Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s The Batman is set to introduce another Joker to the DC entertainment universe. However, given the already divided fan response to its current iterations, chances are DC will mess up the iconic character.
The trickster, the jester, the clown since time immemorial – a version of Joker has been a part of mythologies across cultures. The Joker is a harbinger of both laughter and fear. The character appears in various versions throughout literary history. The clown-like character has always been meaningful – be it the fool from the mystic Tarot Cards, Jester from King Lear’s court, a Loki-like character from Norse Mythology, or the modern version of Joker that we see on screen.
The closest reference of a jester in our times would be the ones we have seen in pop culture.
Thanks to DC Comics, ‘Joker’ became the phenomenon that it is today. Depending on whom you ask, a version of Joker has to be their favourite – be it from the animated series, the wily Jack Nicholson, the absurd Heath Ledger, or the affable Joaquin Phoenix.
However, Joker’s legacy starts way before them. Joker made his first appearance in Batman’s debut comic in 1940. Creator Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson created the character as the sadistic, psychopath with a twisted sense of humour. He is the agent of chaos, an anarchist.
Jack Nicholson in The Batman (1989)
The first memorable Joker rendition on the big screen was in 1989 for Tim Burton’s Batman. Jack Nicholson played the part of Joker and it became legendary. Nicholson’s Joker started as Jack Napier and transformed into the Clown Prince of Crime.
Watch: Jack Nicholson as Joker
Nicholson’s Joker was true to its comic book origins. The purple suit to the maniacal laughter, he was the Joker that any fan would have chosen. Napier gets his disfigured face due to an accident involving acid. His hair was green, his skin was white, and his lips were ruby red. This iteration of the Joker overshadowed Michael Keaton’s Batman.
Nicholson’s Joker became the inspiration for filmmakers for generations to come.
Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)
The next Joker to hit the silver screen was Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, part of the iconic trilogy starring Christian Bale as Batman. Nolan thought of Joker as the complete anarchist, a punk. This Joker could not be negotiated with and in the director’s own word’s he was ‘terrifying.’ Nolan and Ledger created the most unpredictable version of the Joker, from his voice to his unreliable narrative. The dark, violent, sadistic style of the agent of chaos is unprecedented.
The confrontation scene between Joker and Batman, played by Christian Bale, in the movie is exemplary as it shows Joker’s upper hand over Batman. The way he gets under Batman’s skin brings out his deepest darkest fear.
Watch: Batman (Christian Bale) interrogates Heath Ledger’s Joker
The entire script of The Dark Knight is based on the concept of duality.
At one end is the Batman who is driven by his own dark space to do the right thing. On the other hand, we have Joker who wants nothing but chaos. As a result, the act and story of Joker were so compelling that many of us couldn’t help but root for the bad guy. The sheer philosophy of Joker makes sense on so many levels that one cannot deny but fall for him. He is a human monster and rightly, so the thing about his chaos is fair. In fact, Heath Ledger’s descent into Joker’s madness was so steep that he never rose from it.
Arthur Fleck‘s Compelling Tale in Joker (2019)
Come 2019, Todd Philips created his own iteration of the Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. What Philips did with Joker was an amazing case study in an unprecedented standalone movie for a villain. Arthur Fleck, a new version of Joker greeted us with a smile that turned into tears in the first shot of the movie. Joker suddenly went from being a jerk to a hapless victim. By the end of all chaos, he became an ultimate predator.
In a sense, all of us are Arthur – a bit broken, needing love, and ranging from one emotion to another. All that differs is a mask.
Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Philips took their inspiration from the movie The Man Who Laughed, the idea of ‘laughing through the pain’. The same movie also served as inspiration for the original DC Comics’ Joker. The lack of love and empathy became the central idea of the movie. Coupled with the movie’s take on mental illness, Phillips brought forth an incredible back-story of Joker to the screen. The twist remains though at the end of the movie where once again the viewer is made to rethink whether Joker’s narrative was believable or not.
Watch: Behind The Scenes from Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker (2019)
Joker in Robert Pattinson’s The Batman (2021)
Apart from these notable iterations, there are four other versions of the Clown Prince of Crime. WB has failed to produce decent Jokers, apart from the above iterations. The Suicide Squad (2016) that features Jared Leto as Joker failed miserably. Such is the risk of getting the anarchist wrong that Matt Reeves should be wary of a wrong turn at every step.
A new Joker is on his way, ready to appear alongside Robert Pattinson next year. Needless to say, anticipation is already running high. Fans have already drawn parallels between The Batman (2021) and Batman: Year One comic. The leaks of having a Joker lined up for future movie only further suggest that Reeves is taking his inspiration from Batman: The Killing Joke.
The novel The Killing Joke is considered another version of Joker’s origin story, so adapting it into a live-action movie makes perfect sense for Reeves.
However, this is fueling skepticism among fans. Now with Todd Philips also takes inspiration from the violent streak of the Joker from the graphic novel, introducing the character again might land up DC in the same situation. And let us be honest, character representation isn’t their strongest suit in the live-action movies. Maybe, they should give it some time!
Hopefully, Joker won’t come out as a joke!