Quite a few actors have played the Joker, but most fans agree that Mark Hamill delivered the definitive version in Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill was quoted this week calling Joker his Hamlet. “I don’t think there’s a definitive version of the Joker, and I don’t think there can be,” Hamill told Polygon. “It’s like Hamlet, really. It’ll be constantly redefined.”
That means Jared Leto, who played Joker most recently in Suicide Squad, will simply fall in line next to Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Hamill himself as one of many actors who have (and will!) attempt to play the Hamlet of Gotham. Joker fascinates audiences differently than Batman, particularly in film adaptations, because the character calls for depravity we don’t often see onscreen. Joker is freeing to actors because he’s typically refused a backstory — the films which give him a cohesive origin narrative (Batman) feel weaker in comparison to films like The Dark Knight.
Hamill describes Joker now being almost omnipresent in Batman stories, and he’s right. Although DC Comics has attempted in Rebirth titles to flesh out other villains in Gotham’s ranks — Two-Face dominates All-Star and Bane looms over Tom King’s Batman series — adaptations sold to filmgoers and TV fans are still harping on Joker as the omega villain. Gotham will reintroduce their young Joker character Jerome, WB’s Suicide Squad extended cut added several Joker scenes, and Telltale’s Batman series has been teasing the Joker in its next episode for weeks. We are truly at peak Joker, to the point that many DC fans are praying Jared Leto’s Joker doesn’t appear in either Justice League or Ben Affleck’s still-untitled Batman film.
Using what Joker represents in Batman properties, rather than shoehorning him into every single Gotham adaptation, will only help make DC’s brand robust and sustainable. Joker is more than the Clown Prince of Gotham: He’s an unpredictable foil to Bruce Wayne’s familiar, disciplined Dark Knight, and he causes trouble for Batman in a way that feels personal. Luckily for DC, Batman’s other villains can do similarly disturbing things.