The Joker has a rich history of disturbing and downright horrifying crimes in the DC graphic novels. But when you think about it, reading a graphic novel is no different than reading any crime novel. Playing an immersive video game where you bear witness to these acts first hand is a whole different ball game. It's real, raw, and in your face. The developers of Batman video games use that to their advantage when translating this iconic supervillain video games.
The Batman games, stretched across three decades, have allowed developers to really show off what The Joker can do when you meet him face to face. There are three types of Jokers in video games: There is the Arkham Joker whose cerebral plans are only outmatched by his unrelenting brutality. There is the Lego Joker who mixes in the 1960s show goofy vibe, but does not skimp on the violence, even in front of the kids. Then there is The Joker from the 80s and 90s films and TV shows translated to video games. This Joker mimics the laughing supervillain who enjoys toying with Batman, more than brutalizing him.
All these iterations of Joker have allowed developers to show the player some truly macabre and sinister plots, plans, and ploys from the king of clowns himself.
Warning, there are spoilers ahead!
15 Karma’s a B for Dr. Young
Dr. Penelope Young, the brilliant scientist developing the Titan formula in the Arkham Asylum game, might not be the most ethical doctor in Arkham, but she does get the full brunt of The Joker’s wrath for betraying him. One of the first things The Joker does after taking over Arkham Asylum is capture Dr. Young to make her deliver on their agreement. She drained Bane of his venom and developed the Titan formula to create more super soldiers for Joker. Young’s attempt to do the right thing lands her in the arms of Zsasz, who tortures her until Batman rescues her. Dr. Young then dies in an explosion meant for the Warden.
The plight of Dr. Young is an example of how you never double cross The Joker and live. It also proves that you don’t work for The Joker without taking on his sadistic nature. Zsasz’s torturing of Dr. Young is a direct parallel to the cold scientific draining of Bane’s life force. Those who work for The Joker are doomed to have their actions repaid in kind.
14 The Explosive Philanthropist of the Year Statuette
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes opens with a bang, literally. The Joker crashes the Philanthropist of the Year Awards to grab some valuables from Gotham’s wealthy. Bruce Wayne leaves the stage to change out of his tuxedo for his cowl and the camera pans out from the stage. The woman holding the award for Philanthropist of the Year blows up. In the first three minutes of a kid's Batman game, The Joker blows up an innocent woman! I believe the camera being panned out from the explosion was the developer’s way to maintain an E rating.
The player has no time to settle into the world before they see someone get blown up by The Joker. It remains kid friendly because the woman is seen in the next scene shaken, but alright. The Joker in the Lego universe plays by the same rules as the M rated games, only with more slapstick. Don’t let his over the top goofy attitude fool you, Lego Joker is just as disturbing.
13 Faking his Death and Leaving Batman on the Hook
In Batman: Vengeance, The Joker fakes his own death to work in the shadows. His ultimate goal is producing the highly flammable Promethium to destroy Gotham. Once he can safely move around without Batman following him, he pulls Mr. Freeze’s and Poison Ivy’s strings to distract and hinder Batman’s investigation. The Joker even sets Batman up to attack Commissioner Gordon. The Joker’s plan to destroy Gotham with Batman unknowingly helping him is straight out of Batman: The Animated Series.
The Joker is in the driver seat like most games on this list, but what makes Vengeance different is how removed The Joker is from the player’s sight. The player knows a bigger conspiracy is a foot, just not who is behind it. This version of The Joker stresses intelligence first. It is his own crazy messed up intelligence. Having the intricate idea to have Batman be just as guilty of destroying Gotham as The Joker himself is pure genius.
12 The Joker Becomes The Black Mask
Most of planning and execution for The Joker’s dastardly plan to become The Black Mask happens behind the scenes of Arkham Origins. The Joker assumes the role of The Black Mask by kidnapping him and his girlfriend, torturing her until she dies, having The Black Mask’s henchmen swear allegiance to The Joker, and then useing Joker Toxin and money to gain loyalty from Gotham’s finest. When the player and Batman find out that Black Mask is The Joker, the clown has already assembled a vast operation including other supervillains.
The Joker of Arkham Origins is more concerned with power through violence. Conversely, The Joker in the rest of the Arkham series prefers a more cerebral, screwed up good time while taking down Gotham. The Joker’s ruthless drive to not only take over The Black Mask’s empire, but to crush him and Gotham in his wake shows the player what lengths The Joker is willing to go to satiate his madness.
