The Clown Prince of Crime, The Jester of Genocide, Mistah J, the one and only Joker is arguably the most iconic comic book villain of all time. He’s a personal favorite of mine, not in a “#GamersRiseUp, nihilist, hate the world around me” way but I just personally love the wide variation of incarnations. He has been done four different ways in live action film. Several different versions of him have shown up in cartoon animation. We’ve seen him in TV shows, video games, and I could not even give you the amount of completely different iterations there are in comics. But every time we see him, he is unpredictable in his actions. When you have read a million stories, the man who doesn’t follow a set of anticipated actions is the most entertaining. Soon audiences will get to see an entirely different version of the character, and just like every previous version, none of us know what is in store.
Today I saw the first test footage of very mysterious “Joker” movie being directed by Todd Philips and starring Joaquin Phoenix. The test footage isn’t even really a trailer; it more or less is just an idea of what the tone of the movie will go for. The currently untitled project that has many people scratching their heads, chooses a weird first revealed moment for the internet to consume. Many people appear excited, many are upset. Perhaps we as a culture shouldn’t get so wrapped up and judge an entire movie based on 30 seconds of film that wont be in the final product… Na, fuck it. I’m already boarding the hype train.
At first I wasn’t too excited when I heard the news. It didn’t make sense in this current Hollywood culture of intertwined comic book universes, to make something stand alone. This Joker movie will not be starring Jared Leto, even though Warner Brothers fully intend on moving forward with the character in other films. Also, as far as we presently know, the movie will not take place in the current DCEU. The weirdest part of all is that, and this is subject to change, that Batman won’t be present in the movie. So we have a random origin story film of one of the most psychotic and complex characters in comic history, that will be separate of all the other films being released around the same time using the same IP, being directed by the guy who brought us The Hangover, and produced by Martin Scorsese. This idea is almost as crazy as The Joker himself and I love it.
Now I have been a self titled ‘Comic Book Nerd’ for a very long time. I admit, I used to be one of those internet people that said “whoa, hey, you can’t do that. How the hell are you not making the movie exactly how I would make it, which is exactly how it is in the comics!” So when I see a lot of people commenting something along the lines of “You can’t show the Joker’s origin, he doesn’t have one” or “Batman created the Joker, you have to make it the Red Hood story” I get where their minds are at. But that is complete nonsense thinking. Passionate creators can do anything they want. It’s art, and they were given permission to use an existing character they already love by the company that lawfully owns it. We as an audience can think we know best but honestly… there is a reason I’m writing a blog and not writing the script. Additionally they have shown, and or told, the Joker’s Origin multiple times. If you nerds were real fans, you would know this.
The character of The Joker was created in 1940 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He was in Batman #1. Not to be confused with the first appearance of Batman himself which was Detective Comics #27. Over the next 80~ years we have seen some of the best Batman stories ever written, involving the clown faced villain. Joker by Brian Azzarello, The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family, No Man’s Land, Endgame, and Batman Noel are just a few of my personal favorites but anyone could give you an entirely different list. And in every one of these comics, The Joker acts slightly different. See what DC comics does really well is make self contained stories. Some are even directly labeled Elseworld stories meaning they take place in different dimensions.
Comics aside, where I was introduced to the character was from the Batman Animated Series from the early 1990’s. I loved the show as a kid. The Dark Knight was a different type of protagonist, unlike Superman, X-Men, Spider-Man, and all the other 90’s comic book cartoon superheros. But what I loved the most about the show, was the villains. They were so colorful and crazy. Some of them actually scared me. And the best was The Joker. Mark Hamill, Luke fucking Skywalker, voiced the character and to many people he still is the perfect Joker. There have been several other Batman TV shows since then and to be honest, I’ve loved most of them.
We saw Mark Hamill return to the character 25 years later in the form of the video game Arkham Asylum, and the two sequels. What I loved the most was how the character was completely changed for the older audiences that loved the animated series. They didn’t try to make him the same at all. The idea that a character, any character, from a comic “has” to follow a specific comic’s story is ludicrous. The comic creators, that fans are so hell bent on admiring, don’t even care about the versions of the characters that are currently running alongside them. The point is that a character as crazy and variant as The Joker should be allowed to do anything. He is truly unpredictable, and we have seen this in every incarnation of the character in movies already.
In 1966 there was a Batman TV show staring Adam West as the world’s greatest detective. I have to be honest, I’ve never seen the TV show. There was a made-for-TV movie starring all the same characters and that I have seen. It did not age well. I’m sure I won’t get too many fans from that statement but it’s the truth. The Joker, played by Cesar Romero, like Adam West is incredibly campy and it’s weird to see. But if this is your favorite Joker, then more power to you.
Almost 25 years later in 1989, Tim Burton recreates the caped crusader. Micheal Keaton plays a darker more bruiting version of the character. And with him we get a new version of The Joker. Jack Nicholson plays are more organized and genius leveled psychopath with some of the weirdest fucking make-up I’ve ever seen. This is where I know many people fell in love with the character. He’s not my favorite but he deserves the respect for capturing all your fucked up hearts.
Now I know this is the easy choice that might cause a lot of you to think I’m just some wannabe fan, but my favorite iteration of The Joker is from Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight. The late Heath Ledger plays a version of the clown that is equal parts chaotic and determined. Also he’s the only version of the character so far in live action that wears the make-up and doesn’t have bleached skin. He wears a mask to be The Joker the same way Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne wears a mask to be Batman.
Then eight years later when DC started getting into the Cinematic Universe game, they released Suicide Squad, with a new version of the character played by Jared Leto. What I appreciate about the film is it’s the first time ever we see The Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship on the big screen. I know there are a lot of fans of that particular domestic violence story. People hated Jared Leto’s Joker because he was “way too different then the way The Joker is supposed to be” but seem to forget every version of the character has been wily different in their own ways.
The truth is we literally have no idea what this movie is going to be like, and that excites me. I love the mystery around it. We do know Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro are also in the film but not who they are playing. I would rather be optimistic about it then already start hating a project before we even know where it is going. Hollywood is trying so hard to create so many cinematic universes that it’s almost refreshing to see Warner Brothers just focus on a single project with no connections. I hear time and time again how we just need more creators given the risk to design something that they’re passionate about with no restraints. I have seen no information on an intended rating for the movie, but if it is rated R, then we could be seeing the closest thing DC has done to match the tone and entertainment of Logan. How could you not be excited for something like that?
My directive for this article was a direct result of seeing so many people talking about what the movie “should” be. Instead I suggest you talk about what it can be. It really only has two outcomes; either it is good or it is bad. And that is a personal decision of what you as an audience member feels when seeing it for the first time. The Joker is a character with a lot of unique fans over the years. The Joaquin Phoenix version might be your favorite and it might not. But based on the interviews I’ve read so far, the man is very passionate about the role. He said “It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe, mostly, it scares the fucking shit out of me or something.” He says more about how the role and his decision; I recommend you read it if you are interested. No matter what, the movie is going to happen. The Joker cannot be stopped. What do you think the movie should be about? Who fucking gives a shit about your opinion. I know The Joker himself wouldn’t.
Movies watched, comics read, and opinions formed by: Troy Smith