dome.

Then, in a ghoulish twist, out comes Alfred with a grin stretched from ear to ear, no doubt caused by the Joker's infamous toxin. Alfred then removes the bags from everyone's heads to reveal their bloodied, bandaged faces. It's quite a shock, but that's nothing compared to what happens next. Alfred then lifts the domes from each plate, and to everyone's horror, they finally see the evening's meal: their own faces, looking back at them. Thankfully, after Batman escapes his confinement, he unwraps the bandages from his friends and realizes it's all been one sick joke. Everyone's faces are fine. The Joker just wanted to have a little sadistic fun.

He beat Jason Todd to death

A Death in the Family was a controversial storyline. Jason Todd, the poor sap who took up the mantle of Robin after Dick Grayson left to become Nightwing, had his fate decided by a real-life contest held by DC Comics. Fans were asked to vote whether he would live or die at the end of an upcoming story arc. Tragically for Todd, he got the old Roman emperor thumbs down, and DC executed Todd as brutally as they could.

In the comic, Todd spends the story arc searching for his estranged mother, but his quest leads him straight into the hands of the Joker. Never one for subtlety, the Joker brutally beats Todd with a crowbar, and as icing on the psychotic cake, he kills both Todd and his mom with a bomb. That probably wasn't the family reunion Jason had been hoping for.

He tricked Superman into killing Lois Lane

You can't contain the Clown Price of Crime to comic books. In 2013, the Joker showed up in Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighting game created by the same people behind the Mortal Kombat series. Shockingly, this fighting game not only has a compelling story, but it's more troubling than most anything published by DC itself.

In the game, the Joker pushes Superman to the darkest place he's ever been by first stealing a nuclear submarine and then poisoning the Man of Steel with Scarecrow's fear toxin. The poison clouds Superman's mind and makes him think he's fighting Doomsday. In reality, he's pummeling Lois Lane to death. Even worse, she's pregnant with Superman's child. Inevitably, the last son of Krypton beats Lois and the child to death, triggering the launch of a nuclear missile that wipes Metropolis off the map. As a result, Superman loses his mind and breaks his moral code by shoving his fist through the Joker's chest. It's a dramatic reversal of the character. After all, Superman represents everything we can be if we just try a little harder. And then the Joker proved that anybody, even Superman, is capable of breaking their own rules if pushed far enough.

He killed a bunch of Boy Scouts with poisoned cotton candy

In Frank Miller's seminal Batman story The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker manages to pull off one final horrific mass murder before he's finally beaten by Batman. At a carnival, the Joker kills 19 Boy Scouts by handing out poisoned cotton candy. These were just children trying to enjoy a fun, sugary treat, and the Joker had to ruin their day in the worst way possible. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Batman, and when the Caped Crusader finds the Joker, he delivers a beating like he's never done before. But as usual, the Joker has the last laugh. The Harlequin of Hate breaks his own neck, making it seem like Batman killed the Joker with his bare hands. As a result, Batman becomes wanted by the police, but hey, we all know he can take it.

He blew up a school full of children

We've established by now that the Joker has no problem with killing children to make a point. And here he is, doing it again...but this time it's even worse. In the story arc Batman: Cacophony, written by film director and comic book fan Kevin Smith, the Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum and gets into a war of one-upmanship with gangster Maxie Zeus.

The Joker is none too pleased that Zeus has taken his trademark toxin, the one that leaves victims with a horrific grin, and turned it into a party drug. As their feud escalates, the Joker decides to put an end to it by blowing up a school filled with children. It's a merciless, horrific act, done simply to spite Zeus. But how would that affect a powerful crime lord? Well, as it turns out, one of the kids in the school was Zeus's nephew. Man, that's a pretty cold move, even for the Joker.

Defenestrated Harley Quinn

Since being introduced on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has become one of DC's most popular characters, and part of that comes down to the idea that she's always been incredibly sympathetic. She's a participant in the Joker's madness and mayhem, but ultimately, he's the one pulling the strings, manipulating and abusing her into going along with it.

It's easy to argue that their entire relationship should be counted as a whole among the worst things the Joker has ever done, but there's a singular example in the pages of Mad Love, the graphic novel that gave us Harley's origin. When she takes it upon herself to capture Batman and "improve" one of his discarded deathtrap jokes, the Joker flies into a rage, backhanding her and then knocking her through a window to a five-story fall. She survives, of course, but only through chance, and it would be another decade before readers would get to see her breaking away from him on the page and the screen. 

