Though already the most overexposed villain in comics, what appears to be a transcendent performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight" should result in more interest in the character - and more comics featuring him - than ever.

Though Batman's arch-foe figures prominently in recent, classic Batman storylines, such as "Dark Victory," "Hush" and "No Man's Land," those fans who really want some great Joker stories should check out the following:

1. "Batman: The Killing Joke." Now in a special hardcover edition, this tale - in which his shooting, molesting and crippling of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) was just one of many atrocities - is regarded by many as the ultimate Joker tale. Written by Alan Moore, it lets us see the villain's origin and how "one bad day" could affect us all the same way. Magnificent stuff, and even the $17.99 hardcover is a steal compared with the $32 a first printing will fetch.

2. "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns." The most critically acclaimed Batman story features the final showdown between Batman and The Joker. With his foe more out of control than ever, will Batman cross the line he has sworn never to? The answer will shock you.

3. "Batman: A Death In The Family." The Joker does the unthinkable and kills Batman's sidekick Jason Todd, better known as Robin. That's just the start of the torture for the Dark Knight.

4. "Batman: Knightfall - Broken Bat." Though the villain Bane's breaking of Batman's back received the lion's share of attention in this story, it also includes the most savage beatdown of The Joker by the Dark Knight, when Scarecrow unwittingly brings his grief over the death of Jason Todd to the fore. This story features almost every major Bat-villain.

5. "Batman: Going Sane." After seemingly killing Batman, The Joker retreats into . . . sanity? Great psychological stuff from author J.M. DeMatteis.

6. "Batman: The Man Who Laughs." Writer Ed Brubaker's recent tale is already mentioned in the same breath as other all-time Bat-stories. It tells an intense, gripping, 64-page story of Batman's first battle with The Joker, and ends with an ending so surprising it shocks The Joker. Factor in that the original one-shot is selling for $55, and consider that a Batman/Green Lantern Brubaker story is tossed in for good measure, and this trade is an absolute steal.

There is one Joker story you should avoid. You would think that the premise of "Batman: The Joker's Last Laugh" - that The Joker finds out he has a short time to live - would be fun. But it isn't, because of poor writing, an overly grandiose storyline where nothing feels like it is at stake, cliché-filled dialogue, poor-quality art, a Joker who acts more cartoony than scary, and an absurd ending. *