As Warner Bros. begins to build their own cinematic universe with DC Comics properties, some might say they have taken their first misstep with the reveal of Jared Leto's Joker this past Friday. Set to appear in 2016's Suicide Squad film directed by David Ayer, the new Joker offers a fairly different design to what fans are used to seeing.
The image quickly blew up across news sites and social media for good reason. The Joker is one of the most popular comic book characters in the world and folks are eager to see his next incarnation. The nerd rage, jokes, and even memes have been entertaining, but misplaced. Heath Ledger's iconic performance in 2008's The Dark Knight offered a vastly altered version of the character that proved extremely successful despite facing much of the same outrage. Films, comic books and other media have featured many variations from the classic Joker appearance that have been met with varying amounts of success as well.
I am not trying to argue a 'wait and see' approach since that is a rational given with the film being more than a year away. I simply want to share my thoughts behind why Warner Bros., Ayer, and Leto decided that this would be their Joker for the DCCU.
To be honest, when I first saw the portrait, I laughed out loud. The ridiculousness of the character immediately drew to mind images of rappers and rock stars. While Heath Ledger's Joker was very dark and grimy, Leto's Joker looks even edgier and more manic. It's not your Grandpa's Joker!, I am sure someone would say facetiously. It is sort of shocking that Warner Bros. would go with an original version of the Joker when Ben Affleck's Batman is nearly comic accurate, but I believe that is the one of the design's main strengths going forward into the cinematic universe.
Batman's moral code of not killing has always been tested by his foes. In comic stories like The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns or the recent Death of the Family, the Joker especially has pushed Batman to the limits of his ideals with the mayhem and destruction he wrought. The wonderfully scary aspect of Heath Ledger's Joker was that all his ravings and rationalizations of his and Batman's relationship began to make sense after a while. To that end, Batman in the conclusion of the film inadvertently killed Harvey Dent, and by 2012's The Dark Knight Rises he had morphed into Tim Burton's Batman and killed left and right. With this new Joker, I see a person that Batman would be repulsed by in every way imaginable and as result resist the outcome of Christopher Nolan's trilogy.
I see a Joker that Batman would actually feel the urge to kill but barely restrains himself, that he would be thinking "I wish I could just snap your neck, you evil piece of garbage" all the time while chasing him. That, when he finally gets his hands on him, he just lets loose (hence the need for a metal smile). The tired motif expressed frequently across many media is that Batman and Joker are meant to be together, that "You and I are destined to do this forever" as Joker puts it. That has dominated the character for so long but I do not see that here at all. I believe there will be pure hatred reciprocated between the two men. What more evidence do you want then the guy seemingly having a dead robin tattooed on his right arm? He is an unrepentant, insane psychopath. This man looks like the scum of the Earth, a cockroach that Batman's war on crime just cannot stamp out.
Looking at Ben's Batman and Jared's Joker together, I see a perfect pairing.
I see a logical answer to Affleck's comic accurate Batman design. In a perfect world the iconography of this Batman would be answered by an elegant and classic Joker design. True archenemies forever: Good vs Evil, Justice vs Chaos. Yet this Joker design basically spits in the face of all that poetic mess that has been pushed for decades already. It allows for this Joker to truly become this universe's Batman's biggest enemy: because it denies Batman integral parts of his own character and then laughs in his face about it.
Aside from that thematic denial, it also denies Batman mentally. Unlike the random hoods and thugs on the street whose bones he can break to scare them for life and never see them again, this man pops up in his face constantly and bears the scars (or busted teeth) of previous battles proudly, therefore showing Batman the extent of his own brutality. I do not see this Joker ever behaving like Frank Miller's where he painstakingly prepares himself for the next encounter with his "darling". This new Joker looks like he enjoys being ugly, and for his own face to be that of Batman's crusade on crime and warp it as a result.
To me, the self-awareness shown by the tattoos is refreshingly on the nose. Joker reveling in his own insanity will allow for the character to energetically flourish rather than be bogged down waxing poetically. Ironically the comic style lettering and referential designs are giving comic fans and general fans of the character EXACTLY what they wanted: the classic Joker is basically tattooed on his body. The grand joke is that a lot of them HATE the design for that.
I am not saying everyone should appreciate what Jared Leto, David Ayer, and Warner Bros. have done with the Joker in his latest form. I just hope that I am not alone in loving it.