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Comic Book / Emperor Joker

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It's an average day in Metropolis: Superman breaks out of Arkham Asylum, overseen by Solomon Grundy, Lois Lane is the richest, vilest, and baldest woman in (and owner of) the city, and Bizarro #1 is the city's most beloved (and destructive) hero.

...sorry, what?

Well, it turns out that this is what happens when Mr. Mxyzptlk accidentally gives most of his power to the Joker, who creates a mind-bendingly odd world for giggles so that he will be able to kill Batman over and over and over again. Of course, in doing so he's risking tearing the fabric of reality apart at the seams, but when has he ever worried about that?

What started out as a mind-boggling inversion of everything Superman knows to be true turns into a race against time to stop the Joker's reality warping and get the associated powers back to their rightful owner.

Emperor Joker first appeared in the main Superman titles published throughout the latter half of the year 2000, with contributions by several writers and artists.

This comic book miniseries contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Ignition's origin and why the Joker cannot read his mind are never revealed, despite receiving a great amount of attention.
  • Acrofatic: The Joker used his reality warping powers to turn the Flash into a man with Super Speed who is also chronically addicted to junk food, thus earning him the nickname "The Flab! The fastest fat man alive!"
  • Adaptation Distillation: Batman: The Brave and the Bold loosely adapted this storyline in one episode, with Batman instead of Superman defeating the Joker (and Bat-Mite instead of Mxy). And the many deaths of Batman at the hands of the Joker became less graphic and more comical, off-screen, and Lighter and Softer, but still disturbing for children (in Batman's first death, they even showed him as a winged angel playing a harp and flying off to heaven... for a short while anyway).
  • And I Must Scream: The Joker kills Batman in extremely excruciating ways each night, and then resurrects Batman so he can excruciatingly kill him again. And Batman remembers all of the pain of each murder. And he cannot stop the cycle of murder and resurrection. By the end, the trauma of the whole ordeal is so great it finally achieves the Joker's greatest goal if even for a moment: it broke Batman completely. It's so bad that in order to return him to normal, Superman has to take his memories of all of it.
  • And Show It to You: The Joker does this to Superman near the end. Superman survives for several minutes afterwards.
  • Antagonist Title: Superman is the protagonist of the story, and the Joker is only revealed as the villain halfway through the series (which until The Reveal is called Superman: Arkham). But once the Joker does appear, he almost becomes the Villain Protagonist.
  • Audience? What Audience?: Joker gives a nonsensical narration at one point and then mocks the reader for getting confused. Harley asks who he is talking to.
  • Bastard Understudy: Enigma/Riddler. Justified though given the Joker's plans to destroy all reality, including his minions.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Done by Batman himself. He lets the Joker know how much Superman cares for Lois, knowing the Joker would send her into the Superman sitcom to be killed, and that this would only spur Superman on more strongly. This is the only time throughout the story that Batman smiles.
    • Done by Superman as well, as his mockery that no matter what Joker does, he can't rid himself of Batman thanks to his obsession. This undoes the Joker, who expires all of his power trying to do the impossible for him.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Employed by the Joker when listing his faults as a husband to Lois.
    Joker: Sure, I can be difficult—I eat crackers in bed, and I never put the cap back on the rat poison, and occasionally I'll snap your neck to prove a point...
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Joker, even going so far as to turn the page for the reader, and in the final issue he tries to order Kano (the issue's penciler) to stop drawing Batman.
  • Break the Badass: At the end, after Joker's beaten, Batman's seen huddling and weeping in horror. Superman is forced to take his memories of Joker's atrocities to heal him.
  • Burger Fool: Superboy works at one of these under Joker's reign.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Satanus is completely unfazed with the Joker's take on him, chiefly because of the I Have Many Names nature of him. He also proves that he can step away from the Joker's incarnation of him very easily. It's implied he actually enjoys Joker's take of him as a piano playing crooner.
