There have been several iterations of the Joker, but the Clown Prince of Crime from the Harley Quinn cartoon is perhaps the most terrifying. As one of the animated series’ primary antagonists, the Joker is disturbed, violent, and degrades Harley Quinn at every turn. He’s someone she can’t quite shake off and his actions — be it his humorously lethal approach to murder, the mayhem he causes wherever he goes, and his abusive treatment of Harley — are far more horrific and deadly than any of the onscreen Jokers that have come before him.
Viewers have met the Joker on several occasions before — in 1989’s Batman, Batman: The Animated Series, The Dark Knight, and, most recently, in Suicide Squad. Of course, all of these versions of the Joker have been fairly gruesome. The films have especially capitalized on the darker, grittier, more tragic aspects of the character most notably established in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke. In these movies, the Joker is methodical and openly, but controllably, angry. However, one can argue that there are limits to these versions of the Joker that don’t necessarily break the boundaries of their respective film’s ratings or tone.
Such is not the case with the Joker in the animated Harley Quinn. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the villain is an actual cartoon and the series is rated R, but the Joker in Harley Quinn is completely unhinged and takes gleeful pleasure in causing others pain. The writers have no qualms about making him as ruthless and detestable as humanly possible. While locked away in Arkham Asylum, the Crown Prince of Crime planted a bomb inside the chef who exploded, allowing the Joker to escape. During the pilot episode, the Joker crashed a yacht party wearing the face of someone he had obviously skinned, blood dripping down the side of both their faces as soon as Joker peeled it off.
In addition, when questioning one of his henchmen about who he thought the funniest villain was, the Joker shot and killed him because his answer was “Harley Quinn,” with Joker visibly angry because he claimed women weren’t funny. He also ripped out one of Bane’s tubes, which he needed to survive, for kicks, and built a tower which emerged up through the ground, destroying some of Gotham City so he could get his revenge on the Legion of Doom and prove he was the best villain. One of the worst things he did was kill Poison Ivy to spite Harley.
In that vein, the Joker is far more ruthlessly violent (and obviously sexist), willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone for one of his twisted schemes or simply because he felt like it, not caring about the damage he causes along the way. Harley Quinn’s Joker is also far more openly abusive toward the titular character. He abandoned her, made her feel small and unimportant, called her an afterthought, and pretended to be there for her during her induction into the Legion of Doom, knowing that all she had sought was his approval. However, he obviously didn’t care about her and then did everything in his power to make Harley miserable. If she wasn’t content being his sidekick, then he would make her life a living hell. Ultimately, the Harley Quinn animated series explored an arguably more realistic and horrifying Joker, one who was completely unfettered by the extent of chaos and violence he could cause.