Perpetrated the most convoluted quadruple-homicide ever

In terms of sheer scale, the murder of four nameless characters doesn't really come close to being the Joker's worst crime, but the quadruple homicide that kicks off The Brave and the Bold #111 ranks on the list for a couple of reasons. First, it's not just four random people; it's an entire family, poisoned as they were sitting down to dinner and left in a grisly tableau designed for maximum shock value. Needless to say, this sets Batman off in a way that few other crimes have, prompting him to tell Jim Gordon that if he wanted to take the Joker alive, he'd better catch him first. Who knew that guy would be so mad about seeing a couple of parents get murdered?

Second, the deceased family is just the tiniest cog in what might be the most convoluted plan the Joker has ever hatched — and not in the cool "agent of chaos, wheels within wheels" sort of way, either. This one's just weird. See, the crime scene includes a note from the Joker explaining his motive, but there's something off about it, including the fact that the bodies don't have the trademark grin until after someone breaks into the morgue to dose the corpses after the fact. It's enough of an inconsistency that when Joker tells him it was a frame-up, Batman believes him, and even teams up with his arch-nemesis to track down the real criminal. The prime suspect is a gun for hire named Burt Slade, who manages to shoot Batman after Batman stops the Joker from killing him. 

Needless to say, it's all a double-cross (triple-cross? Quadruple-cross?) designed to lure Batman into a trap. The Joker intentionally did a bad job of framing himself for a crime that he actually committed, and then did not kill Batman when he was passed out in front of him with a bullet wound, so that he could... kill him a couple days later? Which, by the way, he failed at, and then also failed to escape when he tried to steal the Batmobile and discovered that it required a password to start, which was extra humiliating when the password to Batman's car turned out to be "BATMAN." There's never a good reason for killing four innocent people, but of all the bad reasons, that might be the worst. 

Sold nuclear weapons to terrorists

Everyone remembers A Death in the Family for the scene when the Joker beats Robin to death with a crowbar, and for good reason. It's one of the most visceral, brutal moments in superhero comics history, and those panels, with the Joker's wide, unchanging smile as he works up a sweat bringing the bar down again and again, make up one of the most memorable sequences ever put on the page. As a result, it's not surprising that people often bring it up as a high point (or low point, so to speak) of the Joker's criminal career. 

It's kind of weird that nobody really talks about how the first part of that story is all about the Joker selling nuclear weapons to terrorists, though. 

Obviously, this had less of an impact on the comics as the whole "murdering Batman's sidekick" thing, but still, we all have to agree that arms deals with terrorists are pretty bad in general, right? To be fair, his motivations were capitalistic rather than ideological, although we're not really sure if that makes this particular crime better or worse. He was in desperate need of cash, and since he had a spare truck-mounted cruise missile complete with a nuclear warhead laying around, he decided to use it for a quick buck. As he told a henchman, "I planned to fire it at City Hall one day, but I guess I'll now have to sell it to some Arab terrorists instead." And really, if the arms deal itself wasn't bad enough, he also perpetuated some pretty harmful stereotypes.

As for where the Joker, a murder clown, got a literal nuclear missile, that's hand-waved away with a mention that it came from "a friend of mine in the military who owed me a big favor," a statement that raises way more questions than it answers. In the end, while the Joker did in fact sell the missile to a bunch of terrorists who planned on launching it at Tel Aviv, he didn't do a great job of reassembling it once he'd smuggled it to Lebanon, and it exploded in the truck without setting off the warhead. 

Ruined Christmas (with sniper attacks)

While it doesn't get the press of some other marquee Joker stories, "Soft Targets" is one of the absolute best, and features a truly sinister plot. It originally ran in 2003 in the pages of Gotham Central, a book that focused on the Gotham City Police Department and the way ordinary people tried to deal with being cops in a city dominated by super-powered criminals slugging it out with a costumed superhero. It showed a grittier side of Gotham without sacrificing the idea of superheroes, and became a fan favorite thanks to its relatable characters and their very realistic reactions. As you might expect, when the Joker showed up, those reactions basically amounted to sheer terror.

It started off with a literal bang. A sniper took out Gotham City's mayor with a headshot, sparking a series of apparently random killings that terrorized the city in the weeks before Christmas, even live-streaming a countdown of his potential targets. Eventually, the police discovered it was the Joker pulling the trigger, but things took a strange turn — even by his standards — when the Joker walked up to the police station three days before Christmas and allowed himself to be arrested.