    Satanus: Let's just say... I'm adaptable.
  • Cardboard Prison:
    • The Joker is ultimately sent to a real prison called Slabside Penitentiary, which takes pride in the fact that no one has ever escaped from it. This didn't last as during Joker's Last Laugh, after being lied to and told he has terminal cancer, the Joker pulls off a jailbreak, and subsequent stories would see Joker back in Arkham.
    • Superman breaks out of Arkham every night, only for Bizarro to capture him and return him again.
  • Caught in the Ripple: The comic starts with Superman as a dangerous criminal locked up in Arkham Asylum and trying to escape Bizarro's clutches every day, Lois Lane as a bald Corrupt Corporate Executive, the Justice League as a bunch of supervillains and the actual DC supervillains as a rag-tag bunch of heroes, all treated as if this is the natural state of things. It's only revealed halfway through that all of reality has been perverted by The Joker after he acquired the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk, which only those two characters are initially aware of.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lois backstabs Superman several times, but he never gives up on her. And despite the constant backstabbing, Lois cannot shake her feelings for Superman.
  • Cosmic Flaw: The Joker has tricked his way into receiving Mxyzptlk's reality-warping powers and remade the world in his image. Some people, primarily Superman, feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with their new reality. As they meet more powerful beings resisting the Joker's influence, it is revealed that as he pulls more and more strings, Joker will begin unraveling the very fabric of existence.
  • Deal with the Devil: Satanus claims he is the only way to get rid of Joker's Reality Warper power. He could do it, but fortunately, another way is found.
  • Death Is Cheap: Joker shoots Lex dead, later resurrects him and immediately shoots him dead again because Lex gets mouthy about getting killed in the first place. Then there's Batman...
  • Deface of the Moon: Joker reshapes the moon to resemble his face.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Batman reaches this point after being continuously murdered and resurrected.
    Batman: I can't close my eyes, Clark. I can't close my eyes because I see it. All of it. I can't close my eyes, because I see him... and it... and me... pieces and parts...
    Spectre: Each death cry, each horror resonates within him. Dark vibrations... merciless as the Joker's attentions. And they have broken him. The man you know... is lost. Only pain remains.
  • Determinator: Superman offers to take Batman's memories of being horribly killed over and over and over in order to mend his (Batman's) utterly shattered mind. Superman was also the only being who never gave up under Joker's reign.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Mxy decides to give the Joker just 1% of his power to see what he will do with it to ease his boredom with his routine with Superman. The Joker scams him into handing over 99% by tricking him into saying his true name.
  • Driven to Madness: This is the Joker's objective towards both Batman and Superman after gaining godlike powers from Mr. Mxyzptlk. He basically succeeded with his arch-foe, torturing Bats to death and reviving him each day to do it over again. Supes is half-way there when the comic starts, hunted down as a dangerous criminal by Bizarro each day, when he discovers that the now all-powerful Joker is responsible for turning the world into a dark parody of itself.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Joker has Jimmy Olsen beaten to death because he didn't find any fun in Olsen's dropping of a fire hydrant to kill a dog.
  • Enemy Mine: Darkseid of all people tries to do this with the council known as the Quintessence, which includes his mortal enemy Highfather, petitioning them to stay out of his way as he continues to search for the Anti-Life Equation in order to combat the Joker. Unfortunately for Darkseid the Joker had already turned the Quintessence into simpletons, and very soon thereafter Darkseid also falls victim to the Joker's madness.
  • "End of the World" Special: At the end, the Joker destroys the universe. Mxy supervises its rebuilding.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As noted under "Dude, Not Funny", the Joker didn't find Jimmy killing Superman as a dog funny.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Satanus invokes the trope as he kicks Superboy and Supergirl out of Hell after they've been killed - after offering a standard Deal with the Devil, he gets annoyed with Supergirl's incessant prayer and sends them back to the Joker's world, commenting there weren't many Hells worse than that.
