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Top Five Most Iconic Joker Covers

Here are the top five most iconic covers featuring the Joker (with iconic being determined mostly subjectively by what covers are called to mind when one thinks of the Joker, but with a prominent objective standard of whether a cover is homaged a lot or featured a lot in histories of the character). The notable exception is no covers from a character’s first appearance (which isn’t applicable to all characters, including the Joker)! Here‘s a list of all characters featured so far.

Enjoy!

5. Artist: Alex Ross

Ross has been probably the most popular Joker artist for the past decade plus, in terms of posters and prints, and this cover became a popular poster after the issue’s release in 1999.

4. Artist: Jerry Robinson

Joker as a sprite-like figure was a popular motif during the Golden Age (and it just seems right to feature a cover by the first artist ever to draw the Joker).

3. Artists: Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

“The Laughing Fish” is one of the most iconic Joker stories of all time.

2. Artist: Neal Adams

Adams absolutely nailed the return of the Joker to the Batman comic.

1. Artist: Brian Bolland

Nothing really needs to be said about the Killing Joke, right?

72 Comments

Good choices, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other characters you have lined up. I will say that even though Joker himself doesn’t actually appear on the cover, the second part of the Laughing Fish — Detective #476 — has to my mind an even more iconic Joker cover; I would be hard pressed to pick between Detective #476 and Killing Joke for the top spot. Even though I understand why you didn’t have #476 on the list, I probably would have included it even without Joker himself in the picture.

Love this concept for the month; looking forward to the next 29 days.

And Bolland’s definitely THE Joker artist IMO. I know Alan Moore has come out and said that he doesn’t feel the Killing Joke is anywhere near his best work, but you could take the images of that story alone and it would be more than worth your money. Fantastic artist who’s lack of monthly work saddens me, but knowing how much detail and time he puts in on his covers I suppose that’s alright.

I definitely considered it, Scott. It’s an amazing cover, but I figured it’d just be easier for the month to set the rule right away that I’d just limit myself to covers the actual character is on.

Killing Joke is undisputed #1 in my book

Bolland did a fantastic variation on the Laughing Fish theme for the cover for the original 1989 Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told collection – if you can find that, it’s way better than the Killing Joke cover.

Great covers, but there’s something weird about re-printed Killing Joke covers. As you’ve shown, the original has the speech balloon appear with just ‘Smile’ (i.e. no punctuation), but I’ve seen a lot of re-prints which have it as ‘Smile!’ (i.e. with an exclamation mark – you can see it in this picture – http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/Batman%20Killing%20Joke%20special%20Alan%20Moore%20Brian%20Bolland.jpg ).

Quite a small thing, but it really changes the mood of the image – the addition of the exclamation mark makes it much sillier and less threatening. Well, for me at least.

Like a lot of people already said, that Killing Joke cover is just awesome… I think it was the first comic book I ever bought.

That other Killing Joke cover appears to have been recoloured as well.

It was the 20th anniversary edition that Brian Bolland recoloured especially which was… interesting. Certainly moodier and more consistent than the original, but the end result just felt a little drab. The original was a bit of a mess, but it sort of seemed fitting that a story about the nature of madness would be a great big clash of colours.

Glad that Bolland got the chance to put out a version of the comic as he wanted to see it though. I still wonder about the ‘Smile!’ thing though.

I would add as a sidebar Detective Comics 365, “The House the Joker Built” because that giant brick Joker is unforgettable. They even showed it on TV in the Bat-Mite episode of Brave and the Bold.

That limited series might suck, but Bolland’s Joker Last Laugh #1 cover is also a great one.

I think this list shows that there’s a surprising lack of great Joker covers – or maybe it’s because the list is “Iconic” not “great”

If it was “great” I’d have included something from Sam Keith’s Batman: Secrets and Kyle Baker’s cover to The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told.

My favourite Golden Age cover featuring the Joker is: http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=2261&zoom=4.

Don’t know if it’s iconic though!

nice to see the killing joke at number one for the story showed how evil and pycho the joker is . and lalso liked the alex ross one. cool list

I don’t think anyone could argue with the top 3.

