He's possibly the most iconic screen villain of all time, probably the most psychotic — and definitely the only one to fall in a vat of acid and emerge with green hair. Yes, The Joker is the bad guy we love to hate, the rarified villain so wildly insane he makes the hero he fights look boring by comparison.
Fair to say then that Jared Leto has a lot to live up to when he takes on the role in DC's Suicide Squad. I thought it would be fun to take a quick look back at what made past Jokers so great, what aces Leto has in his deck to ensure his take serves the necessary dose of villainous insanity, and what the future might hold for the Clown Prince.
A Certain Level Of Camp
Let's rewind back to 1989, when Jack Nicholson — not the first silver-screen Joker, but the first of the modern era — played opposite Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's Batman. Nicholson fully embraced the campiness of the Joker, playing down the idea that on some level he's actually quite a tragic figure in favor of bringing the laughs.
"Ya wouldn't hit a guy with glasses, huh, would ya?!"
Nicholson's Joker is definitely the most fun ever, but a little cartoonish for some tastes — at times it's as if he's been ripped straight from the pages of a comic book, which doesn't quite fit with the pulpy darkness of Burton's film. He probably would go down a storm in Suicide Squad, which might explain why Leto seems to be channeling Nicholson's Joker, as opposed to...
The Best Ever (A-Ledger'dly)
The Dark Knight is easily the most beloved comic book movie of the 21st century. Christopher Nolan's masterpiece, a far stronger movie than the two bookends of the trilogy, has every ingredient, but it really flies when the Joker is on screen.
Ledger immersed himself in the bleak psychosis of his character, keeping a diary in character, and it shows on screen. His Joker is like the villain of a slasher film, too disturbed to be truly funny. The acid-vat backstory is removed and we see the Joker's white makeup, a kind of 24/7 warpaint, crumbling from his face, which only serves to make him even more terrifying.
"If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice..."
A strange dichotomy exists in the comics whereby the Bat is not just the Joker's nemesis, but also his reason for living. He gets off on inflicting pain on the Caped Crusader. In the epic climax of what is universally considered the greatest, most brutal Joker comic of all, The Killing Joke, the Joker himself — broken down almost to the point of exhaustion — acknowledges this fact:
So where does the Joker go from here? Well, it feels like a smart move on Suicide Squad's part to remove Batman from the equation, mostly, and focus on the Joker's twisted relationship with Harley Quinn. We need to see this character exist outside of the Gotham bubble, at least for a little while.
But there's a solo Batman movie coming, and what better opportunity than to bring The Killing Joke to life in all its sick, murderous glory? Zack Snyder's R-rated take on that other Alan Moore classic, Watchmen, was more than a bit good.
Whatever the future holds for the Clown Prince, the man we love to see bring hell to Gotham is in safe hands. Jared Leto has this in the bag, and wherever the Joker train heads next, I'm on board.
The incredible and only slightly disturbing Joker art in the header image was created by AramisFraino on Deviantart.