The Joker is the most iconic villain in comic book history. He would have to be in order to go up against an iconic hero such as Batman. He is everything Batman is not. The Joker is a ruthless, sadistic serial killer. A maniacal mass murderer that kills for fun. The Joker was created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson in 1940 and made his first appearance in Batman #1 in that same year. Now there are different stories from all three men stating exactly who or how the character of The Joker was created, but there is one constant in all three stories.
That constant is that the 1928 silent movie the Man Who Laughs played an important factor in the creation of the Joker. This movie featured actor Conrad Veidt as the character Gwynplaine, a man with a constant maniacal grin on his face due to surgery as a child. This grinning face was to be the look that the Joker would be based on. I watched this silent film recently and could not stop thinking there is no doubt that this is what inspired the Joker. It’s obvious. The origin of the Joker is not one that is set in stone.
As of now, it is an origin that has been placed in mystery. The one thing that we believe we know from Detective Comics #168 (1951) and backed up in the one-shot The Killing Joke (1988) is that The Joker was once a criminal named the Red Hood who fell into a chemical vat trying to escape Batman and became the hideous appearance that he is today. Also, throughout the years we learn that his first name may really be Jack. Although we have never really been given a true back story of who or what kind of man Joker was before he fell into that vat.
In the Justice League story, Darkseid War, Batman is bestowed Godlike powers when he takes control of the New Gods, Metron’s, chair. While in the chair, he tests his newfound power by asking what the real identity of the Joker is and is shocked by the chairs answer. The answer wasn’t revealed until later that year in DC Universe Rebirth that the chairs answer was that there was not just one Joker but three. This storyline will be presented by Geoff Johns in the later part of 2018 to explore how this is even possible. This would add new facets to the character as the recent Death of the Family storyline suggest that Joker may be immortal.
In addition, you would have to think about which Joker killed Jason Todd? Which Joker shot and crippled Barbara Gordon? Which Joker was in No Man’s Land? Which Joker is Harley Quinn in love with? Over the years, many actors have brought Joker to life. The first interpretation was Caesar Romero’s Joker in the Batman TV series. This Joker was toned down for a TV audience and not the homicidal killer that was known in comics. Caesar Romero also would not shave his mustache for the role and instead applied his makeup over his mustache and believe it or not this worked. Romero’s Joker, even though he was more comical, set a precedent for future Jokers.
The next man to take on the live action Joker was Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman opposite Michael Keaton. This Joker, in a movie setting, was able to be a homicidal maniac who had no problem with mass murder. Arguably, this so far is one of the best Jokers to hit the screen and I believe that predominately has to do with his on-screen chemistry with Michael Keaton’s Batman. Heath Ledger was the next actor to play Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight in a role that some would say lead to the circumstances of his death. Ledger’s Joker puts in place that there is no plan or method to his madness and that he just likes to create chaos. Ledgers performance would earn him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor which would be the first Oscar given for an actor in a superhero film.
I can not go on to mention actors who portrayed the Joker without going back to TV and naming Cameron Monaghan who I will rank as the best portrayal after Nicholson. Monaghan’s Joker in TV’s Gotham gave us a slightly different origin than we are used to, however, the intensity in which Monaghan played Joker was perfect. Monaghan showed the organized crazy that is the Joker and dwelled on his scientific background. Although this character is never really called Joker or identified as such, this adaption showed you how a man can become the Joker. The similarities between this character and the Joker are striking so let’s just assume this is what the Joker will one day be on this show. Hopefully, with the last season of this show coming we will see even more of a transformation.
In 2016, the movie Suicide Squad saw Jared Leto take on the Joker. This has to be one of the weakest adaptions of the Joker which fans didn’t take to well too. Maybe it was reports of Leto’s strange behavior on set seemingly trying too hard to embody the character or the attempts to modernize the character with up to date looks and tattoos but ultimately, like the movie itself, Leto’s Joker was lackluster.
In 2019, Warner Bros will release a standalone Joker movie produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Joaquin Phoenix. Given Warner Bros track history with its comic book productions, I must have reservations about any superhero movie they put out. As of this writing, they are currently filming and some photos and footage have leaked but I really must wait for a finished product before I get hyped. I can’t jump on the bandwagon just yet regardless of who produces, directs and stars in this one.
Many actors have also voiced the Joker for animation. Most recently Zach Galifianakis in 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, Michael Emerson in 2012’s two-part adaption of The Dark Knight Returns, Kevin Michael Richardson in 2004’s TV Batman series making him the first Afro-American to voice the character and many other talented voice actors. The most popular would have to be Star Wars hero Mark Hamill who voiced the Joker for 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, 2000’s Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker, and 1996’s Superman: The Animated Series among others.
Overall, Joker being a crazed homicidal maniac has made him a dangerous unpredictable villain for the Batman. This is a character that in the mini-series Underworld Unleashed, the villain the Trickster stated, “When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories”. It doesn’t get any more gangster than that.
Please comment below and give us your views on the Joker. Give us your opinion of the past actors who have played the character and your view on the upcoming movie. Until then just ask yourself – “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Kenny Walker Jr