While the Joker is a criminal genius rivaled by almost no other villain in fiction, even he knows the Riddler is his intellectual better. In fact, when Joker launched his final offensive against Batman’s entire family, he made sure that Riddler wouldn’t be able to get in his way.
Both the Joker and the Riddler have fought against Batman and caused an untold amount of chaos in the city of Gotham. Their crimes have been numerous and destructive, which is no surprise considering they’re among the smartest individuals in the DC Universe. While they have sometimes teamed up, they have also engaged in horrifying competition such as the War of Jokes and Riddles, which claimed countless innocent lives in Gotham City. It seems that while Joker may have spent these clashes attempting to kill Riddler, he also built up a healthy respect for his intelligence.
During the events of Death of the Family, Joker was on a rampage to remove the Bat-Family from Batman’s life, arguing they made the Dark Knight less effective. Joker also gathered Gotham’s other A-list villains, hoping to demonstrate to Batman that his foes make him purer and more capable. Of course, once Joker had captured Batman, his ‘allies’ wanted to kill their vigilante nemesis – something the Clown Prince of Crime couldn’t allow. In Batman vol. 2 #16‘s ‘Judgment’ from Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Jock, the other villains make their move, and Joker drops a carefully placed metal cage onto them. Seeing this, Penguin immediately turns to Riddler and offers him money if he figures out a way to escape. This is when Riddler passes out, having been drugged by Joker prior. Strangely, this is a huge mark of respect – Joker knew he couldn’t keep Riddler caged once he set his mind on escape, so he took him out of commission.
Joker is incredibly cunning and manipulative, and his greatest strength is the ability to surprise even Batman and Riddler. However, when it comes to the physical realities of traps and schemes, Joker knows there’s nothing Riddler can’t figure out when he needs to. Joker isn’t exactly given to compliments, but his regard for Riddler shines through in his refusal to actually match intellects – he wants Riddler present for his grand declaration to Batman, but he knows he can’t have him conscious before the big moment actually arrives. Of course, the whole reason Joker even wants Riddler present is to argue to Batman that facing off with villains like Edward Nigma makes him smarter and better, showing why the Clown Prince of Crime hasn’t killed off a villain who has posed him major problems in the past.
Both Joker and Riddler are fantastic villains in their own ways – two of the best Batman’s rogues gallery has to offer. But when there are so many genius-level villains, it becomes fascinating to see how different types of genius play off each other. With time to plan and enough knowledge of the variables, Riddler is unquestionably Joker’s intellectual better, and they both know it, but Joker still has it in him to surprise Gotham’s smartest crook when he needs to.