  • Fiery Sensuality: One of the members of the Justice League in the new reality created by the Joker is Scorch, a demonic woman with fire powers. During Superman: Arkham, she flirts with her teammates Ignition and Bizarro, and even comes on to Superman. She later reappears during Joe Kelly's run in the main JLA title, as a love interest to the pyrophobic Martian Manhunter.
  • Fish People: The Joker uses his godlike powers to turn Aquaman into an actual fish man supervillain who ironically enough hates the ocean and tries to keep everyone out of it.
  • Foe Romance Subtext:
    • In Joker's warped reality, Lois Lane takes Luthor's place as the owner of a financial empire, as well as Lex's baldness and green/purple color scheme. Both Lane and Superman are still very attracted to each other. They even have a big kiss with Lois wearing Lex's battle suit.
    • Invoked. Superman gets The Joker to have his Villainous Breakdown by pointing out he can't get rid of Batman — he needs him too much.
  • Forced Transformation: After the Justice League—reimagined in this mad world as a bunch of wacky supervillains—teams up to stop the Joker, he turns most of them into dogs.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: The Joker, even more so than usual.
  • Giant Foot of Stomping: At one point after arch-criminal Superman escapes from Arkham Asylum once again, he is approached by a beautiful guardian angel who tells him that she'll protect him from Bizarro's clutches. She's immediately flattened by a giant mutated Jimmy Olsen's foot.
  • Gilligan Cut: Issue #8 ends with the Justice League members returning to their original form and preparing to storm Joker City. Issue #9 begins with a detailed shot of the Justice League’s mangled remains, and the Joker laughing hysterically over them. Needless to say, this is a non-humorous version of the trope.
  • God-Emperor/Mad God/World Gone Mad: The Joker + Reality warping powers = this.
  • Gonk: Gorgeous Gilly is ugly as sin, but uses her powers to make men fall in love with her.
  • Gut Punch: Superman first assumes (when he finally realizes that this isn't right) that Mxyzptlk is responsible for all the changes. Standing on the Moon, he received a truly epic gut punch when he looks back at the Earth and sees its a cube with the Joker's face as the landmass on each side.
  • Hope Spot: Near the end of the penultimate chapter, Superman's refusal to let the Joker break him inspires the Justice League to recover their true forms, and the issue ends with the team preparing to attack the Joker's forces and save Superman. The beginning of the final chapter immediately cuts to the team's remains after the Joker effortlessly slaughtered them all.
  • I Know Your True Name: The Joker uses this knowledge to steal Mxy's power by tricking him into saying it.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: When the Joker decides to have Chinese for lunch, he decides to have all billion or so of them.
  • Idiot Ball: Mxyzptlk decides to give the Joker, a known psychotic maniac, reality warping powers, simply because he is bored. Mxyzptlk eventually acknowledges his catastrophic stupidity. In his defense, he only intended to give him 1% and Joker tricked him into giving him the other 99% instead.
  • Impossibly-Low Neckline: Harley looks like she's on the verge of popping out of several outfits in the first half.
  • Just Toying with Them: The Joker can't not toy with Batman.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Joker's fate.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: If you bought the original monthly issues, then who exactly was responsible for this was kept secret until The Reveal halfway through, with the title of the arc being given as "Superman: Arkham!" The Emperor Joker oneshot at the halfway point was solicited as Emperor ?????. If you buy the trade, of course, it says Emperor Joker on the cover.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Superman accuses the Joker of being ultimately unable to kill Batman because he's too dependant on the Dark Knight for his identity and meaning: "It's his world. You just live in it." This works within the Joker's psychosis, but it also works on a meta-level: the Joker is ultimately just the antagonist to Batman, around whom the story functions; without Batman, there's no Batman story, and thus no point in Joker.
  • Logic Bomb: Leads to the Joker's defeat. How can he be all powerful if he can't just kill Batman once and for all?
