By Kevin J. Kessler
We've all seen Jared Leto as The Joker by now. The below image was released to celebrate the character's 75th anniversary in comics, and to say that it caused some controversy would be QUITE the understatement .
But why did the fandom universe have such a visceral reaction to this never before seen, inked up version of one of the most iconic characters of all time? Let's take a look-see.
There you have it. Pretty different, huh? No wonder comic book fans reacted as they did. This is a rather extreme departure from the days of Jack Nicholson, or the much beloved Heath Ledger. Different indeed....But to that, I pose the question, is different such a bad thing???
There's no denying Nicholson's Joker was iconic. For many of us, he was our first Joker. But I have always held true to the belief that while he's playing an excellent character, he's not playing THE JOKER as the character is classically portrayed in the comic books.
Jack was a gangster. Albeit a deformed gangster with a penchant for laughter, but he was a gangster none the less. He was a crook, a criminal, a common hood (pun intended for you comic fans!). Did he murder anyone just because it was funny? Nope. Everything had an element of crime to it.
No let's look at Heath. I'm going to take the unpopular opinion on this one and say that Heath Ledger was not a strong Joker. He was PHENOMENAL at playing the face painted scarred terrorist written for him in this film; but he is not The Joker.
He's an anarchist for sure. He's a deranged psycho killer who wants to prove that everyone is just like him under the flesh masks they wear every day. It's a remarkable concept and character. But it isn't The Joker. Heath wasn't Joker because he found nothing FUNNY. That's the whole spirit of the character. He finds EVERYTHING funny. Everything is a joke to him. Murder, blood, death, it all gives him a case of the yuck-yucks.
So, with that being said, no one as of yet has combined that perfect amount of crazy, sadism, and humor. Who is to say that under all of those tattoos, that isn't Jared Leto? But we will get to what lies beneath in a moment. For now, Let's examine some of the physical features everyone seems to hate.
The Tear Drop: On Joker's cheek, there seems to be a tear drop in the shape of the letter J. In the criminal world, one brands themselves with a tear drop when they've committed a murder. I'm sure Joker has taken MANY lives at this point, so what one death could have been so poignant that it merits this display of body art? Well for that, I give you....
The Robin's Wing: On Joker's right arm, we can see what appears to be a Robin's wing. This can mean one very important thing. This is a Joker who has killed Robin. Specifically, if we're going by comic book lore here, Jason Todd, the second Robin. That's one of The Joker's crowning achievements. Of course he remembers it fondly, and brands it onto his flesh permanently.
Chest Tattoos: Ok, yes, they're a little one the nose. The HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA's drawn all over his left pectoral and the Jester skull on his right are reminiscent of something a fan-boy might have done on himself to show that he is a Joker fan. But to that point I raise, who is a bigger Joker fan than THE JOKER himself!? He's the ultimate narcissist, plastering his face on EVERYTHING from vehicles to weaponry, to his various abandoned lairs throughout the years! He believes his own hype. That being said, how often will you see him with his shirt off? These don't really matter as much.
"Damaged": Ok, this is the one I'm with you guys on. The cursive "Damaged" written across his forehead is a little odd. First of all, nobody this side of Mike Tyson can really pull off a full out face tattoo anymore. But my main problem stems from the fact that Joker would NEVER see himself as Damaged. To him, he's the normal one and we're all just uptight morons who don't get his humor. So this one, to me, seems a bit out of place. Unless of course it's meant to mock us all. "You think I'm damaged? Let me show you how much your labels mean to me!" Actually, by putting that spin on it, I kinda like it!
The Grill: This is far and away my favorite aspect of Leto's Joker appearance. People need to chill about this. He doesn't have a grill because he's a thug! He has a grill because BATMAN PUNCHED HIS TEETH OUT OF HIS STUPID FACE IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE! Seriously, one of my favorite shots in any Batman/Joker comic is when Batman beats Justice into his arch enemy's face, usually knocking teeth out. Yet he always has teeth again next time we see him! How is this possible? HE GETS FAKE METAL TEETH! It's perfect. Honestly I'm shocked the comics have never used that concept as a design. It gives his smile (the most important aspect of the Joker, which Ledger never did) a more unnatural and terrifying appearance. I freaking love it. And, If Batman punched out his teeth post Jason Todd murdering, OR even the paralysis of Barbara Gordon, then all the better!
The Eyes: Ok so there lies the physical, but to me, as I've stated on Geek WatchTower MANY times, the costume or appearance doesn't mean as much to me as the EYES of a character. When I look into Jared Leto's eyes in this photo, I see perfect absolute nothingness. I see a sociopath. I see the mania that has been missing from the eyes of all Jokers who came before him. He gets this role. You can tell. And if you were lucky enough to see the leaked set videos which showcase his conversation with Harleen Quinzell, you'll see he has the mannerisms down perfectly as well. He has a flair for the dramatic. Broad arm gestures are the name of this game!
Ledger's Joker was very quiet and terrifying in his awkwardness. Nicholson chewed the scenery to shreds (which works in that movie!). But the Joker is theatrical. He is LOUD. He is OVERBEARING. And judging by what I see, this may be just that!
Just remember one thing before you all judge. Everyone hated the idea of Downey Junior as Iron Man. Everyone hated Heath Ledger being cast as The Joker. Everyone hated Chris Evans being cast as Captain America. But didn't they all work out fine?
When Suicide Squad releases, I will be there opening night with BELLS on! (not literally) And once we see what Mr. Leto has in store for us as the new clown prince of crime, I will be there to say it. "I informed you, thusly!"