Then came the twist. It turned out that the whole thing — the assassination of the mayor, the random killings, the live-streamed sniper attacks — was just the setup for an even deadlier punchline. With the Joker in custody, the people who had been scared off the streets by the sniper attacks scrambled to get their holiday shopping done, which is exactly what the Joker wanted. He'd set bombs in the stockroom of the city's biggest toy store in hopes of explosively ruining Christmas for Gotham's kids. Fortunately, the GCPD evacuated the store, but when the Joker broke free of the interrogation room, he managed to rack up a few more gleeful kills before he was stopped. 

Booby-trapped his own heart

The Joker has been undeniably successful in the world of thematic villainy, and pretty much anything he's done since about 1995 has been more like murderously gilding an increasingly deadly lily. He's already Batman's arch-nemesis, he's already the deadliest and most feared criminal in DC's considerable roster of bad guys, and he's been at the top of that heap for a while. As a result, you might think that if and when the Joker finally died, he'd be able to look back on his life, tally up the final body count, and be satisfied that his work was finally done. You would be wrong.

Not only has the Joker managed to ensure that his reign of terror will continue past his own death, he's done it in a truly bizarre way: he booby-trapped his own heart. According to Batman himself, the Joker somehow laced his cardiovascular system with "a singular super-toxin" that will be released at the moment of his death and "make whoever kills him the next Joker." He even once shot himself to dose Batman, but fortunately, the Dark Knight managed to hold off the transformation long enough to work up a cure.

That is some buck wild comic book science — and some pretty advanced biochemistry for a dude whose major interests include purple suits and murder — but it's also a pretty scary tactic. Not only will he be inflicting his own madness on someone else, but he'll be ensuring that it continues indefinitely, ruining countless more lives at the cost of his own. Good thing that could never actually happen, huh?

Drove Batman over the edge

Most comic book readers are familiar with the idea of a multiverse — all those parallel worlds where stories play out slightly differently, or take place in King Arthur times, or where Spider-Man has a giant robot like the Power Rangers — but over the past few years, DC introduced a twist on the old idea. Along with the "regular" multiverse, there's a "Dark Multiverse" underneath it all full of worlds that could never work, basically forming a roiling sea where bad (as in evil) ideas go to die.

The worst of those ideas? The Batman Who Laughs, a twisted version of Bruce Wayne who was dosed with the Joker's "singular super-toxin" and turned into someone who had all of the knowledge, skill, and unbeatable will to win of Batman, but with the horrifying morality of the Joker. It's a scary thought, but it raises the question of how it happened. If the super-toxin was only released when the Joker died and affected the person who killed him, how did he drive Batman to actually finish him off? The answer is one of the darkest things that has ever appeared in a DC comic, and that's saying something.

It happened on Earth -22 (and yes, the worlds of the Dark Multiverse are designated with negative numbers, which is hilarious), and begins with the Joker bombing hospitals and killing Jim Gordon by dissolving him slowly in a vat of acid. Don't worry, it gets worse: after he gets the upper hand on Batman, the Joker forces him to watch while his henchmen parade a series of children and their parents into Crime Alley, shooting the parents and dosing the kids with Joker Toxin as a twisted combination of the two characters' origins. He does this at least eight times, and it's enough to finally drive Batman to break free, savagely beat the Joker, and then snap his neck, inadvertently dosing himself with the super-toxin. Yikes on yikes on yikes. 

Tore Robin and Batgirl to pieces with Kryptonian technology

You know, a lot of these alternate realities involve the Joker forcing Batman to watch him do some horrific murders. Case in point, JLA: The Nail, an "Elseworlds" story where the premise is that Jonathan and Martha Kent ran over a nail and got a flat tire on one fateful day, and never found young Kal-El of Krypton's rocket in the cornfield as they were driving by. Needless to say, the absence of Superman leads to things going catastrophically wrong. Public opinion is turned against superheroes, Darkseid's gearing up to invade, and someone — spoiler warning, it's Jimmy Olsen — is handing out advanced technology to the bad guys to create more unrest.

The worst of it comes when the Joker gets his hands on some high-tech Kryptonian gauntlets and proceeds to take over Arkham Asylum, surrounding it with a force field that only the Batman family can get through. After making the inmates fight to the death for his amusement, he takes on Batman, trapping him in a stasis field that keeps him helpless and paralyzed.

