Here we are, the final day of Joker Week. I’ve talked about the various stories of Joker’s early life and encounters with Batman, and we’ve looked at what makes Joker work as Batman’s greatest enemy. Today, we’re going to look at those portrayals that distilled the very essences of Joker, those who not only brought what was the core of the character at the time, but influenced further depictions. It may be over, but as the Clown Prince himself said in one film, if you’ve got to go, go with a smile!
When the Comic Code prevented Joker from continuing as a murdering monster clown, DC Comics started to write him as a giggling master criminal, a crook who liked his crimes to have some kind of punch-line, whether that involved over-the-top gadgets, or just crimes based on some silly gag. Caesar Romero made the character his. Romero had energy to spare as he pranced, giggled and laughed his way through insane situation after insane situation. As the 60’s series got more popular, so too did his portrayal of Joker, causing the character to basically feed on itself. And while it was cheesy of him to not shave his mustache for the role (painting over it instead), Romero did give, what was at the time, the iconic Joker. Sadly, he would be eclipsed by later performances.
In the 70’s, writer Denny O’Neil set out to rid all Batman books of the silly campiness that came about during the 50’s and 60’s. Under his direction, Joker was finally allowed to kill people, but also kept his penchant for over-the-top crimes. During the 70’s and 80’s, we saw Joker doing such insane schemes as the Laughing Fish (where he attempted to copyright fish, and killed anyone in his way). This was the period where Joker could still do crimes for profit with some over-the-top joke, but was also prone to kill people as suddenly as let them go. It was this period when Tim Burton’s Batman movie was released, and Jack Nicholson hit it out of the park. Starting Joker as a mobster who was already unhinged, and working him in as the one behind the murder of Batman’s parents made Joker click as a personal foe for Batman. His performance still echoes in all Joker stories involving his attempt to steal and murder solely for personal benefit.
Now, I love all these performances. They all found a core of Joker’s multifaceted existence and brought it to life for us. However, I personally find Mark Hamill’s depiction of Joker to be the ultimate performance. About to commit a crazy crime involving a giant birthday cake? I’d believe it from his take of the character. Driving around town just murdering folks for whatever reason crosses his mind? Yup, I’d believe it. The cold fact is, Hamill is able to bring all of it to the forefront. In that clip alone, he goes from menacing, to humorous, to nonchalant to absolutely terrifying. And the thing that I think makes it so good is that Hamill has played the Joker in the animated series, in its movie, the future sequel movie Batman Beyond and the games Arkham Asylum and its sequel Arkham City. Unlike the others, whose portrayals are wholly dependent on their medium, Hamill is the only voice of the Joker for me and so many others. His is the voice I hear when I read the comics. But I also can’t deny the absolute brilliance of our last entry.
I may have said that Hamill is what I hear in my head when I read modern Batman comics. But Ledger may be the best Joker of all. While you could say he has funny moments, they’re always dark jokes. When he steps into a room, your blood runs cold. The fact is, Nolan’s movies are about bringing all the darkness and hope of the comics to a real world-like setting. In a real world situation, crazy people who live only to cause pain and break people are not funny to anyone but themselves. Ledger is reminiscent of Joker’s first ever appearance in 1940: no comical acting, no over-the-top schemes or gag weapons. This Joker will walk into a room, pick someone out, and depending on his mood stab you in the throat or shoot a squirt gun in your face. It’s too soon to say how this Joker will affect the comics, but I’m willing to bet that Joker is probably going to stop robbing places unless it suits some grander scheme to push everyone to the limits of their sanity.
In conclusion, I’ll sum up all the Jokers in single words.
I recommend all of them as a fun night for watching Joker in motion. And I hope that I see even more defining portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime in the future.
Joker Week is officially over. If you feel a small grin tugging on your face against your will, well just go with it and laugh like a madman! AHAHAHAHAHA!!!