It was a Batman story that kicked off the concept of Elseworlds -- those DC tales set in parallel universes, with new takes on familiar characters. It's only fitting that there have subsequently been scads of alternate reality retellings of the Dark Knight, his allies, and antagonists. And wherever there's a Batman story, the Joker is nearly always shortly behind.
One such story is Batman: Two Faces. Like Gotham by Gaslight (the aforementioned debut Elseworld story) this offshoot is set in the 1880s. Don't let the name confuse you, however. This isn't about Harvey Dent getting chased down by a penny-farthing Batmobile over child labor.
Whereas Gaslight only mentions its interpretation of the Joker in passing, here Bruce Wayne's arch-nemesis is very much front and center. In fact, the dueling souls are more inextricable than ever before. That's because Two Faces is a retelling of the equally Victorian Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Yep. In this story Batman and the Joker are one in the same. After drinking a cockamamie concoction Bruce Wayne finds himself with super strength (which he uses to fight crime, of course) and a split personality with a thing for carving smiles into corpses. Corpses made by him. Because he's the Joker.
The story itself -- penned by Guardians of the Galaxy scribes Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning -- is just a bit questionable. There's the rather worrying issue of every woman in Bruce Wayne's life being recast as a prostitute, a victim of murder and mutilation, or both. Not to mention that the whole climax hinges on Batman turning himself in to the authorities, only to commit suicide seconds later. But there is the grain of a good idea here.
That grain being the Joker. We're often told that Batman is responsible for his own worst enemy, but here it's patently true. Bruce goes too far in trying to take the law in his own hands. Not only does it backfire, it twists his one steadfast tennet (no killing) back against him. Here he isn't just responsible for the Joker's actions by inaction. The killer is literally a manifestation of his own physiology. Were the real Batman to ever find out, we doubt he'd be too pleased with the cosmic irony.
It's plain for anyone with a working pair of eyes, and a basic knowledge of the character that Batman's greatest dilemma is crystallized within the Joker. To kill or not to kill, that is the question abused by the Clown Prince of crime over, and over again. And often to great effect. From The Killing Joke to The Dark Knight Returns the Joker repeatedly prey's on his foe's unwillingness to kill in some truly twisted ways.
However you feel about that ongoing moral debate, there is at least one version of reality where the point is moot. That is the one found in Batman/Judge Dredd: Die Laughing. Yes, that's a crossover between the Caped Crusader -- non-lethal defender of Gotham -- and a guy that makes The Punisher look like Condiment Man.
Despite their differences, however, the pair have more in common than a penchant for exposed jawlines. They both obsess about bringing criminals to their own versions of justice, for one. Which came in handy in the duo's surprisingly frequent crossovers throughout the 90s. Not the least of which occurred when the Joker transported himself to the ridiculous, grimdark future of Mega-City One.
Here the giggling gutter "teamed up" with Judge Dredd's own arch-villains: the Dark Judges. The scare quotes are there to remind you that lead bad guy Judge Death first tried to possess the Joker, but found him too hopelessly messed up to control. So, instead, the somewhat ironically named scion of undead justice taught the Joker to jump bodies as well. Not only did this give Mr. J supernatural powers -- like a laugh so terrible it exploded bystanders' heads -- it made him effectively immortal.
So, here we have a Joker who's not only limited to conventional means of murder, but also can't be killed. That's a tough break for all the death penalty pushing cops, heroes, and villains that might otherwise off the serial slaughterer without the Bat's permission. Not to mention the glimmer of hope that is old age or wear and tear removing him from the equation.
Were it not for Batman dragging his worse half back to the DC universe (thereby nullifying his new powers) that would have been a grim reality indeed.