Making his debut in the very first Batman comic book, the rivalry between the Joker and the Dark Knight spans more than 75 years and, as you can imagine, there have been quite a few memorable stories written over that time. But with such a rich history to choose from and so many different artists interpretations of the character, how can someone who’s just getting into comics ever hope to hone in on the defining story arcs that have given rise to one of the greatest (if not the greatest) villains of all time? That’s where we come in. Collected here are 13 of the most momentous and highly acclaimed stories featuring the Clown Prince of Crime. So read on and maybe you’ll get a feel for which take on the Joker you think should be considered the definitive version.
13. The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge (Batman #251, 1973)
After the ’60s Batman TV series ended its run, both the Dark Knight and the Joker’s reputation were in serious need of repair to help remind audiences that they weren’t all about simplistic youth-aimed moral lessons like eating your vegetables and doing your homework. In this story featured in Batman #251 (1973), Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams deliberately tried to avoid the campy antics that had become synonymous with the Joker since the debut of the Adam West TV show.
The story centers around the Joker taking violent and twisted revenge on five former gang members that betrayed him, prompting Batman to take action to protect a group of people he would normally be trying to put behind bars. From the opening page it re-establishes the Joker as an unsettling and murderous psychopath who has a blatant disregard for the lives of others—including his own allies. It was also seminal because it established a trend whereby the Joker appeared far less frequently in comics, thus making his character far more impactful. The conclusion of the story also holds a lot of weight because it showed the Joker actually getting the best of Batman in battle; however, since he was well aware that the Dark Knight was in a severely weakened state, he refused to deliver the killing blow—demonstrating one of the first instances that the two characters’ existences are dependent on one another.