The Joker…. Just saying the name conjures the Clown Prince of Crime and all his joyful madness. Whether you grew up on Romero, Nicholson, Hamill, or Ledger this character represents one thing: CHAOS.
Growing up watching Super Friends, Scooby Doo and Bill Dozier’s original Batman television series I always gravitated to this clown character with his white face, purple suit and green hair. He wasn’t always as animated as Caesar Romero (but who was?), in fact sometimes he was serious but the colors transfixed my imagination.
Then it happened. In a theater in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in the summer of 1989 my Uncle Wayne took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman.
And it fried my brain!
Batman was great sure, I mean in retrospect Michael Keaton was a surprise to be sure (especially in the “COME ON! LETS GET NUTS!” scene), but Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker left me in awe of what this character was. He wasn’t slap sticky at all! He was a liar, a murderer, and a con man with a great tailor. He was calculating and cunning, he clearly loved Prince, and he had plans behind plans, all the while laughing while he did it. My Joker had arrived. And I will never forget the laughing bag at the end of the film that so vividly plays at the end of “Batdance” as long as I live.
After viewing 1989’s Batman I immediately had my mother buy me “The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told”. A wonderful compilation DC published of not only the origin of The Joker, but some of the more evil and more insane stories about this character.
The Laughing Fish is one of the most genius comics about the Joker that really paints the personality we are dealing with where the Joker creates a fish that has his hideous smile and demands that the fish be patented! Think about it for a moment to realize how insane that premise is. Fast forward a few years later to him blowing up Jason Todd (2nd Robin) with a time bomb after beating him half to death with a crowbar in A Death in the Family, and you get a glimpse of the insanity and brutality that resides in The Joker’s psyche. These Joker stories would have to satisfy me for at least 2 years.
Beginning in 1992 Mark Hamill (YES LUKE SKYWALKER!) would begin a lifetime of bringing his take on The Joker through voice acting, and man he brought it. Hamill recreated the role with great scripts and just immaculate delivery and inflection. Within the cartoon and video game realm he was able to make The Joker bigger than Gotham City itself!
There is truly magic behind his creation. This Joker was everything you’d ever hope he would be and more complex than you could ever truly understand. It’s sublime to put a fine point on it. There is so much joy in those performances and they are so much fun to watch, especially when Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to introduce Joker to his lady love Harley Quinn, who was specifically created for the animated series. And now they are inseparable in the minds of many fans.
The Joker would continue to flourish in many incarnations in the comics but in 2007 this mold was broken. At the young age of 27 Australian actor Heath Ledger would take on he role of the lifetime and completely invent something so beautiful and mesmerizing it would earn him a post mortem Academy Award.
In 2008 The Dark Knight would shatter box offices and set the standard on what a comic book film could be and hasn’t been replicated since. This film became less about the Caped Crusader and more about the divine portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, all beginning with a “little trick” with a pencil.
Heath Ledger being cast in this role had many doubting, including me that he would be able to do something with the standard set by Nicholson back in 1989 and carried on by the great Mark Hamill in the Animated Series.
I have never been more wrong about a prediction of a film in my life.
I spoke about “magical performances” earlier. This was much more than that. It was simply an amazing performance piece that you get out of an actor once in a lifetime. Everything in the universe had lined up and inspiration hit Heath Ledger to create not only the finest live action Joker performances, but one of the finest performances of an actor period! Every nuance, every movement, every inflection, and every delivery is simply masterful and I thank him for that.
Of course time moves on and so did The Joker, in the comics with “new 52” the character went to really bizarre places, including The Joker having his face cut off at one point! I often compare The Joker to Hannibal Lecter: He’s not insane, not to him. In fact, Hannibal and The Joker are in complete control at all times. They know their limits (which are none) and they know everyone else is limited by fear, lack of knowledge and the inability to act unless some great force is pushing they to do so. And most importantly they are psychologists constantly running their experiments on their mice (us)! Pushing everyone else to their breaking point, whether it’s insanity or death. Granted I don’t think The Joker is formally trained in the psychological arts..
One of the best lines in The Dark Knight is: “I just do things” and that sums up the character.
In 2019 we will see another man helm the ship that is the S.S. BATSY: Joaquin Phoenix.
Todd Philips of Road Trip, Old School, and The HangOver fame will be directing The Joker origin story. It has been described as a “Cautionary Tale”. Phoenix plays “Arthur Fleck” a failed stand up comedian. This of course sounds eerily familiar if you are a fan of Alan Moore’s Masterpiece THE KILLING JOKE, which goes into The Jokers humble beginnings as a failed stand up comedian who ends up working for the Mob due to pressure and changes for the worst after he’s pushed too far. With the limited information we currently know about this project many are speculating that it will also be modeled after “The Man Who Laughs” which originally is a Victor Hugo book that was turned into a film in 1909, but most notably in 1928. It is this 1928 film that the Joker is inspired by, look and everything. The huge smile and creepy ora that surrounds him.
The Man Who Laughs is also another graphic novel released in 2005 is an account of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker and may also be used as plot points for this film. This great tale was written by Ed Brubaker who would also go onto create The Winter Soldier for Marvel Comics.
Based on the pictures so far and the synopsis, The Joker Origin film looks to be a very dark and intense film about a man being brought to the edge of humanity and deciding he is no longer going to be apart of it, but instead going to view people as play things, subjects, and disposable. Happiness to him is anything he wants it to be at any given moment without rules, consequence, or fear because it doesn’t matter.
I personally am greatly looking forward to this take on The Joker because we’ve never had an origin other than “you ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?”. What does a meek stand up comedian look like growing into a monster look like? We will see in 2019!