When it comes to movies based on comic books, it’s common practice that fans pour over every detail, scouring every frame for elements that reference the books. It’s all part of being a fan. But Todd Philliips, the director of Joker, is telling fans now that his gritty supervillain movie will not resemble anything you’d find in a stack of back issues.
In an interview with Empire, Phillips says that Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is doing its “own version” of the famed DC villain that is not even about the Joker, but the man behind the face paint.
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic-books, which people are gonna be mad about,” Phillips said. “We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”
The interview came with a new photo, which showed Phoenix as his character, “Arthur Fleck,” applying clown makeup before a lighted mirror. In the film, Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a disturbed comedian who slowly evolves into the ruthless terrorist known as “The Joker.”
Joker, set for release on October 4, really is a different beast from the majority of modern superhero movies. While it is the story of the same Batman villain who inhabits Gotham City, Phillips’ film is taking more inspiration from the works of Martin Scorsese, Don Siegel, and the moral decay of 1970s America (best illustrated by the porn theaters that once lined midtown Manhattan). So it stands to reason why Phillips is resistant referencing the comics, which are often more otherworldly in their portrayal of crime-ridden Gotham City.
Perhaps the biggest departure for Joker is that it gave a name to the Joker, Arthur Fleck, a name never heard of even in the comics. While it’s worth noting that the 1989 Batman film by Tim Burton also gave a name to the Joker (“Jack Napier”) along with an origin as an affluent crime boss turned supervillain, mainstream DC Comics lore has kept the Joker’s true backstory a mystery for decades up to the present day.
Even the acclaimed miniseries, The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bollard, was just one creative team’s interpretation of a failed comedian pushed into a life of crime as “The Joker.” It was never intended to be the true origins of the character, though the book’s enduring popularity has made it the de facto origin when it’s convenient.
With Joker, there is perhaps yet another new interpretation that will dominate the pop culture consciousness for years to come. Or maybe it won’t. When it comes to the Joker, you really can’t predict what he’ll do.
Joker will be released in theaters on October 5.