Greatest Supervillain? No Joke, It’s the Joker

Happy Halloween! Looking for a nicely timed freakout? Check out my Wired gallery featuring the original gangsta of graphic violence. He was born a nefarious comics murderer, but has since starred as everything from a camp mascara champ to a straitjacketed dreadlock devil to, most recently, a tragically hyperreal Oscar winner. Let’s drink some serum together and take a Halloween head-trip.

Comics’ Greatest Supervillain? No Joke, It’s the Joker

In The Joker: A Visual History of the Clown Prince of Crime, author Daniel Wallace takes readers on a hell ride through the character’s history (with an introduction by Mark Hamill riding shotgun). The recently released hardcover takes us from the Joker’s 1940 comics debut in Batman No. 1 all the way through the late, great Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight.

In the gallery above, comics expert Wallace walks us through the most intriguing Joker iterations of all time. Click through for dirty tricks and visceral treats, just in time for Halloween.

Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)

“Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke is built around the premise that one bad day can turn any man into a maniac,” said Wallace. “The one-shot story features a look at the Joker’s origins as a failed standup comedian who accidentally bleached his skin by falling in a vat of chemicals, and is remembered for paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in DC Comics continuity after the Joker shot her in the spine. With stunning artwork by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke was parodied on South Park when Cartman’s former victim Scott Tenorman forced his tormenter into a nightmarish funhouse.”

Wallace called The Killing Joke “part of a one-two punch, with The Dark Knight Returns, heralding a new, more serious age of superhero storytelling.”

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989)

“Scottish writer Grant Morrison has been a fixture on the Bat-books for years,” Wallace said. “But 1989 saw his first Batman story in the form of a dreamlike graphic novel. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth used the impressionistic art of Dave McKean to take readers on a tour of the titular madhouse, as the Joker pitted his fellow inmates against Batman in an attempt to make the Dark Knight crack.”

And make money like crack, Wallace might have mentioned. The Batman: Arkham Asylum videogame series is minting cash and blowing minds. The latest release, Arkham City, is crouched on your Halloween doorstep.

The Batman (2004-2008)

“And now for something completely different,” said Wallace. “The Batman premiered on Kids WB in 2004 and from the start it aimed for a fresh, new take on the Dark Knight. Some fans felt it was a little too fresh in the case of the Joker, who was rebooted as a dreadlocked acrobat with bare feet and loose straightjacket sleeves. The Joker later acquired his familiar purple suit, but the show’s producers defiantly left his feet uncovered.”