The Batman vs. Joker rivalry has been defined, explored, and re-defined and re-explored for decades of DC Comics storylines, TV shows, movies, and the like. Sometimes, it's been about Joker putting Batman through some elaborate puzzle or maze of death, and insanity for amusement; other times, Joker tries to strike deep at the heart and/or psyche of Batman, by doing something violently personal to push The Dark Knight over the brink. However, one thing we don't really ever see is Joker unleashing his signature brand of chaos for the purpose of Batman's benefit - but by the end of Batman: Three Jokers, that's exactly what happens!
Warning - Batman: Three Jokers MAJOR SPOILERS Follow!
In Batman: Three Jokers #3, the two remaining Jokers - "The Criminal" and "The Comedian" - carry out the former's master plan: bringing Batman back to the movie theater where his parents were killed by robber Joe Chill, in order to face an army of Joker zombies. Batman comes with backup - Red Hood and Batgirl - and together the Bat-Family takes on the Two Jokers and their minions.
The special "movie" the Jokers have prepared for Batman shows the villains with Joe Chill as their hostage. When Batman battles his way to The Criminal, the mad mastermind reveals the purpose of his plan: to transform Joe Chill into The New Joker. To The Criminal, the idea of Batman having to face a Joker that murdered his parents (because he knows Bruce Wayne's identity) is the ultimate punchline. The Jokers force Batman to save Joe Chill - which needless to say, is a serious mind-trip for the hero.
After saving Chill, there's a moment where Batman has to face down his own demons and temptation for vengeance while facing down the crook. However, Joe Chill is a much different man from the thug that killed the Waynes: he's dying of cancer, repentant, and Batman has learned that he spent years writing unsent letters to Bruce Wayne, asking for atonement. Standing before the Dark Knight, Chill admits to being the Wayne murderer and is ready for his Karma. But when a collapsing wall nearly falls on Chill, Batman ends up saving him, and even answer Chill's "Thank you," with a "You're welcome."
In the end, "The Criminal" Joker is betrayed and murdered by "The Comedian," who reveals himself to be the real Joker. In a conversation with Batman, The Comedian reveals that he's always known Bruce's identity and that the entire point of the Three Jokers game and its Joe Chill finale was to give Batman a dose of some twisted Joker-brand therapy. When Batman asks what the punchline is, The Comedian responds:
"Oh, this isn't a joke, Batman. There's no final twist. Not until I decide to put my hand on the knife in your heart...It isn't the Joker that is broken. It was The Batman. Broken by a pan greater than anything I could ever do to you... You saved the man who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. Who sent Gotham - and you - spiraling into the drain of despair. You saw the old, regretful sad sack Chill's become. You felt his pain and it gave relief to yours. Ha. I healed your greatest wound."
Before we think that Joker is getting too touchy-feely on Batman, let's be clear: this sociopath version of Joker (inspired by Alan Moore's The Killing Joke) was not concerned for Batman: he was jealous. The only thing Joker really wants: "Now I can be your greatest pain. Me!... I'll keep twisting that knife until the day we both die together."
Batman: Three Jokers is now on sale at DC Comics.