Great list! Although it’s probably not iconic, I’ve always liked that Brave & the Bold cover in which Batman is stopping people from trying to get the Joker because they’re partners (for that story, at least). Jim Aparo drew it, I think.

Dick Sprang’s Joker is so distinctive. I’m not familiar with the Golden Age and ’50s Batman comics, outside of what was reprinted in the “Greatest Stories” trades, but were any of his covers up for consideration?

Not a bad list. Some others I like:

Superman (second series) #9

Batman 353, 451

Detective 569, 826

Very cool list. Will all 30 days be dedicated to major characters without long running titles of their own?

I think you got the right Golden Age one, Brian.

Although ‘Tec #71 and #118 as well as Batman #11 are right up there in my opinion.

Nothing from the Silver Age? I can understand that – although for me the cover to Batman #186 is fairly iconic as it always creeped me out, and was featured in a ton of DC house ads, so it’s one of the covers I think of first. Top 10, maybe.

It may not totally qualify – but the cover to the Power Records ‘Joker’s Wild’ is very inconic, at least for us Bronze Age babies, moreso even than the Rogers/Austin one.

Sorry – I meant ‘Stacked Cards’, not ‘Joker’s Wild’.

Man, I am getting old.

Oooh, that Batman #11 cover (thanks Ajit) is awesome. For its dynamism and also the great playing-card motif, I actually prefer it to the Robinson ‘Tec cover.

Note (er, polite request?) to anyone suggesting other covers: Specific links to GCD (at http://www.comics.org) would help us all out. That way we could see exactly what you’re talking about.

The cover joecab mentioned is the first one that came to mind when I saw this post. Well, second after the Killing joke cover. Great list, and I look forward to the rest of the month. I bet there’s some characters where it’s going to be really hard narrowing it down to just 5.

I’m beginning to think entire idea of a person declaring anything “iconic” is a false premise. Unless there’s input from a significant number of informed individuals, it’s an utterly meaningless assertion.

You’d think it was someone’s opinion or something.

What is with the “WITZ” label on the camera???

Good list, but I have to think that Batman #614, with Batman strangling Joker, is certainly a better cover than most of these and probably more “iconic”, considering how well it sold and how impactful “Hush” was as a story. I’d say it’s the most iconic Joker cover of the last decade, and probably the most iconic one since “The Killing Joke”

Nice point, Harry. I had not noticed that detail.

I guess that Joker trusts only German engineering in his cameras as “der Witz” stands for a joke in German.

“Iconic” Joker covers? I don’t think the Killing Joke cover is “iconic”. But I do love all of Brian Bolland’s covers. Even when they aren’t “iconic”.

Some people don’t know what “iconic” means.

Great feature Brian. I really love that Jerry Robinson cover. I can’t help but think that the more realistic propotions of his face and body make him look more human and more threatening.

If The Killing Joke cover isn’t iconic then I would like to be counted as one of the people who doesn’t know what iconic means.

I would swap out the first one for the monacle and tophat wearing Joker from the Death of Jason Todd. Similar idea in both (regal Joker) but I think the Todd one is more memorable.

If iconic means creatively brilliant and exhibiting great talent, I agree that Killing Joke isn’t an iconic cover. As great as Bolland is, that cover is just okay in terms of creativity. Not horrible, but not great.. It gets the job done. I can think of a ton more creative and visually gripping Joker covers.

But iconic, as I understand it, has to do with being instantly recognizable and admired. Killing Joke is the most instantly recognizable and admired Joker cover ever, regardless of whether it deserves to be. So using that definition of iconic, I agree with Brian, even if I do think from an objective standpoint Killing Joke is an overrated story and cover.

The only thing that needs to be said about The Killing Joke is that it’s an awful story with pretty art. No wonder the pullquote from Tim Burton is still on it. That said, I’d rank the iconic covers from bottom to top according to our rules for iconic though I’d switch out Ross’s for something else. In fact, that Killing Joke cover is probably more closely associated with the Joker in my mind than any cover for any other character.

And, on almost a completely different note, is that Zeck Captain America cover depicting the fight with Wolverine gonna be a Cap or a Wolvie cover? You could go either way. Same deal with the McFarlane Hulk/Wolvie cover.