  • Magic Kiss: The Joker has one. When Harley Quinn thinks she's about to die after all she's done for him, he says, "You kooky kid — c'mere," and as they both kiss, his is a powerful one that turns her into a constellation. So heartwarming.
  • Magical Clown: While the Joker is usually a Badass Normal, in this book, he becomes a Reality Warper.
  • Merged Reality: Satanus claims what Joker's done basically boils down to drawing every sentient mind into his, effectively replacing the consensus reality with his own.
  • Mind Wipe:
    • Because of what the Joker put Batman through when he killed him over and over again, Superman has to take Batman's memories onto himself for Batman to move on.
    • On all humanity in general, though Batman notes there have been too many reports of "dreams, nightmares, and somnambulistic activities" for it be to be a coincidence.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: The Joker is seen playing a game of poker with the corpses of the various Robins that he murdered.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Joker World is a cube, much like Bizarro World.
    • The resolution of the plot resembles how Batman dealt with the Joker when he was given similar power by Marvel's Shaper of Worlds. (the Hulk was not amused by Joker's take on reality.)
    • The Joker tells Superman, "Never rub another man's rhubarb" when Superman goes after Lois. This is the Joker's post-mortem line to Bruce Wayne in the 1989 movie after shooting Bruce for being in Vicki Vale's apartment.
    • Jason Todd's decayed corpse has a sign saying "Why didn't anyone call in to save me?", referencing the popular vote over whether to kill or save Jason Todd in A Death in the Family. Also counts as Breaking the Fourth Wall.
    • Harley Quinn requests to have a town named Harleyburg, to which the Joker asks "Harleyburg? Harleyburg?". This reflected a gag in Superman: The Movie, when Luthor is all perplexed that his minion Otis wants to name a town Otisburg.
    • Jimmy Olsen is bitten by a antropomorphic turtle, he becomes Turtle Boy!!
    • Grundy uses the red Phone from the '60s Batman show to summon Bizarro.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: Darkseid is aware of the Joker's ascension and the peril it places reality in (and how the lunatic has access to the Anti-Life Equation), so he contacts the Quintessence, a group of cosmic entities devoted to the good of the universe - to convince them not to bother him while he deals with the situation. Unfortunately, by the time he's presented his case, the Quintessence has already been reduced to imbeciles by the Joker, and very soon thereafter Darkseid shares their fate.
  • Object-Shaped Landmass: In an extreme form of Rushmore Refacement, The Joker used the Reality Warper powers he tricked Mr. Mxyzptlk into giving him to reshape every continent on Earth to look like his face.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Joker is prepared to unmake all reality simply because it created him.
  • Only Sane Man: Aside from the heroes, Joker left a single person untouched and drew him into his demented world - Lex Luthor. He was not pleased. Not pleased at all.
  • Rage Against the Author: During his Villainous Breakdown, Joker blames his inability to get rid of Batman permanently on the artist.
    Joker: HEY KANO! Which part of 'Batman no longer exists' don't you understand?! ¿Hablo 'No Batman'?
  • Reality Bleed: Small hints of standard reality leak through the Joker's rewoven fabric of the universe, offering the heroes hints that something—okay, everything isn't right.
  • Reality Warper: As annoying as Mr. Mxyzptlk is, the Joker with his power is worse.
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: The Central Theme of the series, as Joker + Mxy's power = bad things.
  • Resurrection/Death Loop: Every time Joker ends the Dark Knight's life, he brings him back to life just so he can kill him in a different way.
  • Rolling Pin of Doom: Armed by the Joker's Straw Feminist Wonder Woman.
  • Rogues' Gallery Transplant: The Joker's biggest invasion into Superman's world, after a few mild jaunts.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The Joker remakes the whole world in his image.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: "Rekoj Rorepme... Rekoj Rorepme... Rekoj Rorepme..."
