Every new incarnation of DC Comics’ The Joker puts the internet into a tizzy. Love it or hate it, each iteration of the classic Batman villain delves deeper into the character’s psyche and stretches the possibilities of what the character means to the caped crusader. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker movie announcement is no different. Outcries of support and disagreement are littering the social media highways with equal fervor. More level heads sit back and take a ‘wait and see’ approach before casting out their opinions. With the release of the first test footage of Phoenix’s Joker, the internet has some strong opinions. As we take a look at the newest interpretation of Gotham City’s clown prince of crime, we also look back on some of the most extreme and versions of The Joker that most deviated from the source material – whether fans liked it or not.
Heath Ledger was met with some opposition when the announcement that he would play opposite Christian Bale in the sequel to Batman Begins. Ledger was mostly known for his romantic comedies, his comedic timing and natural charm made him a likable and relatable leading man. But a crazed villain? Not every fan was on board with the idea. But with the release of The Dark Knight and Ledger’s unfortunate passing, Ledger left his mark on The Joker legacy that few could deny. A darker version, a true agent of chaos, stepping away from the prankster persona that so many were used to. The Joker didn’t frame his crimes as jokes, he didn’t use gags out of some sort of depraved notion that it might be funny. All of Ledger’s Joker’s motives were to challenge Batman, force him to think and doubt and push him to the edge of his own rules. Ledger’s Joker stayed true to the Trickster archetype, challenging the status quo, but steered away from the more ‘clown’ aspects of The Joker, his white skin, red lips, and green hair was for theatrics rather than something he couldn’t change. The scars that forced his face into a constant and grim smile was again a departure from the classic Joker.
Flashpoint gave us a glimpse into another timeline, with “what if” variables thrown around in ways that shocked readers and showed what could have been if things happened a little differently. Lots of surprise variations on the characters we know and love. But few surprises lived up to the fate of Bruce Wayne’s parents. In fateful Crime Alley, when the Wayne’s were robbed at gunpoint, Thomas failed to get in the way of the bullet. Instead of killing Thomas, and then Bruce’s mother Martha, the bullet struck young Bruce, killing him in the alley. Years later his parents, struck with grief over the loss of their son, found very different destinies. Thomas became a ruthless, gun-toting Batman. Martha became a murderous, psychotic, scarred-lipped Joker. Not unlike Ledger’s Joker, Martha scarred herself into a permanent grin.
Another cinematic deviation from the norm, Jared Leto’s Joker took on a more modern take on the villain. Tattooed, flamboyant, dramatic, and a bit more unpredictable than the other film versions of the Joker, Leto once again steered away from the ‘clown’ and jokes aspects. Leto’s Joker was more spontaneous, more like a violent thrillseeker than other versions. Leto’s Joker doesn’t care about the big picture like Ledger’s Joker. Leto still captured the most important aspect of the Joker – that deep-seated urge to cause as much chaos as possible. The other Jokers tend to have rules, plans, agendas. Leto’s Joker, while restricted to very little story development, never seemed to have any larger scheme past indulgence and mayhem.
Each animated version of Batman tries to make its own mark on the signature characters, making Batman scarier or more brooding or focusing more on his humanity, even making him relatable as much as he is cool. But few animated Jokers deviated from the norm as much as Kevin Michael Richardson’s Joker from The Batman. Richardson is a notable and talented voice actor who has been in numerous shows and acted for a variety of different characters. Richardson brought a special brand of crazy to his Joker. The deeper voice gave Joker a different tone, the character was more physical than other incarnations. His movements were more akin to an acrobat or capoeira fighter, running barefoot, swinging his arms with long straight jacket sleeves undone. Richardson’s Joker brought an edge of true psychosis to the character, taking him closer to being truly scary to be in the room with, without overdoing it. It was a kids cartoon after all.
Dark Night: Metal gave us a version of the Joker that was the epitome of what the Joker could be. Joker dialed up to 11. Chaotic yet strategic, calculated and cunning, murderous and joyfully psychotic. The Batman Who Laughs was a Jokerized Batman from the Dark Multiverse where Batman broke his one rule, killed the Joker and was infected by a strain of nantoxin that lived inside the Joker’s heart, releasing upon his death. The nanotoxin rewrote Bruce Wayne’s brain, making him like the Joker, stripping him of his rules and morals. After destroying the heroes his own world he’s taken by a Dark God named Barbatos to gather other versions of corrupted Batmen to break into and control the central Multiverse. Armed with Batman’s training and mind, Jokerized Robins, and that signature rictus grin, The Batman Who Laughs
was one of the most terrifying versions of The Joker, a Batman turned Joker.
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And now we have Phoenix’s Joker, moving back towards a classic ‘clown’ style make-up, albeit smudged and uneven, giving it almost a John Wayne Gacy feel. Phoenix embodies that dark, quiet rage behind that rictus grin that promises chaos and pain to come. While there will be dissenters, Phoenix is sure to bring his own touch to the Joker mythos, adding to the ever-evolving characterization of The Joker.
Do you think Phoenix will make a good Joker? What’s your favorite incarnation of The Joker? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!