And my brain is much more suited for remembering cover images than panels. So I’ll enjoy this months poll even more than the last months.

Here is an early tribute to the Jerry Robinson cover above, from Batman 49: http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=7092&zoom=4.

It is, apparently, by Bob Kane.

I’ve always felt the Killing Joke to be an overrated story, but can’t argue with its choice as no. 1 on this list! (it was certainly the first cover I thought of, followed by the Neal Adams and that Brave and Bold (no. 111) where Joker and Batman “team up”.

You could have a month of Bolland covers and it would be great!

Glad to see Batman #251 on this list. I hadn’t been reading a lot of comics when that issue came out in 1973 and it was a knockout. Imagine…you’re nine years old, your primary exposure to the Batman legend has been through the Adam West TV series and the Filmation cartoons, and suddenly you’re handed “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” Awesome stuff.

As always, I am using the dictionary definition of Iconic:

Art. (of statues, portraits, etc.) executed according to a convention or tradition.

But with an eye toward the ideas Scott McCloud has advanced (http://tinyurl.com/klm5qt). So, the idea is to pick out one image that distills how the Joker is most traditionally used by DC Comics.

5. This Alex Ross image has always given me the creeps. The contrast between the Joker face and the evening clothes is an effective one. The look of bliss on the face of Harley Quinn adds to that effect. The Joker is first and foremost a scary character.

4. The Jerry Robinson image is not as scary, but it really does capture a key aspect of the Joker in an Iconic way. That is that the Joker is unpredictable. Having him emerge from a magic lamp is an abstraction, which makes it more iconic according to the definitions I am working from.

3. I love the Engelhart-Rogers run on ‘Tec. It managed to be both creepy and fun, which you would think was impossible these days. However, this cover does not convey that. The Joker Fish are a literal device in the story. The Joker does not look particularly scary. It is a fine cover, just not an iconic one to me.

2. In contrast, the Neal Adams image is highly abstract. It shows the Joker looming over the skyline, which is a nice symbol for how the Joker being lose would hang over the populace of the city. The only thing that I am luke-warm about is the visual relationship between the Joker and Batman.

1. Love the Killing Joke. Love Brian Bolland. Think this is a wonderful cover. However, without the context of that specific story, it is pretty meaningless. It is sort of like cover #3 in that way. This is a great cover, just not an iconic one for the Joker as a character according to the definition that I am working using.

So, my vote is #4. It seems appropriate that Jerry Robinson produced the most iconic Joker cover.

Killing Joke was definitely the first thing I thought of when I I clicked on the list.

But then, the other covers that leapt to mind when I started thinking about Joker covers I remembered were Arkham Asylum, his Brave & Bold team-up with Batman, and the Sherlock Holmes cover from his own series, so this sort of thing is obviously pretty subjective.

Maybe Brian should have called it the 5 Most Memorable Covers, instead of Iconic…?

Why do they always have to be “iconic”? It would be a lot more interesting and exciting if the choices were more idiosyncratic.

How about Top Five Most Ironic Joker Covers? Seems fitting somehow.

http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=38010&zoom=4

Batman #366 has always been my fave Joker cover, though I guess I wouldn’t call it iconic, per se…

But, still, Walt Simonson kicks some serious ass on this one.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm

No Batman And Robin #3?

For some reason looking at those covers, I got an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the yellow circle symbol/uniform.
If I was to become a comic creator and got to change all the comics back to how they were when first I read them, that’d be one of the first changes – I’d dedicate a twelve issue maxi-series to it (with various spin-offs and one-shots)

I don’t know if the cover is iconic but the story “The Killing Joke” definately is. It set the bar that more than 20 years later writers are either trying to aspire to or outdo. Anyone who doesn’t write Joker as that homicidal goes moreso. And Heath Ledger’s Joker was based more on the Joker seen in “The Killing Joke” than any other source. Don’t believe me? Read the book again, then go pop in your “The Dark Knight” DVD.