  • Shooting Superman: To Batman's credit, it involves missiles.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Joker's revamp of the Martian Manhunter is pretty much Marvin the Martian.
    • Satanus' piano-playing incarnation sounds like Lucifer.
    • Joker says "Say 'goodnight', Harley," after turning Harley into a constellation.
    • During his final confrontation with Superman, one of the Joker's lines to say he's finished with deleting Batman is, "He's in the cornfield," referencing the famous The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "It's a Good Life", featuring a reality-warping six-year-old who wishes away things that make him mad "to the cornfield".
    • The Budweiser "Whazzzzzzup" commercial was a thing in 1999. The fad died quickly (and mercifully).
  • Spoiler Title: The first half of the story was marked Superman: Arkham to hide that the Joker usurped Mxyzptlk's powers. (Though, honestly, it wasn't much of a spoiler, since "Arkham" and the weirdness that was going on made it quite clear this was a Joker plot.)
  • Stellification: Joker turns Harley into a constellation in the shape of her face rather than kill her outright. For the Joker, this counts as sentimentality.
  • The Starscream: Lex seems to have ambitions to be this, but Joker kills him (twice) before Lex has the opportunity to do anything. Though Enigma's failed coup shows any attempt to overthrow Joker would've been pointless anyway.
  • Straw Feminist: Joker's take on Wonder Woman. Complete with rolling pin.
  • Super Empowering: To the Joker.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Since Superman can't match the Joker's power, he resorts to this trope to win the day.
  • Thought-Aversion Failure: This is exactly how Superman finally cracks Joker: by pointing out that no matter how many times Joker kills Batman, for all his infinite reality-warping power he can't get rid of him because Joker's whole identity is that reliant on him. Joker's every attempt to put Batman down for good after this revelation just results in his subconsciously creating more of him. Superman even references the "white elephants" gag when setting it up.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Played straight by Superman, despite great temptation, but subverted by Batman, who after suffering endless brutal murders and resurrections decides that killing the Joker is the only way to stop him. This is then doubly subverted after the Joker is defeated, and Bruce agrees that Superman was right not to kill him. But then it is then quickly triply subverted(!) by Bruce saying that when he does kill the Joker, he wants it to be for real.
  • To Create a Playground for Evil: The Joker's goal. He succeeds beyond his (or anyone else's) wildest dreams.
  • Vanity Is Feminine: Before the real reason behind the event's made clear, Lois-as-Lex keeps and rotates a massive collection of wigs. Subverted in that it's most certainly a reference to Superman: The Movie, as that Lex kept a selection of wigs, too.
  • Victory Is Boring: The Joker literally cannot bring himself to kill Batman once and for all, because he defines himself with Batman as his foil.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Joker, when he realizes that he literally can't exist without Batman. The last page shows him back in Arkham Asylum, incoherently babbling "Rorepme Rekoj".
  • Villain World: A world run by an omnipotent Joker is, unsurprisingly, a friggin' madhouse. Even to the other supervillains in his court it's no picnic.
  • Visual Pun: At one point, Lois goes straight to Joker to tell him of Superman's plan. Harley accuses her of having the hots for Superman, saying it's written all over her face. The next time Lois steps into frame, she does indeed have "I have the hots for Superman" written all over her face.
  • Wham Shot: The spread page that shows what the Joker did to the Earth: The planet is now a cube like the Bizarro World, and every continent is shaped into the Joker's grinning face.
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: The Joker removes Batman's mouth. Batman communicates using Morse code and by clicking his teeth. Because he's Batman, dammit.
  • World Gone Mad: Everything in the Joker's new world is an insane mess where the laws of physics don't make sense, reason and logic is seen as a sign of mental illness, and death and chaos reign supreme.
  • World Shapes: In this case, a cube, with landmasses on each face shaped like the Joker's visage.
  • Writer on Board: Possibly a few early gags poking fun at organized religion were inspired by Jeph Loeb's own viewpoints.