11 No Good Solution: The Joker Dies, Bane Dies, or Batman Dies
In Arkham Origins, The Joker offers Batman a choice. Bane has a heart monitor that is charging an electric chair that The Joker is sitting in. With every heart beat, the chair is closer and closer to frying The Joker. The only way to stop this is to kill Bane. Pretty much violating Batman’s no kill policy in two ways. Oh, and Bane is going to beat Batman to a pulp making the decision even harder. Bane lives – The Joker dies, The Joker lives – Bane dies, or Batman dies himself by the oversized fists of Bane.
To this point in Origins, the player has seen a lot of terrible acts committed by The Joker, but this one strikes at the heart of what makes Batman an icon. What makes this scene different than the rest is that it is a boss fight that needs to end in a delicate way to preserve Batman’s legacy. With the chips stacked against The World’s Greatest Detective, he must fight for his life as well as the lives of his two foes who wish him a brutal, physically painful death and to emotional crush his moral compass. The Joker really knows how to build a Catch 22.
10 The Joker’s Generous Gift of Life
Arkham City opens with no sign of The Joker, which doesn’t last very long. After falling for the old fake Joker trick, the mad clown reveals his condition and his master plan. The Titan formula left Joker poisoned and with a unique opportunity. He donated his blood to all the blood banks in Gotham and transfused his tainted blood into Batman himself. Now Batman must find a cure to save himself, The Joker, and the innocent people of Gotham.
This plot shows off The Joker’s tremendous ingenuity. He may be dying, but he knows Batman well enough to manipulate The Caped Crusader into being his errand boy. Batman knows by investigating and saving the people of Gotham he is setting them up to be at the mercy of The Joker again further down the line. This is his one rare opportunity to let The Joker die, but doing so would break his code. The entire game is fixed around Batman finding the cure. The Joker may be a caged animal with life draining from him but that doesn’t mean his fangs aren’t as sharp as ever.
9 Teaming Up With Lex Luther
Lex Luther didn’t call on Russian hackers to throw the election in his favor in Lego Batman 2. No, he went to the laughing gas expert himself, The Joker. Lex busts The Joker out of Arkham and strikes one of the most detailed and intricate bad guy plots anyone has heard of in a kid’s game. Lex has a Deconstructor ray that can pick apart and dismantle black bricks. The Joker needs it to fight Batman since everything Batman uses is black. The Deconstructor runs on Kryptonite and Lex need more to use it. Lex also want The Joker’s laughing gas to release on unsuspecting voters to win votes to become President. You still with me at this point?
Lex knows who has the largest collection of Kryptonite to keep the Deconstructor humming, Batman. They devise a plan to let Batman capture a fake piece of Kryptonite and track it back to The Batcave, where they steal the rest. That’s a lot to take in, but The Lego Joker is all for fun and games. The idea of deconstructing Batman is an unsettling way to dispose of your archnemesis. It is a complex and intricate plan that is unnerving in how targeted and well thought out it is. The Joker really shows off his complicated cartoonish planning and pension for violence even in front of younger audiences.
8 The Blackgate Incident
Before Arkham Origins, The Joker was locked up in Blackgate Prison. The Joker took over a large section of the jail and made it his own carnival of fun and death. He kidnapped the warden, rigged his Joker toxin up to a timer that would poison the prison population, and toyed with every cop including Commission Gordon by torturing them with rides of death. Every little puzzle he set up was more dubious and deadlier than the last.
Even confined to an institution, exactly like he is in Arkham Asylum, The Joker bends the world to fit his chaos and joy. The player encounters multiple guards and GCPD officers trapped in grotesque devices that would make SAW blush. The Joker from Blackgate becomes The Joker that assumes The Black Mask’s position. Here we can see the beginnings of the mastermind behind future brutal crimes.
7 Blackgate Was All a Ruse to Get Into Arkham
At the beginning of Arkham Asylum, The Joker mentions the fire he caused at Blackgate to make all his men move to Arkham. Origins and Blackgate describe the whole ordeal in greater detail. So if we are to follow the timeline, The Joker came up with the plan to get the Titan Formula while at Blackgate, forced Dr. Young to drain Bane, and set up his men to be transferred to Arkham once the match was lit.
The deeper you go into the Arkham series, The Joker becomes more and more of a criminal genius. He plays on the protocols and fears of law enforcement. He isn’t just one step of them he is months in the future. Setting up the entire Titan formula grab from Blackgate proves that The Joker never has any down time.
6 Lego Joker Showing Commission Gordon All The Ways He Could Die
In the very first Lego Batman, Commission Gordon is taken, like always, by The Joker. This game may have the window dressing of cartoon violence and smiles, but it is dark when you look at it further. There is a scene where The Joker shows Gordon all his possible fates from being pulled apart, crushed, and blown up all with a fun carnival theme to boot.
