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When it comes to sadistic, mass-murdering villains with a notable crazy streak, who reigns supreme? Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be going crime for crime with Joker and Carnage to see who comes up on top. We’re evaluating a wide range of categories to determine who’s the superior villain—not just who would win in a fight.
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Round 1: Origin
The Carnage symbiote has bonded with a long list of hosts over the years, but most fans will agree that there’s really only one person for this alien parasite, and that’s Cletus Kasady. Kasady was a killer long before he bonded with the symbiote, or for that matter… reached adulthood. He killed his grandmother, tortured the family dog and burnt down an orphanage. By the time we readers caught up with him, he was a practiced serial killer serving consecutive life sentences at Ryker’s island. Unfortunately, when Venom/Eddie Brock visited, the symbiote was pregnant, and that offspring found the love of its life in Cletus Kasady.
Over on the DC side of the discussion, things are a bit murkier. Not unlike Heath Ledger’s take on the character, the Joker of the comic books has had his origin story obscured by conflicting tales. The most popular and enduring history tells that Joker was once a crook operating under the name and identity of the “Red Hood” and that, during an encounter with Batman, he fell into a vat of chemicals. The thing is… as Joker himself put it so eloquently in Batman: The Killing Joke, “Sometimes, I remember it one way, sometimes another...if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
Cletus Kasady definitely ranks amongst the vilest villains of the Marvel universe, and he’s got an origin story to match. However, his origin story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. The mystery that surrounds the Joker always leaves us hungry for more, and in that sense, his origin story, unclear as it is… feels far more compelling. Joker takes round 1!
WINNER: Carnage: 0/ Joker: 1
Round 2: Powers/Abilities
When crafting a solid supervillain, there a few considerations that will make or break the character, and one such question is: what sort of powers and abilities are they going to have? In the case of Carnage, his identity was intimately tied with that of Venom, who had already taken inspiration from Spider-Man. As such, he comes equipped with many of their shared abilities, but, being his own character, he’s also got his own toolbox of villainous tricks. Sure, he’s got the requisite superhuman strength, speed and stamina, but he’s also got a wicked healing factor, tendrils that he expertly controls and a tendency towards creating organic blunt and bladed weapons, among other powers.
Much like in our origin round, Joker is strangely lacking yet again. Unfortunately, unlike with the last round, we sincerely doubt that that’s going to work in his favor here. The Joker doesn’t have any powers to speak of, but be they physical changes or mental (resulting from his insanity), the Clown Prince of Crime does have some peculiarities worth mentioning. His blood is tainted and he appears to be highly resistant to toxins, though not immune. He also has an incredible pain threshold. More importantly, though, the Joker is a master of disguise, and a brilliant tactician and escapologist. It’s also been argued that he’s not insane, but rather in a state of super-sanity.
Suffice it to say, if offered the powers and abilities of either Joker or Carnage, we’d choose the latter any day. Carnage ties it up!
WINNER: Carnage: 1/ Joker: 1
Round 3: Intelligence
The depiction of Cletus Kasady’s intellect has been rather uneven over the years. At times, he seems capable of orchestrating fairly elaborate schemes and finding new, inspired ways to maximize not just the physical pain he’s inflicting on his victims, but the emotional and psychological as well. Other times, however, he seems like a victim of his own mental instability and bloodlust, too single-minded in his murderous desires to apply himself in such a way as to actually reach his own goals. Taking all of this into account, his intelligence scores relatively low in the Official Marvel handbook.
The Joker might be crazy, but he’s most certainly not dumb. While they couldn’t be more different, one of the few ways in which Batman and Joker are matched is in terms of intelligence—they simply show it very differently. Perhaps the Joker’s most dangerous tool, actually, is his genius-level intellect. Whatever scheme he can dream up, he seemingly has the technical or scientific know-how to get the job done. Though there are surely individuals in the DC universe that are more conventionally intelligent than him, his unique perspective, coupled with his natural intelligence, makes him a terrifying psychological foe.
Sorry Mr. Kasady, but there’s no contest. Joker reclaims the lead.
WINNER: Carnage: 1/ Joker: 2
Round 4: Brutality
This round… things get really messy. Though Carnage may enjoy toying with minds of his victims, he’s really the sort of villain who likes to work with his hands. Considering his hands are, by default, razor-sharp claws, and also come equipped with the ability to transform into hammers, bludgeons, knives, axes, spikes, etc., his work is grisly to say the least. Carnage once killed a man because he didn’t like his name. Carnage once violently mutilated another man in front of the guy’s own son to prove a point. Killing is the sole purpose in life, and the more gruesome the execution, the better.
The Clown Prince of Crime also has a notably brutal streak to him. Remember that time when he beat Batman’s second Boy Wonder to death with a crowbar and then blew him up? Yeah… it’s safe to say that the Joker is well-practiced in the violent arts. He once took another Robin on a Christmas drive about Gotham, entertaining the crimefighter by mowing down random civilians. He’s smashed a man’s brains in with a rock, skinned a an old associate alive and blown up an entire school full of children simply to kill a rival’s nephew.
Joker has undeniably done some of the most brutal things in comics. But he’s also got a taste for the theatrical, which leads him to undertake some sillier, non-lethal plots as well. The thing about Carnage is… he’s only got one setting: BRUTAL. And so he takes the round.
WINNER: Carnage: 2/ Joker: 2
Round 5: Psychological Complexity
The very best villains with the greatest staying power are the ones that we long to understand. It’s why we never get sick of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, or John Doe in Se7en. So how does the pairing of Cletus Kasady and the Carnage symbiote stack up? Well, they both bring out the worst in one another. Whereas Venom has a moral code when paired with Eddie Brock, Carnage is a living expression of violent desire. We can try to trace his murderous ways back to Kasady’s troubled childhood, but honestly, he seemingly came into this world an agent of evil. The comics have taken us into to Kasady’s mind only a few times, and it is nothing but violence and gore.
The Joker is defined, first and foremost, by his deviant psychology. Sure, he enjoys killing, but there is so much more to him than that. Entire books could be written about his obsessive, toxic relationship with Batman. Then there’s his complete lack of morality, which, though not uncommon in villains, plays out far more abstractly with Joker. What does the Joker want? Is he trying to teach the world a lesson or his he driven by whim and chaotic fancy? As previously mentioned, Grant Morrison described the Joker’s condition as “super-sanity” in his 1989 graphic novel, Arkham Asylum. Could it be that the Joker is so self-aware that he can rewrite his own personality to suit the situation?
Carnage would certainly make for an interesting chapter in a book about serial killers, but the Joker is perhaps the most psychologically fascinating villain in comic book history.
WINNER: Carnage: 2/ Joker: 3
It would seem that DC’s Clown Prince of Crime claims the crown, beating out Marvel’s sadistic symbiote.