In Fact, I find it very interesting that the Nolan films have tried to tie thier hitch marketing-wise to Frank Miller when the influences for the stories in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were actually Denny O’Neal and Alan Grant, respectively.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 2, 2009 at 5:27 pm

In Fact, I find it very interesting that the Nolan films have tried to tie thier hitch marketing-wise to Frank Miller when the influences for the stories in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were actually Denny O’Neal and Alan Grant, respectively.

Non-comic readers know Frank Miller though, due to Sin City and 300 – eve if they don’t know what his art looks like, they know the name.
Also, Begins does borrow from Year One a lot – there’s a few scenes straight out of it,
Denny O’Neal and Alan Grant are unknowns to the world at large.

Jerry Robinson takes the prize on this one!

The Animated Series really did a great job of adapting The Laughing Fish. One of the best Joker stories of all time, plus the cover Brian Bolland did for the TPB of The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told is actually better than the original.

http://brianbollandgallery.com/art/the_greatest_joker_stories_ever_told__1988____tpb.jpg

That is a great image and I actually like it more than The Killing Joke. The sly devious smile is just dead on perfect.

I think I’d go with #2, for my #1, but I could go either way. I really don’t like Killng Joke too much, but Bolland drew a strong and memorable cover. 3 and 4 are great covers. The Alex Ross is pretty blah. Would Byrne’s Superman #9 count as a Joker cover? I think that’s more iconic than the Harley Quinn thing.

Why not the most Ionic covers?

@ FunkyGreenJerusalem:

I did see some “Year One” references in “Batman Begins,” but the movie gave a far greater nod to the O’Neal/Adams run. Nolan was given the same job O’Neal had been given 30-some years before…restore Batman’s reputation as a bad-ass after years of mainstream silliness. Nolan used the same gimmick to acomplish this that O’Neal used all those years before: Ra’s Al Ghul!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 2, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Oh yeah, the Ra’s stuff was all O’Neal – but was any of it lifted as much as some of the Year One stuff?
There’s entire scenes that are pure Year One – particularly the scene where the swat team is coming in and he uses the Bat to escape.
I’d say looking at it they used Year One as the skeleton and tone setter, and then built it up around that.
It’s a pretty good meshing of O’Neal And Miller, but from a marketing side, you’d be silly to push O’Neal over Miller, as not as many people know the name.

“It’s a pretty good meshing of O’Neal And Miller, but from a marketing side, you’d be silly to push O’Neal over Miller, as not as many people know the name.”

True, which is a shame. O’Neal was one of the best writers of the 70′s to 90′s. If you wanted good, solid story-telling on a serious note without caring about the next big crossover O’Neal was the Man.

, but from a marketing side, you’d be silly to push O’Neal over Miller, as not as many people know the name.

Demonstrated by him being referred to as O’Neal here. ;)

I don’t think the top four are in any question, except maybe for the order. I think of the Laughing Fish one more than Five-Way Revenge, but that’s just nitpicking.

I’m not so sure about Harley Quinn, though. Is it really that popular? (Then again, I can’t really think of an alternative.)

I’d love to see Brian post the voting system here. It’d be interesting to see how people’s votes stack up to his list.

Rob wrote: “Batman #366 has always been my fave Joker cover, though I guess I wouldn’t call it iconic, per se…
But, still, Walt Simonson kicks some serious ass on this one.”

He does indeed, and I’ve always wanted that cover as a poster. I remember being disappointed at the time that book came out that the story inside wasn’t anything *like* as good as the cover.

Demonstrated by him being referred to as O’Neal here.

Whenever I see “O’Neal,” I assume it’s a clever shorthand for the Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams creative team.

And yes, I give people a lot of credit.

Better be careful with all this “Laughing Fish” business. No one laughs at Mr. Fish!

http://www.seanbaby.com/hostess/analysts.htm

I don’t know if the cover is iconic but the story “The Killing Joke” definately is. It set the bar that more than 20 years later writers are either trying to aspire to or outdo. Anyone who doesn’t write Joker as that homicidal goes moreso. And Heath Ledger’s Joker was based more on the Joker seen in “The Killing Joke” than any other source. Don’t believe me? Read the book again, then go pop in your “The Dark Knight” DVD.

