Is anyone else just completely burnt out on the Joker?
Yes, the Joker is super great. The character has been so many different things under so many different people. He’s such an overwhelming personality that he’s one of the only reasons that people like Batman — the horned one, after all, is often a negative image of his enemies. The best of the bunch is a literal wildcard who hijacks our attention and can inspire very real fear. But the Joker is frightening because of the unknown. Start filling in backstory and fleshing out motivations and you’ve replaced a wild dog off the leash with a terrier in people clothes.
We need to handle the Joker the way the Joker handles nothing: By embracing moderation.
This summer kicked off with the video game Arkham Knight, which promised us that the Joker had died within its universe’s continuity. Then, at the first act break, a magical hallucination of the Mark Hamill voiced character appeared to taunt the Caped Crusader, and — somewhat frustratingly — never left. Dead Joker was even more ubiquitous than live Joker. It probably wasn’t a good idea, but it wound up being the highlight of the game and successfully distracted from the paper-thin antagonists.
On the heels of this game installment, which broke Hamill’s promise that he had retired the character, was the announcement that an animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke would be going into production with Hamill voicing the clown prince of crime. Given that Bruce Timm is producing and Warner has given the go-ahead for a direct-to-video feature with an R rating, there’s a lot to be excited about. Then one considers the why ($) of the thing. Truth be told, the one-shot Moore comic, at a lean 60 pages, doesn’t lend itself directly to a film adaptation. There’s also no natural audience — at least not a broad one. Weird. Funny.
Then we’ve got the whole mess with Suicide Squad. The Jared Leto version of the character looked so bad in the promo shots that the internet lit itself on fire, forcing some reshoots and a wave of pre-release promotion built around stories of Leto’s on-set “insanity” as he went method. This is profoundly annoying. The role may well have killed the last actor who took it on, so showcasing worrisome intensity doesn’t seem smart — or cute.
And it fucking continues: We’ve got Cameron Monaghan’s character on Gotham. I know the rest of you have bailed on that show, but at the end of last year we were introduced to “Jerome”, a teen murder nightmare boy with a VERY DISTINCTIVE LAUGH AND SMILE LINES who toured with the same circus as The Flying Graysons.
At the time, it was a kind of thirsty choice — the show was going full Muppet Babies on their premise. Then Season 2 opened with Jerome getting sprung from Arkham and leading a gang of homicidal misfits on a reign of terror across Gotham. For a few episodes, it showed the potential of a strong antagonist on the show, even if Monaghan’s character felt like he was going “too big” on his interpretation, which yes, is a criticism you CAN levy at someone playing the Joker. Then, after establishing the Joker as a well publicized criminal institution with a dislike of Bruce Wayne, they killed him. They just killed him. In a move that made me swallow every shout of “STOP GIVING BAD BACKSTORY” they just killed Jerome.
It showed that the concept of a laughing anarchist with designs on dismantling civilization (Rand Paul?) could spread like a fever across an oppressed underclass. Like activating all the Slayers on Buffy, Jerome’s death removed the overreach of the too early introduction while setting up the possibility of copycats. And, sure, we’ll all tune back in to see the Laughy Blood-Man so why not transform a particular important character into an ideology.
So, would you go back in time to kill a baby Joker?
We’re at a point where film franchises don’t even need heroes because the villains are the cake and the eating of the cake. But it does the Joker a disservice to have four different continuities undercutting each other. Some men want to watch the world burn, but what does DC want the Joker to do? Print money apparently. But that’s not how this character works. He shouldn’t be building an empire; he should be stealing scenes.