As just about everyone knows by now, THE DARK KNIGHT opens this week, and at midnight screening all over the country, comic book geeks will finally get to see Heath Ledger's massively hyped and anticipated performance as The Joker. It's been fascinating to watch the reaction fans have given to this version of the character since the very first image was released through the infamous "IBelieveinHarveyDentToo.com" website last summer. Opinions have changed through time, with leaked set photos, the first real "trailer" and now countless trailers, clips, and TV spots. Much of this discussion has centered on whether or not this is the "real" Joker. Should the Joker be grimy and repellent or deceitfully suave and dapper? Can this really be the “true” Joker if he’s simply wearing white make-up on his face, rather than his body being bleached white as the result of a chemical spill that has remained a consistent part of his origin for decades? What these past months of discussion have shown is that most Batman fans have their own idea of what makes The Joker…The Joker. So in honor of this massive new movie, I thought it might be fun for all of us to share a single story—comic book, cartoon, TV Episode, or feature film—that represents our idea of the definitive Joker. I was sorely tempted to pick Paul Dini’s recent Detective Comics story, I believe it was called “Slay Ride,” involving The Joker kidnapping Robin and forcing him to sit through a terrifying Holiday hit-and-run spree. But ultimately, I decided to go back a little farther to another Paul Dini Joker story (man, does this guy get The Joker!), Batman Adventures Annual #1 (the comics spin-off of Batman: The Animated Series) (Image from World's Finest)The last of many slightly linked stories in this annual was "Laughter After Midnight," written by Paul Dini and pencilled by John Byrne (with inking by Rick Burchett and coloring by Bruce Timm, oddly enough). "Laughter After Midnight" is very short, at just ten pages long, but that's enough to fit in "my" perfect version of The Joker. The story begins with Joker recovering from a fall into a pond in a park in Gotham after being pushed out of a police blimp by Batman. Joker decides not to use his "Trusty long-distance minigrenade launcher" on the blimp because...after all..."What's the point?" He's cold, wet, bruised up, in pain, and has no place in the world to go. And so, in the ensuing few pages, we have The Joker having his own little night on the town, looking for kicks--needless to say, several people appear to be dead before the end of the short story. I won't give away any specifics, but it's a very fun little piece. If you don't own it and can't find the original annual in the back issues of your comic shop, then it is available in the trade paperback "Dangerous Dames and Demons." So why is this my definitive version of the Joker? The first reason is probably simply that it is one of my earliest exposures to him and it just got to me first. The issue came out when I was four years old, my dad bought it for me, and I still have my tattered copy that has been read maybe fifty times over the years. And remember, this is the Animated Series version of The Joker, who I probably saw on the TV at least once a week on average. So as far as looks go, the animated Joker will always be “my” Joker. Second, in just a few short pages, all of what I consider to be The Joker’s trademarks are on display here. His nearly masochistic relationship with Batman, his sick sense of humor, his “laughing gas.” We even get a reference to Harley Quinn. The story doesn’t at all shy away from the fact that The Joker is a psychotic serial killer, but at the same time we get to see the fun side of the character that is so important. What more could I ask for? There's also a really eerie tone to the whole thing that I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's the memories and nostalgia that come with the story, but there's something especially unique about the atmosphere in this piece. Maybe it's just the late-late-late night quiet Gotham that we don't often see. So, if I had to pick one story that conveyed exactly who the Joker is to me, I’d have to dig out that old 1994 Batman Adventures annual for “Laughter After Midnight.” How ‘bout you?