Five Thoughts About the New Joker

All right guys, here he is: the new Joker, the so-called clown prince of crime, as he will be portrayed by Jared Leto in WB’s upcoming Suicide Squad movie.


And now, five thoughts.  Keep in mind that we know almost nothing about the direction that this movie will take with the character, so most of this is guesswork.

1. Outrageous?  Colorful?  Noisy?  Definitely.

…and in the case of a character who is iconic for being chaotic, inflammatory, psychopathic, charismatic and just plain out there, that’s a good thing.  Look, the Joker is a seventy-five-year-old-character, and although he’s been portrayed in a million different ways, if there’s one thing that’s generally pretty consistent it’s his penchant for being unpredictable.

If Batman is symbolic of order, justice and dark righteousness, the Joker is chaos, carnage and brightly-colored evil.  It’s the reason that those two characters work so well together, and why they’re so often described as “two sides of the same coin.”

When depicting the Joker, a creator has a lot of leeway.  About the only way they could really mess it up would be if they made him subtle—and looking at the picture above, we definitely don’t have to worry about that.



2. Well, it’s wildly different from previous takes, that’s for sure. 

Sure.  Fair enough.  But to date, every cinematic depiction of the Joker has been wildly different from the last—and this is also the case in the comics, where every writer has his/her own take.  So much so, in fact, that in Grant Morrison’s excellent graphic novel, Arkham Asylum, it is suggested that the Joker actually reinvents himself every day, hence why on some days he might be a goofy prankster with giant props and on the next day a ruthless maniac who beats Jason Todd to death with a crowbar.   A depiction of the Joker can range from hilariously silly to horrifyingly monstrous; either way would be accurate.

What I’m trying to say is that this is the JOKER.  One of the most dynamic characters in Western literature, who is famous for being wildly different.

Furthermore, what is now the single most iconic version of the character—Heath Ledger’s take, in The Dark Knight—was itself a wildly different take on the character, one that eschewed such classic elements as the bleached white skin, and turned the Joker’s permanent smile into a hideous Glasgow grin.   What made Ledger’s take so brilliant, other than some phenomenal acting, was that he and Christopher Nolan recognized the terrifyingly chaotic philosophies that make the Joker such a fascinating character, and they transplanted that onto the screen.

Let’s face it: Heath Ledger’s Joker is probably never going to be topped, at least not for a long time.  The Dark Knight caught lightning in a bottle.  So, for the Joker to successfully be brought to the big screen once again without retreading old ground, it requires another remarkably divergent take—which this definitely appears to be.


3. So, those tattoos…

The Joker, like Batman, has always been a character with a hyper-awareness of his own image.  The tattoos are an extension of that.  It seems to me that that the tattoos are probably not from a desire for self-expression, but more of a cynical self-branding tactic.  He’s the Joker, he’s the most dangerous criminal in the world, he’s the clown with the ha-ha-has and the big toothy grin.

Most people get tattoos to express something deeper, to mark themselves with an image, phrase or symbol that is important to them.  The Joker is likely doing the opposite.  He’s marking himself with frivolous trademarks, both mocking and celebrating his image at the same time.

The one part that I can’t get behind is the silly “damaged” tattoo on his forehead.  It seems out of character to me, and this whole look would probably be better without it.  I hope I’m proven wrong, but for right now, I don’t get it.


4. Does he have a Batman tattoo?

No, seriously.  C’mon, this seems like too much to pass up.

Even though Batman probably won’t be a part of Suicide Squad, it seems to me that this should be a given.  One of the most consistent traits of the Joker is his undying adoration for Batman.  Unlike other archenemies, the Joker feeds off of his rivalry with the dark knight, lives for every encounter that the two of them have.

Not to mention, the irony of getting his worst enemy’s symbol tattooed onto his flesh?  The Joker would do it for a laugh, if nothing else.


5. What kind of Joker is this going to be? 

It’s obviously way too early to say, but based on the picture, this is what I currently predict:

Whereas Nicholson’s Joker was a colorful mobster and Ledger’s was a brilliant, cunning sociopath, I’ll bet that Leto’s is going to be a lunatic rock star—wild, crazy and freakishly spontaneous.  This isn’t going to be some calm, calculating killer; instead, this Joker will be like a giggling time bomb that might slit a companion’s throat at any instant, or drop a bomb in his pants.

Since this universe’s Batman is someone who’s been fighting crime for many years, this universe’s Joker is going to be an experienced criminal who has probably spent many years behind bars, and has also cultivated the  sort of demented following that his many real life counterparts gather—including a certain harlequin-inspired love interest, who will be a major character in Suicide Squad.

Based on all those tattoos, we can see that this is a man who knows the power of his own image.  And from the look of those teeth, you can also bet that his last run-in with Batman didn’t go so well.

Of course, I’m judging all of this off a single picture, so I could be totally wrong.  Too early to say.  I guess we won’t know until next year.



12 thoughts on “Five Thoughts About the New Joker

    • That’s the current rumor, anyhow, though it seems dubious to me. I’m okay with it either way – when it comes to the Joker, I’m pretty open-minded to different takes – though it strikes me as odd and unlikely that they’d do a big “first reveal” that was dramatically different from what they intend to market later on.

  1. “The tattoos aren’t gonna be in the movie, they were there just to stylize that particular picture haha”

    That’s a relief, the Joker with his shirt off just looks wrong anyway, like a poor DC villains pin-up. Personally I’m looking more forward to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quin 🙂

  2. I knew nothing about this being rubbish with films but it is interesting how there can be so many takes on the care characteristics of a character. I suppose you can liken it to Doctor who but in a more extreme and wholly unpredictable way which always gives it more spice. As long as The Joker exudes darkness I will be happy.

    • The Doctor definitely follows the same sort of guidelines; there’s a set of defining traits, and then the actor/writers get to embellish from there. What’s ingenious about the Doctor, of course, is that the character himself is written to actually incorporate these changes every few years, in a way that broadens the character’s storyline instead of just rebooting it; rather unique, in that regard.

      • Having obsessed over Who for many years, The Joker makes an interesting counterpoint and perhaps would make an interesting crossover episode. Rebooting has its merits, it allows a continual exploration and with Morrison’s reinventing himself every day take on things it would be interesting to see those different phases of the Joker coalesce into some sort of canon hsistory maybe.

        • Agreed, I thought that the Morrison/Arkham Asylum take was a pretty brilliant way to combine all disparate versions of the character into a unified being.

          I think that a character’s ability to evolve over time – and be presented in numerous different ways – is often what elevates a well-known character from being simply famous to becoming iconic. The way that twentieth century characters like the Joker, Dr. Who, Peter Pan, Superman and so on have been depicted in so many wildly different ways resembles the evolution of historical mythological figures like Hercules, King Arthur, Johnny Appleseed, et cetera.

  3. I think Leno is the perfect “new” Joker. What a shot! The Circle sounds terrifying. I’m deathly afraid of a world where all my bodily fluids, my movements, my life is monitored. I’d have to live off the grid as a wild person in the hills. 😉

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