After what feels like years of hype and disgusting stories from set, Jared Leto’s version of The Joker has arrived.. Unfortunately, even Batfans have to admit Leto’s unique take on the iconic character was one of the many underwhelming elements of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.
Leto’s Joker is unique, no doubt; it was a very unexpected choice to mix a hodgepodge of old versions of the character with James Franco’s high priest of partying in Spring Breakers. It’s a strange cocktail, but astute comic book fans can still pick out its inspirations. No, there isn’t much Heath Ledger in this portrayal — after all, that’s an impossible act to follow and anything like it would be a pale imitation — but there were a whole lot of comic books, cartoons, other on-screen portrayals, and outside influences from which Leto could choose. Here are the hallmarks Leto most likely used to construct his clown prince of crime.
All-Star Batman & Robin #8
A year before Ledger did his Oscar-winning thing in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, comic superstars Frank Miller and Jim Lee collaborated on All Star Batman & Robin. In the eighth issue, the Joker sports a sweet dragon tattoo, as if he’s part of the yakuza (he’s not). He also sleeps with a model attorney, and then kills her, because it’s his only way of expressing love. Or something. (It’s a weird comic.)
Anyway, point is, he’s got a tat and he’s a little off-kilter, even for The Joker. The tattoos on Joker in Suicide Squad, who also has a dragon on his back, seem like direct references to this weirdo.
Batman: Detective Comics #1
In DC’s 2011 relaunch, New 52, there were several Batman titles, including Batman: Detective Comics, a spiritual successor to the long-running Detective Comics (which have been revived through DC’s Rebirth). A paparazzi photo taken in August 2015 spotted Leto in New York with an iPhone background of Batman: Detective Comics #1 with the Joker prominent in the foreground.
Maybe Leto just Googled “Joker eating baby heads” and that’s how he found this cover. But in just so happens that in that comic, Joker slices off his face to “rebirth” himself, which continued in Scott Snyder’s acclaimed Batman series in the storyline “Death of the Family.” Leto’s Joker doesn’t do anything gruesome on that level in Suicide Squad, but it is a very dark place that’s attractive and evocative enough for a method actor to study.
The Dark Knight Returns
Of course The Dark Knight Returns keeps influencing these movies. On a set visit by Screen Rant, Leto said his sharp-dressed and composed Joker was inspired by Miller’s seminal graphic novel that reinvented the Batman mythos (as well as heavily influence Snyder’s Dawn of Justice):
“We started off at the beginning, believe it or not, looking at doing all their kind of more comic stuff much for faithful to the comic book,” he said at the time. “David started looking at these drug cartel guys and he was also talking about Scarface and how he wanted a Joker that was in total control, and very put together. And I think that’s in, is it the Frank Miller one? There’s that look: he wanted him buff, he wanted him powerful.”
The Killing Joke
So much has already been said about The Killing Joke, Alan Moore’s seminal one-shot that defined the Joker’s backstory (Alan Moore has disowned that book in recent years).
With the clear allusions to The Killing Joke in Suicide Squad, it’s no wonder Leto imitated the book’s cover, which Ayer tweeted about a year ago.
Leto also tweeted the photo below, wearing tourist attire similar to what the Joker wears in The Killing Joke when he shoots Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl.
Suicide Squad is out now in theaters.