Watching this scene makes you laugh because of its tongue and cheek tone. But when you really think about it, the whole thing is really messed up. Only The Joker would play with his food in such a way before eating. Using fear and callous laughter to drive his victim mad at the possibility of pain and death. Don’t let the bright colored bricks fool you, Lego Joker is just as psychopathic as the Arkham Joker.
5 Murdering Talia al Ghul in Front of Batman
Talia and Batman have a complex history that unfortunately comes to an end in Arkham City. After promising The Joker everlasting life, Joker shoots her, but not before revealing his greatest misdirection. Talia kills who she thinks is The Joker only to find out it was Clayface pretending to be him throughout the game. Then the real Joker shoots her. The player finally understands why there has been two kinds of Joker throughout the game. The one who is dying and the one who is cured.
As Talia dies in Batman’s arms, she apologizes to him. It is a shocking and emotional scene where there are too many revelations to process. The loss of Talia cuts Batman deep. The Joker not only tricked Batman into second guessing his condition, he eliminated a close ally. This is The Joker’s M.O. If you are close to Batman you will die, but you will do so in service to breaking Batman.
4 Arkham Knight’s Homage to The Killing Joke
Say what you will about the final installment of the Arkham series, Arkham Knight has The Joker showing off his greatest hits of brutality. The best example of this is the flashback scene to Joker shooting and crippling Oracle. The developers make a nearly beat by beat remake of the iconic act from The Killing Joke. Oracle was the voice in Batman’s ear in the first Arkham game, so naturally fans were shocked by the act, especially if they were unaware of the graphic novel it was replicating. Batman and player stand silently as the event unfolds before them.
As The Joker takes pictures of her lifeless body, the player witnesses the most disturbing acts in The Joker’s historic crime career. Reading The Killing Joke is one thing. Arkham Knight puts the player there as The Joker takes his sweet time, savoring every moment of his abhorrent plan going better than expected. The sequence proves that being in the same room as The Joker is far more terrifying than reading about him in the panels of graphic novels.
3 The Kidnapping and Murder of Jason Todd
After spending a good amount of time with The Joker in Batman’s head in Arkham Knight, a series of flash backs are revealed about Batman’s former Robin. Jason Todd was captured, tortured, and killed by The Joker. The player must watch and listen to The Joker break down Jason to the point of hating Batman and nearly revealing his true identity. The player is helpless to do anything but watch each vignette.
The helplessness that Jason, Batman, and the player all feel is a triumph. The developers took great care in crafting the scenes and dialogue to destroy all hope. It is bad enough The Joker spends the whole game reminding Batman of his shortcomings. This act goes above and beyond the goal of breaking Batman’s will. The Joker takes pleasure in this. The Joker is so ferocious in pursuit of showing Batman how crazy their entire existence together is.
2 The Corruption of Harley Quinn
One of The Joker’s iconic crimes is the corruption and manipulation of Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel. In Arkham Origins, the player gets to witness The Joker’s raw power over Quinn. The Joker is taken to Blackgate Prison where he meets Dr. Quinn. Through a series of cutscenes we see the charisma, swagger, and ladykilling instincts effortlessly flow out of The Joker.
Quinn is conducting a therapy session with The Joker and even though his words resonate with Quinn, the player sees what he is truly thinking about as he serenades Harley, Batman. The player watches a fever dream of The Joker’s past culminating in finding Batman and accepting him as a part of his own essence. This level of deception goes right over Quinn’s head and she's love struck at the thought that someone as full of life as The Joker would give her the time of day. The game’s portrayal of the corruption of Harley Quinn adds a new chapter to the lore. The Joker thinks about Batman every time he is with Harley – gross.
1 The Joker That Never Dies
The Joker’s most disturbing act is the long con he pulls over on Batman in the Arkham series. Throughout Arkham Knight, The Joker tags along in Batman’s mind like a parasite, gnawing at his morality. This allows the player to not really have a firm grasp on what is real, which sets up The Joker’s Final trap. Near the end of the game, The Joker takes over Batman’s body as he lays waste to his competition, killing supervillains and henchmen. It isn’t until the end of this sequence, after you kill Two Face, that we see what is going on. Two Face turns into Commissioner Gordon and the warehouse full of goons is the GCPD headquarters. Did Batman just do that for real?
The Joker is finally getting his last laugh, tearing apart Batman’s brain neuron by neuron. All that needling and scheming in the previous Arkham games was all a red herring to real crime. He can break Batman’s body over and over again, but to break Batman’s mind would make him just as batty as The Joker.