In Fact, I find it very interesting that the Nolan films have tried to tie thier hitch marketing-wise to Frank Miller when the influences for the stories in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were actually Denny O’Neal and Alan Grant, respectively.

The inspirations for Nolan’s Joker were Ichi the Killer, Ed Gein and Saw. I think very little of it was inspired by any comic incarnation of the Joker, I saw few similarities.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

I don’t know if the cover is iconic but the story “The Killing Joke” definately is. It set the bar that more than 20 years later writers are either trying to aspire to or outdo. Anyone who doesn’t write Joker as that homicidal goes moreso.

For all the horrible violence in that story, it’s worth remembering that the Joker kills exactly one person in The Killing Joke. The stuff he does there is arguably worse in many ways than simple homicide.

The inspirations for Nolan’s Joker were Ichi the Killer, Ed Gein and Saw.

I remember seeing Ed Gein listed as an influence, but anyone who knows anything about the real Gein’s mostly reclusive and necrophiliac (rather than public and homicidal) crimes or his “ultimate mama’s boy” temperament would find his influence hard to discern in Ledger’s performance or Nolan’s script. I suspect they were infinitely more influenced by Gein-inspired characters like Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb than by the real Gein.

As Tom WB said, something *does* need to be said about the Killing Joke cover. That stupid exclamation point on the recent reprints totally misses the point of what makes that cover great.

I suspect they were infinitely more influenced by Gein-inspired characters like Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb than by the real Gein.

You’re exactly right. That’s what I meant, I should have been clearer. Not the real Ed Gein per se but the images that Ed Gein inspired cinematically and in legends.

“The inspirations for Nolan’s Joker were Ichi the Killer, Ed Gein and Saw. I think very little of it was inspired by any comic incarnation of the Joker, I saw few similarities”

Seriously, the way the origin of Ledger’s scars changed with each telling is a direct take from “The Killing Joke” “if I have to have an origin I want it to be multiple choice!”

Also, in “The Dark Knight” Joker was far more interested in destroying the heros reps than actually killing them, much like his trying to drive Gordon insane in “The Killing Joke.”

“TKJ” was the moment when the Joker stopped being just another gimmicky villian and once again became one of the reasons people fear clowns!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 3, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Whenever I see “O’Neal,” I assume it’s a clever shorthand for the Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams creative team.

And yes, I give people a lot of credit.

To be honest, I thought it was O’Neil, but just went with the flow, to avoid embarrassing myself over spelling his name wrong.

That plan turned out well!

I’m not so sure about Harley Quinn, though. Is it really that popular? (Then again, I can’t really think of an alternative.)

Yeah, It’s been used in house ads for other stuff, posters, t-shirts etc.
It’s pretty popular, and pretty darn good to boot!

I think very little of it was inspired by any comic incarnation of the Joker, I saw few similarities.

There were plenty – you’re just upset it wasn’t Caesar Romero painting over his mustache!

As always, I am using the dictionary definition of Iconic:

Problem being, though, there is no the dictionary definition, you are using a dictionary definition, and not a particularly good one, in my opinion, for the term in this context.

I would think definitions like: “An important and enduring symbol”, “characterized by fame”, “recognizable symbol” are all more accurate to the meaning in this context.

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…I guess the point here is ” famous/homaged a lot ” so it doesn’t count , but , the cover of the 70s ” Joker ” series #2 is a great one !!!!!!!!!!:-)
( Great example of DC’s old ” teaser “-type cover philosopy , too !!!!!!!!!!! )

Yeah, the Joker series definitely had a lot of cool covers, John!

Don’t forget the birthday cake from Batman
Not so much iconic as just plain great.
This one is one of the most evil: :D http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/batman/186-2.jpg I mean look at who Mr Joker has hired to mess with the dynamic duo
Or how about the Joker Judge & Jury: http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/batman/163-3.jpg

I love anything Joker by Adams, Rogers, or Bolland, but I have to add my own personal favorite: Batman #286, with the two Jokers dueling while Bats gets caught up in the middle. It’s the kind of cover where you just HAVE to know what the heck is going on inside! They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

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