1. The Killing Joke - Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
The Killing Joke is a fascinating book for many reasons. At just 46 pages, it's the shortest Joker story here and yet it's one of DC's best known books and led to a massive change for one character in the DC Universe for many years that followed. It's filled with iconic images of the Joker by master artist Brian Bolland. It's also a Joker origin story and the first rule of writing the Joker is to never reveal his roots but Alan Moore does anyway, and it's still an amazing book (and DC have never maintained it was canon anyway, despite Barbara's shooting firmly becoming canon)! Two storylines run parallel throughout: Joker's origins as Jack, a failed comedian with a wife and child, brought to a life of crime out of desperate financial troubles; and the present day where Joker attempts to break a good man, Jim Gordon, by taking away his beloved daughter, Barbara. The origin works in the character of the Red Hood from the Golden Age of comics, making the Red Hood an interchangeable figurehead of a gang as they plan to rob ACE Chemicals with Jack wearing the Red Hood helmet during the robbery. Things go wrong, he ends up in a vat of green chemicals and the Joker is born. As far as origins go, it's not bad though in Scott Snyder's recent Zero Year storyline, his version makes more sense if the person who becomes the Joker is already a criminal mastermind rather than becoming one after his appearance is warped. That said, Joker's notorious for being a pathological liar and he will always be an unreliable narrator at best so it's likely that he's making it up and his true origin will never be known. It also features a very mysterious and controversial ending. Batman and Joker stand opposite one another in the abandoned amusement park laughing at a joke. And then Batman reaches over with a smile, the laughter suddenly stops, and a light goes out. Did Batman kill Joker? The title is very suggestive, but readers are divided. The Killing Joke is the best Joker story we've had so far for its original take on the character, its incredible one-of-a-kind art, and Alan Moore's best writing. It's enduring appeal continues to this day with The Killing Joke regularly appearing on bestseller lists, year after year, and serving as inspiration for the critically acclaimed films, 1989's Batman and 2008's The Dark Knight. * Those are the best Joker books out there but there are a few more to look up if you're not concerned about quality. Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo's 80s "classic" Death in the Family (where Joker murders Jason Todd, the second Robin), Michael Green and Denys Cowan's Lovers and Madmen (an alternate Joker origin story), and Chuck Dixon and Ron Randall's Joker's Last Laugh (utter drivel), are all Joker books too but they're deeply flawed and aren't up to the same high standard as the six mentioned above. It's not a Joker book, but Batman RIP is a brilliant comic and Joker steals every scene he's in (as he should). Tony Daniel draws him as a rock star/David Bowie figure as he and Batman fight against the Black Glove it's well worth a read if you haven't checked it out already. I'm on Twitter, @NoelThorne, so let me know what your favourite Joker books are and if there's some missing that you think deserve distinction, leave a comment below!
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