7. Pirate Captain Joker
Detective Comics Annual Vol 1. #7
This version of The Joker is probably the most like his main continuity counterpart so far. In this alternate take, we find Batman as the privateer Leatherwing. (Get it? Like a bat.) Eventually, he comes toe to toe with the mad pirate captain known as . . . The Laughing Man again.
The story is set in the Caribbean sometime in the 1500s as Captain Leatherwing patrols the coasts defending sea-lanes for the British Crown. Shortly after we’re introduced to our hero, his first mate, Alfredo, and the orphan Robin Redblade, the focus turns to The Laughing Man.
This book came out the same year as Steven Spielberg’s Hook, and the similarities in appearance and demeanor between Joker and Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook are undeniable. While both costumes are traditionally what you would expect a pirate to wear, it looks like someone is doing a mash-up cosplay. That being said, the art is gorgeous, especially on the splash page where we’re introduced to Joker.
While this Joker might not be as “out there” as some of the others on this list, his cruelty and twisted wit really shine as being a bloodthirsty cutthroat really seems to suit him. He manages to convince this universe’s Catwoman, called Felina, to seduce and betray Leatherwing by leading Joker and his crew to the Batcave, which is called Bat’s Cay here.
The final conflict doesn’t last long, though, as Felina has a change of heart, alerting Leatherwing to The Laughing Man’s advancing ship. Leatherwing and Joker square off, with Robin taking a bullet for Bruce. Enraged Leatherwing plunges his cutlass through The Laughing Man’s heart and into the main mast. If only Batman prime would take some pointers from his less squeamish counterparts.
6. Bruce’s Mr. Hyde
Batman: Two Faces
It’s often been said that Batman and The Joker are two sides of the same coin. This story really takes that concept to heart. Taking place in Gotham in 1886, this story takes inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as the myths surrounding Jack the Ripper. It explores the dual nature of Batman and The Joker’s relationship, Two-Face, and Batman himself.
When we’re first introduced to Bruce Wayne, he is attending a gala in honor of the twilight orchid, a flower from Asia that blooms during the day and turns into a shriveled weed at night. Bruce had the flower shipped to Gotham at great expense in hopes of using it to cure Harvey Dent/Two-Face of his bipolar nature.
While experimenting with the flower, Bruce concocts a serum that would mend Dent’s fractured psyche. To test it, Bruce drinks the serum himself. (This Bruce Wayne isn’t all that bright.) After a moment of pain, he finds that he’s faster and stronger than he was before and decides to take on the mantle of a bat to bring justice to Gotham and end Two-Face’s crime spree (because, of course, he does).
As soon as The Batman begins dismantling Harvey’s operations, a new villain begins murdering prostitutes in Gotham’s myriad dark alleys. The only evidence of the killer’s identity is notes left on the bodies that attribute the murders to The Joker and a ghastly smile cut into their cheeks.
After Joker paralyzes Catwoman with a knife in her spine, Bruce redoubles his efforts and makes an even stronger potion. This batch, however, leaves Bruce unconscious and he has a revelation when he awakes.
He requests to meet Dent and Commissioner Gordon on the roof of the Gotham courthouse to reveal that he himself is The Batman and The Joker. After giving Harvey a vial of the serum to hopefully cure him, Bruce transforms into the Joker.
After a rooftop scuffle, Bruce momentarily regains control of himself as he hangs from the roof with Two-Face clutching his arm. Bruce implores Harvey to let him fall and to take the serum so that Gotham will finally be rid of Two-Face and The Joker.
Harvey fulfills his old friend’s final wish and lets Bruce fall, taking the serum shortly after. We’re to believe that the serum worked because a flash-forward shows Batman still protecting Gotham. The only difference is his mismatched eyes under the cowl.
5. Joker Hellspawn
JLA: Another Nail
The Nail and its aptly titled sequel, Another Nail, focus on a world similar to the main DC continuity. But instead of Superman growing up on Kent Farm, he is found and raised by the Amish. They encourage him to not involve himself with worldly concerns and to keep his abilities a secret.
Toward the beginning of the first story, Joker has taken control of Arkham Asylum using technologically advanced Kryptonian gauntlets and has begun murdering inmates. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl arrive to find the asylum covered in an alien force field that denies entrance to anyone except the Bat Family.
Batman orders the other two to stay outside while he rushes in alone, being almost immediately immobilized by Joker’s new alien weaponry. Having Bruce at his mercy, Joker laments not having had the opportunity to take care of his sidekicks first.
Immediately after, Robin and Batgirl rush to Batman’s aid, but they are immobilized as well. Joker starts to flay the skin from their bones with the alien gauntlets, all while forcing Batman’s eyes open and making him witness his partners’ torture and eventual deaths.
Shortly after, Catwoman shows up out of nowhere, attacking Joker and distracting him long enough to loosen his grip on Batman. Enraged, Batman attacks Joker, beating him to death as Arkham Asylum burns around them. Needless to say, this messed up Batman badly as he spends most of the rest of the book in a near-catatonic state, reliving the tragedy in his mind.
Although it’s an exceptionally heinous act, the murder of Batgirl and Robin is something we would expect from the Joker, having killed a member of the Bat Family in nearly every one of his incarnations. The sequel is where things start to get really wacky.
Another Nail picks up a year after the events of the last story. Batman is continuing his crusade against crime alongside Catwoman, who has taken up the mantle of the new Batwoman. Though Bruce has resumed his quest to bring justice to Gotham, he hasn’t fully recovered from the events of the previous year.
He periodically hallucinates, having visions of his dead sidekicks accompanied by maniacal laughter that no one else can see or hear. These tormenting apparitions eventually lead Batman and Batwoman to the ruins of Arkham Asylum.
At Arkham, they are confronted by a horde of minor demons from Hell as well as Joker in a new, demonically powered (and for some reason, super-stretchy) body. The two brawl for a while until a portal to Hell is opened and Joker attempts to drag Batwoman through with him.
Bruce intercepts Joker, saving Batwoman and entering the portal himself. Bruce attempts to sacrifice his soul to keep Joker imprisoned in the underworld. But at that moment, the spirits of Robin and Batgirl intervene, trapping Joker themselves and allowing Batman to forgive himself for their untimely fates as he returns to the world of the living.
These stories also boast an evil Kryptonian Jimmy Olsen, Green Arrow’s mind being transferred into an android, the near-collapse of the multiverse, World War II biplanes dogfighting in space, and the death of Darkseid. But Joker has nothing to do with any of it, so that’s another list for another time.