Top Five - The Joker

Writing about Marshall Rogers yesterday got me thinking about other artists' work on the Joker. So...welcome to a new occasional feature here at Great Big Nerd (inspired, of course, by Nick Hornby's High Fidelity), All-Time Top Five. Here I present what are, in my humble opinion, the five best renditions of the Joker.

Honorable mentions go to Jim Aparo for the infamous and truly creepy sequence from "Batman" #427 where the Joker beats the crap out of Robin with a crowbar, Jim Lee for his truly over-the-top take, and of course to Bob Kane for creating the look of the character in the first place.

5. Marshall Rogers: Rogers' Joker was tall and spindly, creepy, and clearly quite mad. Rogers also was able to convey the Joker's sheer delight in his own insanity. Rogers appears to have taken a great deal of inspiration from Kane's version. The eyes are hollow, the grin is mirthless, and this Joker is truly scary.

4. Bruce Timm: Timm was a producer and the chief designer for the '90s Batman animated series (which was fucking awesome - Mask of the Phantasm was far and away the best cinematic depiction of Batman until Batman Begins). He created a Joker who is no less scary for the cartoonish simplicity of his design. He's made up of aggressive, angular shapes. His hunched posture and the dark circles under the eyes suggest frenzy and insanity. Being a character on a show (ostensibly) aimed at kids meant that Timm's Joker rarely actually killed anyone. He appeared no less murderous for it.

3. Dick Sprang: The quintessential Batman artist of the '50s, Sprang created wonderfully stylish and grotesque versions of all of the Batman villains. Though the Batman comics of the day were sillier and more childish than those that came before and after, Sprang's Joker remains memorable. Though the Joker was always grinning, Sprang took the grin and stretched it, over-exaggerating it to the point of absurdity. It worked, though, and it has been the standard for (nearly every) artist drawing the character ever since.

2. Alex Ross: Because Ross paints characters in a realistic style, he isn't able to create a Joker as grotesque and exaggerated as other artists. He makes up for it by making his Joker scary as hell. I think it's because of the realistic painting. Where other Jokers are firmly bound in comic book world with black lines stylized rendering, Ross's Joker looks absolutely mad, completely evil, and almost ready to step right off the page.

1. Brian Bolland: Maybe I'm biased because he drew the greatest Joker story ever - "The Killing Joke," written by Alan Moore - but Bolland just seems to nail the character. Under nobody else's pen or brush does the Joker seem quite so thoroughly insane. Obviously, the Joker is never going to be a physical match for Batman. So if the depths of his evil and insanity don't present a challenge for Batman, he becomes, well, a joke. Bolland creates that. Just looking at his rendition of the Joker, you can get a sense of why an evil clown in a purple zoot suit can be the greatest and most implacable enemy of a character who is both the world's greatest martial artist and the world's greatest detective. Simply awesome. If you have any interest at all in superheroes, "The Killing Joke" is a must.