OFF-TOPIC THURSDAY: There’s no wrong way to do the Joker

In the irregular “Off-Topic Thursday” feature, I do stuff that is totally off-topic from the usual baseball stuff…

You probably saw the apparent first image of Jared Leto as the Joker for Warner Brother’s upcoming Suicide Squad movie, as well as other future films where he presumably will fight Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader:

Just as with everything having to do with comic book movies, it has proven controversial. A Joker with tattoos? A Joker with a lot of tattoos? This is radically different from previous live-action Jokers, and also pretty different from most incarnations in comics and animation.

However, that doesn’t mean it will be bad. Because, here’s the thing: the Joker is a chameleon, a character that has been done in countless ways and in countless tones.

Originally, in the 1930s, the Joker was a exotic take off of a silent horror movie called The Man Who Laughs. He was shown to be a ruthless serial killer completely without morals who murdered dozens.

After Batman became more popular with kids, the Joker became a bit less of a horrific killer and slowly became a more comedic figure. This was further increased during the late 40s and the 1950s, as a wave of censorship and moral panic neutered most comics. By the time Cesar Romero (with his mustache still on) was the Joker in the 1966 TV series, there was barely a shred of the killer that he originally was.

And then, in the 1970s and 1980s, a combination of the two emerged, at least in the comics: the Joker was a ruthless criminal mastermind and murderer, but he would do so for reasons (which could change whenever he felt like it) or in ways that would seem to have come from a “soft R” (or at least PG-13) version of Cesar Romero, all while thinking, in his own twisted way, that he was the only sane man in Gotham. One particular favorite of mine was the time he went on a killing spree of bureaucrats because they wouldn’t give him a copyright to Gotham Bay’s fish population after he poisoned the fish with a mild version of his venom so that they’d all all his evil grin.

That version of the Joker- the homicidal maniac with an insane sense of humor- is perhaps the default version of the Joker now and in my opinion is the one that works the best. Jack Nicholson’s 1989 Joker was a lot like that, as was Mark Hamill’s Joker (regarded by most Batman fans as being the greatest Joker of all) in the cartoons and video games. Even Heath Ledger, who owed more to the 1930s serial killer Joker, still had that randomness about him- go back and watch The Dark Knight and see how many times he changes the story of how he got his scars, or how he goes from wanting to kill Batman to wanting to have fights with him forever (a possibility that, sadly, ended with Ledger’s death).

But, regardless of how the Joker has been portrayed, he’s always proved popular. Cesar Romero was one of the most popular villains of the 1960s TV series. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the most popular of the pre-Nolan Batman villains. Heath Ledger, despite initially being the subject of a controversy once cast (not that different from Ben Affleck being cast as Batman), ended up winning an Oscar for it.

So why should we assume that a tattooed Joker will be bad? The character hasn’t disappointed anyone yet, and with a Oscar-winner behind him, it feels foolish to assume.

I guess time will tell.


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