ByMichael Patterson, writer at
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Michael Patterson

It's hard to think of Batman without the Joker, and vice versa. The mysterious Clown Prince of Crime has been a thorn in the Dark Knight's side since his inception in 1940 — and now we're apparently going to see how he came to be on the big screen, as Warner Bros. is developing a Joker origin story film with Martin Scorsese.

This announcement has been met with confusion from fans, many of whom don't understand why the film won't be part of the , and thus, won't feature Jared Leto's Joker.

While an origin story movie will undoubtedly add a layer of depth to the character that we have never seen before, it could very well undermine him. If you really think about it, part of the Joker's charm was down to the fact that we don't really know that much about him. Giving him an identity, a reason for existing, takes away from that intrigue.

With that in mind, let's take a look at how a film surrounding the Joker's origins could end up undermining the whole point of the character.

It Takes Away From The Joker's Mystique

While the Joker has been a regular presence in comic books since 1940, his origin story has undergone so many revisions over the years that it's hard to pin down which one is actually considered canon. But given that we're talking about the Joker here, this makes complete sense.

The character has always been an enigma, and one of the most alluring things about him is that we never actually know who he was before he became the Joker. The questions and intrigue surrounding his descent into madness have always been some of the Clown Prince of Crime's most compelling attributes.

The Joker is unhinged, unstable and downright unpredictable. And the lack of a distinctive origin story has always added to that mystique. All you have to do is look at Heath Ledger's Joker in the 2008 film . Thanks to the film's strong script and Ledger's Oscar-winning performance, that Joker has been immortalized as one of the greatest antagonists in movie history. But when you really think about it, we don't actually know that much about him.

One of the most fascinating things about Ledger's Joker was the fact that he didn't have a defining origin story. Much like in the comics, a few possibilities creeped up throughout the film, but it's hard to pin down which one, if any, was true — with the character actually giving us two completely different explanations for his scarred face. Thus, in effect, he kept us asking questions throughout the entire film.

However, those questions didn't actually need to be answered, because this Joker was simply a mysterious anarchist who wanted to watch the world burn.

We never uncovered the origins of Ledger's Joker in 'The Dark Knight'. [Credit: Warner Bros.]
We never uncovered the origins of Ledger's Joker in 'The Dark Knight'. [Credit: Warner Bros.]

The Joker is a larger-than-life character, a symbol who represents the craziness of the society he was born in. Focusing only on his origins strips that away from him, and reverts him to a mere mortal. The insanity becomes sanity, the symbol becomes the man, and the Joker becomes human. And this takes away the best parts of the legendary character.

A Joker Origin Story Can Work ... If It's Not The Main Story

While many of us do stand by the belief that the Joker shouldn't have a single origin story, there is proof that it can be done successfully. After all, Tim Burton's classic 1989 film gave Jack Nicholson's Joker an origin story, and it helped develop the character's needs and goals a great deal. That mob boss-like iteration of the Joker would go on to become one of the most beloved.

Moreover, Fox's series has done an exceptional job with the Joker's origin story via its original character Jerome Valeska. With a mesmerizing performance by Cameron Monaghan, Jerome's continuous descent into madness has somehow made Gotham's Joker seem even more unhinged and unpredictable than any that came before.

From 'Gotham' to 'Batman': These origin stories worked. [Credit: Fox/Warner Bros. Pictures]
From 'Gotham' to 'Batman': These origin stories worked. [Credit: Fox/Warner Bros. Pictures]

But both Nicholson's and Monaghan's Joker origins were only part of the wider story. These iterations told the story of the Joker's origins in such subtle styles that the birth of the Joker wasn't actually the story — it was only part of it.

Similarly, it has been revealed that the Joker's real name will be Jack Napier in the non-canon comic book Batman: White Knight. While many fans reacted well to the announcement, because it pays tribute to Nicholson's portrayal, some felt it took away from the mystery surrounding his origins. But as the comic is using his real name to influence the character's current storyline, it works. It uses his true identity to further the story without ever revealing too much about his origins.

However, having an entire film devoted to the character's beginnings could end up taking away from this version of the Joker. While Batman and Gotham employed realistic origin stories for their Joker arcs, they were only a means to an end to get the character where he needed to be: unleashing hell on the residents of Gotham City.

But that likely won't be the case in the upcoming film, which will be devoted to bringing the character's origin to life. The danger, ironically, is that the origin will be brought to life, not the character.

Without a doubt, the idea of a gritty Martin Scorsese-produced Joker origin story sounds fascinating. But with DC trying to develop a second continuity, outside of the DCEU, they really should be careful. While delving into the Joker's origins can be done successfully, it shouldn't be the only thing we see from the film.

Furthermore, tying a character as enigmatically complex as the Joker down to one specific origin story just doesn't seem like a wise idea, especially if the idea is to humanize him. If we understand the Joker's logic, then he becomes predictable — and this character's unpredictability is, by far, his most appealing attribute.

Do you think that giving the Joker an origin story will undermine the character or is there a way to do it right? Let us know in the comments below!


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