The best Batman and Joker stories of all time

Batman vs. Joker by Jim Lee
(Image credit: DC)

Batman is big business for DC, with the Caped Crusader headlining or appearing in 59% of DC's just-released November solicitations. And his enemies - especially the Joker, who has multiple titles of his own in the solicitations - are also all over DC's November books.

But it's that key rivalry between Batman and the Joker that has informed so much of both characters' histories, and some of their best stories over the years. Their most recent clash in Batman: The Joker War led to big changes for Batman and a new status quo for Joker - but it's only the latest battle between two of the greatest arch-enemies in superhero comics.

Will Joker War stand among the ranks of the best Batman vs. Joker stories ever? Time will tell - but for now, here are the best Batman vs. Joker stories of all time!

10. The Man Who Killed Batman

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Batman: The Animated Series episode 'The Man Who Killed Batman' tells the tale of Sid the Squid, a hapless gangster who has seemingly killed Batman. This reputation draws the attention of many criminals, who Sid does his best to appease despite lacking any real skill, until the Joker takes notice of him. 

Joker is incensed that Sid has not only done what he could never do, but also that he has ruined all his fun by taking away his best playmate, vowing revenge against Sid. Of course, the definitely-not-dead Batman arrives to save Sid and baffle the Joker once again in the end.

9. The Laughing Fish

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There's no better story of the Joker's warped sense of humor than Steve Englehart and Terry Austin's 'The Laughing Fish,' collected in Tales of the Batman

In it, Batman discovers that Joker has released a neurotoxin into Gotham Harbor that creates fish emblazoned with his twisted grin. Joker, seeing an opportunity, decides to patent his Laughing Fish. 

After being denied a patent, Joker swears revenge for the insult, killing a patent clerk right under Batman's nose and vowing to make his way up the chain of command.

8. Joker's Favor 

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Another all-time great Batman: The Animated Series episode 'Joker's Favor' is as good a story about Joker's often arbitrary and chaotic nature as told in any media. In perhaps the world's most unfortunate case of road rage, poor Charlie Collins curses out another driver who turns out to be the Joker, who runs Charlie off the road. 

Sparing Charlie when he begs for his life, saying he has a wife and child to care for, the Joker instead accepts a favor from Charlie as recompense for his affront. Years later, Joker calls on Charlie to fulfill his promise in a wholly unexpected and hilarious way, only to be bested not just by Batman, but by Charlie himself in the end.

And, the episode also introduced Harley Quinn, who of course has gone on to become an incredibly popular character in her own right.

7. The Man Who Laughs

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Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a modern-day retelling of Joker's first appearance, intended as a loose sequel to Batman: Year One. The Man Who Laughs explores the Joker's origins in a roundabout way, tying him to the Ace Chemical Plant that warped his body and perhaps his mind, and showing the bombastic, brutal way he made his reputation. 

The Man Who Laughs modernizes Joker's original appearance, bringing in elements of subsequent stories to form a fully realized picture of the clown prince of crime and redefining the character for the modern-day.

6. Batman: Endgame 

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"Just think of the great times we've had... and smile!" 

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo tied the threads of two of their most popular storylines together in Batman: Endgame as the Dark Knight had his final battle with the Clown Prince of Crime. If Batman: The Court of Owls was an opener and 'Death of the Family' was the scary sophomore effort, 'Endgame' was all about escalation - how much harder can the Batman fight when his first battle is against a Joker-ized Justice League?

Yet that bombastic introduction quickly gave way to Snyder's quieter reflection of the Batman and Joker mythos, as both characters delved deeper and deeper into each others' pasts as both enemies and opposites - all while Gotham fell to the latest strain of the Joker virus. 

Combined with Capullo's knack for horrific imagery and brutal fight choreography, 'Endgame' not only elevated the Joker as a vicious, nearly-immortal threat but also wrapped up many of the storylines Snyder had established, ending in a bittersweet climax that left the Dark Knight missing in action.

5. Mad Love

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Set in the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series, and told by TAS creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: Mad Love tells the story of Harley Quinn, who debuted as a one-off henchman on TAS before Arlene Sorkin's pitch-perfect portrayal vaulted her into the hearts of fans, and into regular DC continuity. 

Mad Love establishes the baffling, unreasonable, and undeniable connection between Dr. Harleen Quinzel and her patient, the Joker; a relationship that leads to madness and chaos for all involved. 

Mad Love won a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Single Story in 1994, a well-deserved honor for a story that endures as one of the best and most heartbreaking in Batman canon.

4. The Dark Knight

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Purists may decry Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight for its non-traditional Joker, but no story in any medium has so succinctly defined the dichotomy between Joker and Batman. Batman, the grim avenger, concerned only with order and rules, and Joker, the colorful, madcap anarchist for whom chaos is a way of life. 

The Dark Knight gets more traditional than many may give it credit for, drawing on stories as far back as Joker's first appearance. And of course, the prime component in the film's success is Heath Ledger's bitter, stumbling portrayal of the Joker as a man with no name, no face, and no past; every bit the symbol as Batman, with none of the driving force.

3. The Joker's Five-Way Revenge

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Published in Batman #251, 'The Joker's Five Way Revenge' set the stage for countless explorations of the Joker's unique madness in the years after its release. 

Considered the first Joker story to eschew the campiness of the 1966 Batman TV series, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's 'Joker's Five-Way Revenge' is a tale about Joker attempting to do away with a group of five henchmen who have displeased him, forcing Batman to defend the same criminals he would normally be fighting.

The story established a few important aspects of Joker's character, namely his abject disregard for the lives of his own henchmen, and his twisted vision of his relationship with Batman. At one point, Joker gets the best of Batman, ambushing an already dazed and disoriented caped crusader. 

Deciding that it's only luck, and not his own cunning that defeated him, Joker decides to leave Batman alive, the first in a seemingly never-ending series of events that portray a cycle of dependence between Batman and Joker.

2. A Death In The Family

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It's hard to think of a story that so perfectly captures Joker's brutality, his rampant carnage as Batman: A Death In The Family. In it, Joker attempts to sell a nuclear weapon to Middle Eastern terrorists, a quest that crosses his path with that of Jason Todd, the second Robin, who is on the hunt for his birth mother. 

And of course, we all know how this story ends, with Jason's death at Joker's hands, not necessarily the first, but certainly the most shocking time that Joker made Batman suffer at his hands.

What's perhaps even more shocking is that Jason's fate was decided by a reader poll, by which readers voted for Jason's demise (via a 1-900 number), proving that, just maybe, there is a little Joker in us all.

1. The Killing Joke

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It's no wonder that Batman: The Killing Joke is considered by many to be the definitive Joker story. Joker's brutal attack on Barbara Gordon and his subsequent torment of both her father and Batman with the knowledge of the attack ranks as, quite possibly, the most nightmarish of Joker's many horrific misdeeds. The attack was so brutal that it lead Batman right to the edge of his code of honor. 

Saved only by the arrival of the police, and his delight at his own warped understanding of life and death, Joker's madness, his twisted relationship with Batman, and his will to do things any sane person would find monstrous are never more on display than in The Killing Joke.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)