DESPITE FIERCE competition from a colorful Rogues Gallery that is arguably the best in comics, The Joker will continue to stand alone as Batman's No. 1 adversary.

"That seems to be the case," said Image Comics' Erik Larsen. "Not for any thematic reason - he's not a mirror image of Batman or any of that nonsense - it's more a sense of him being the coolest character of the lot."

"No doubt," said 12 Gauge Comics' Keven Gardner. "Batman is order and The Joker lives to create chaos."

"I think it would be fair to term Joker as Batman's nemesis," said comic-book historian Matt Morrison. "There's a subtle distinction between an archenemy and a nemesis, but in this case, it's an important one.

"A nemesis traditionally is the hero's exact opposite, both in goals and methodology. Batman uses logic to maintain order. Joker manipulates emotion to bring about chaos. [It also] refers to an enemy that cannot truly be beaten, and in that case The Joker is truly a nemesis."

Indeed, The Joker is one of a handful of villains that have been around for as long as their heroic adversaries. The reason is simple. Many believe other villains simply pale - pun intended - in comparison with him.

"The best villains are dark reflections of the heroes," said comic writer Peter David ("Fallen Angel").

"The Joker is the purest distillation of the anti-Batman, particularly if you buy into the notion that Batman is basically nuts. Batman wears a mask and channels his particular insanity into helping the public.

"The Joker likewise covers his face but channels his insanity into destroying the public. They recognize in each other the direction each of them could have gone but for their respective circumstances."

"Simply put, The Joker is the perfect balance for Batman," said Morrison. "

"He's the total package." said Gardner. "He looks great. His lines are great. The Joker just rocks."

Considering all the death and destruction he has caused, there are many who wonder why Batman doesn't simply end the threat of The Joker once and for all - and Morrison explains why that can never happen.

Not killing him makes Batman more heroic, especially given how many people close to him have been hurt or killed by the character in the comics, said Morrison.

"The Joker knows Batman has a code against killing bad guys and that the minute he finds the right button to press - the minute he can goad Batman or Jim Gordon or any good person who believes in law and order into killing him - that is when he'll be proven right.

"It won't matter that he's dead because he'll have won his battle and made his point about how violence is the answer and chaos is the blueprint of the world." *