That, unfortunately, is when Robin and Batgirl show up to help out, and wind up being trapped themselves. As he forces Batman to watch, the Joker uses the technology to literally tear them apart, and while that mercifully happens off-panel, writer/artist Alan Davis stays on Batman's reaction through the whole thing. Then, just to add a final insult, the Joker offers up this line after finishing his work: "Okay, so your sidekicks are dead, Bats. But look on the bright side! At least they've stopped that awful screaming!" 

Beat Jim Gordon with a baseball bat on live TV

If you ever want to see the Joker at his scariest, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of 1992's The Batman Adventures #3, by Kelly Puckett, Ty Templeton, and Rick Burchett, because there's a sequence in that issue that's still terrifying all these years later. It doesn't have the mass murder or graphic gore of some of the Joker's other famous exploits, but while the violence here might be on a smaller scale, it's way more disturbing than any of those.

Here's the short version: as he so frequently does, the Joker takes over Gotham City's airwaves with his own TV show. His guest is Jim Gordon, kidnapped and tied up in front of the cameras while the Joker offers up a monologue that — a full 16 years before The Dark Knight — is devoted to the idea that law and order are false ideas, and that the only thing that truly exist is "random destructive chaos." To illustrate his point, he punctuates his monologue by picking up a baseball bat and breaking Gordon's arms while the horrified citizens of Gotham, and Batman, watch. 

It's pretty grim stuff, but here's the best/worst part: The Batman Adventures was the tie-in book set in the universe of Batman: The Animated Series, and as mature and forward-thinking as that show was, it was still a cartoon for children. This was a comic aimed at younger readers that featured the Joker announcing that in a world that was just, where things like order and safety existed, he wouldn't be able to just pick up a bat and start beating on a beloved heroic police commissioner, and then proved himself correct by doing just that. That's a weird thing to learn when you're still trying to get a handle on subtraction. 

Did terrible things to Tim Drake

While we're on the subject of truly awful things that have happened on DC's cartoons, we'd be remiss to not mention what happens in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The show, set decades in the future after Bruce Wayne's retirement and the passing of the Batman identity to cool young future teen Terry McGinnis, mostly shied away from using established Batman villains. Instead, with Terry taking on villains who seemed inspired by Spider-Man's classic rogues gallery, which made sense since he himself was the answer to the question "what if Peter Parker became Batman instead?" 

When the Joker came back, though, he came back hard, and brought two incredibly disturbing reveals with him. One was that before dying, the Joker had implanted his own consciousness into the second Robin, Tim Drake, so that he could take over his body and re-emerge years later to continue terrorizing Gotham after death. The other, more disturbing, reveal was how he pulled it off. Thirty-five years earlier, he and Harley Quinn had kidnapped Tim and tortured him for weeks, breaking him mentally and transforming him physically into "Joker Junior," complete with the chalk-white skin and permanently fixed grin. When the Joker showed off his handiwork to Batman and tried to force his new "son" to kill the hero, Tim managed to break free just long enough to shoot the Joker instead, killing him. 

The image of Tim's maniacal laughter turning to sobs, with tears streaming down his disfigured face as he drops the gun, is probably the most disturbing thing to ever hit DC's animated properties. So much so, in fact, that the scene was heavily edited for its original release, giving the Joker a very different death scene and eliminating the more explicit references to torture. The uncut version has been available since 2003 and can be found on DC Universe, however, just in case you want to see how dark those cartoons can get.

Kidnapped a gorilla and raised him as his son

It should be pretty clear by this point that the Joker has committed a litany of truly disturbing, horrifying, and reprehensible crimes over the course of his criminal career. Sometimes, however, the things he does are... weird. Still terrible, you understand, but also incredibly weird. 

Like, say, the time that he kidnapped a baby gorilla from the Gotham City Zoo and raised him as his son. No, really. Look it up in Batman #23.1, and keep in mind that this is not some weird Silver Age story from the '50s. This happened in 2013.

Anyway, this being comics, the gorilla was of the super-intelligent variety, and after dressing him up as a clown, the Joker was able to teach him things like how to build bombs, poison the reservoir, and operate a bazooka. Eventually, however, the gorilla proved he had a kinder soul than his old man by rebelling against the Joker and plunging to his own death. The Joker, of course, never showed a shred of remorse for this despite viewing the ape as his son. Oh, and the worst part? The Joker named the gorilla "Jackanapes." Mass murder is one thing, but a pun that bad is truly unforgivable.