You Ever Dance with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?
Yesterday, C-Mart gave us a trip down memory lane with all the different Batmen running around the past. Today we revisit the long-standing history of Batman’s Greatest Foe; The Clown Prince of Crime himself… The Joker!
The history of The Joker goes back almost as far as Batman himself. Originally appearing in Batman #1 way back in 1940, this character has managed to remain a thorn in Batman’s side as well as becoming one of the most popular characters in Pop Culture history. His specific features; white skin, green hair, red lips, and the rictus grin have remained constant with the character through his various incarnations over the years. The story goes that Bob Kane gave Bill Finger a picture of Conrad Veidt from the silent film The Man Who Laughs and combined it with the image on the traditional Joker playing card and hands-down the most popular comic book villain in history was born!
One of the things that I have always loved is that in the 70+ years that the character has been around, there is not an official origin story for him, but there are a couple that stand out. One states that he was the criminal known as The Red Hood and fell into a vat of chemicals whilst battling Batman. Another states that he was a chemical engineer who quit his job to pursue a life as a stand up comic, but was awful at it. To support his pregnant wife, he agrees to help two criminals break into the plant where he was previously employed and they make him wear the Red Hood disguise so he looks like the ring leader of the gang. He sees Batman and runs away, only to fall into a vat of chemicals. Another origin has him as a master criminal and even another has him as a lowlife gangster. The only name that we have for him in all of these possible pasts is Jack. Batman was defined by his past, whereas the Joker is simply homicidal. Some people get angry at a backstory like this, but I feel that it actually gives the character more life and gives creators the potential to take him so many different places. Along with that, the flexibility of his origin has allowed many actors to take their role of The Joker in so many different directions. With that said, lets take a look at the many actors who have portrayed the Harlequin of Hate.
Cesar Romero – 1960′s Batman TV Show and Batman: The Movie (1968)
The Joker premiered in the fifth episode of the first season of Batman in 1966 in an episode titled “The Joker is Wild.” The original Joker that premiered in the 1940’s was a homicidal killer who murdered people for fun, but by the 50’s and 60’s the character had become more silly and campy, almost a prankster role. The television character was modeled after the prankster criminal rather than the killer and didn’t differ from the comic book villain at the time with the exception of the one thing. Cesar Romero refused to shave his mustache to play the roll, so in every appearance of the Joker the white face paint was smeared on top the stache and it can even be seen in a few scenes.
Jack Nicholson – Batman (1989)
While the 50’s and 60’s turned our killer into a joke (no pun intended,) the 70’s brought evil back to the character in great runs by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Then the 80’s gave us an even more twisted take on the clown. In-continuity stories like A Death in the Family saw the villain actually kill Robin (Jason Todd) by beating the hell out of him with a crowbar and then blowing him up. A couple years later in The Killing Joke he went to Commissioner Gordon’s home and grusomely shot his daughter Barbara (Batgirl,) undressed her, took photos, kidnapped Gordon and then left her there in a pool of her own blood. He then tried to make Gordon go mad by showing him the images over and over again. This grim character development led up to Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 where Jack Nicholson gave us a Joker who started out as a lowlife who eventually moved up the ranks to become a gangster who falls into a vat of chemicals when confronted by Batman. When he emerges, he is horribly disfigured and cracks. He realizes that his boss set him up, so he takes care of him and then begins to kill other bosses across Gotham to become a crime lord. Jack Nicholson plays the character well and is convincing as Batman’s greatest foe, really playing up the killer yet maniacal personality that the decade of comics had created. My only gripe is that in some scenes he is less Joker and more Jack (Nicholson, that is.) But hey, a great performance!
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
Although I really liked Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, I was really pissed off when it was announced that Heath Ledger would play the role of The Joker. At the time I couldn’t believe that they (Hollywood) would allow him to play that roll because I always thought of him as a kind of pretty boy. I went to see I am Legend in an IMAX and got to see the opening 10 minutes of TDK with the bank heist. After that not only was I was sold on him in the role of the Joker, but I was so impressed of how Heath as an actor literally transformed into this character on the screen. I was never happier to be be wrong about something in my life. News built up as we got closer to the movie’s debut because of Heath’s untimely death and although a tragedy, the man went out on such a high note on the silver screen and took the character to new heights. In this interpretation, Joker saw himself as an agent of chaos and saw it as his god-given right to mix up the pot in Gotham and attack everyone from Batman to the Police to Harvey Dent to the mob! He just didn’t give a fuck! Rather than a rictus grin and bleached skin, he had scars on his face and wore “warpaint.” His origin was never really explained with the exception of different stories he told throughout the film of how he got the scars. He truly played a lunatic without a care in the world and brought the character back into the eyes of the public in the new millennium. Well done Heath!
Mark Hamill – Batman: The Animated Series (1992), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994),The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman Beyond (1999), Justice League (2001), Justice League Unlimited (2004), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) The Adventures of Batman and Robin (Video Game) (1994), Batman: Vengeance (2001), Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), and Batman: Arkham City (2011)
When most people hear the name Mark Hamill they immediately think about the kid from Tatooine, and although I am a huge Star Wars fan, the only thing that I think of is The Joker! Mark has voiced the Joker in one way, shape, or form for the past twenty years. He has a certain perplexity in his voice that can really adjust to the mood of the scene. He can speak very slowly and diabolical and then five seconds later is laughing his ass off in a really creepy way. Now any Batfan will tell yu how good that TAS was and it could have ended there, but Mark kept getting asked back to do more and more. Kevin Smith called him the “People’s Joker” in his Fatman on Batman podcast and I have to agree with him 100%. Mark plays the Joker so well that when I read Batman comics, I hear the voice in my head. The way that he played off Kevin Conroy (the one true Batman) is just pure gold, those two are the real dynamic duo if you ask me! And to think that the character was almost voiced by Tim Curry of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. For more info on Mark and how he became “The People’s Joker” make sure that you check out Kevin Smith’s podcast!
John DiMaggio – Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)
In this DC Direct-to-DVD/Bluray movie we see a new actor play an animated Joker, none other than John DiMaggio! John has been in animation for quite some time and plays the voice of Bender on Futurama (as well as Aquaman on Batman: Brave and the Bold.) Now as I stated before, Mark Hamill plays an amazing animated Joker, but John’s performance in this flick is good, really good in fact. This movie is based on the Under the Hood storyline, which brought back Jason Todd and established him as a villain called The Red Hood. The film opens with The Joker beating Robin to death with a crowbar and John plays the performance so well. My favorite scene is towards the end of the movie when he kills a room full of thugs and then says “I’ll need some guys. Not these guys, because well, they’re kind of dead.” and then laughs uncontrollably. Seriously, this guy could do this role more often and I would not be opposed. Someone else who will be stepping into the Jokers shoes soon is Michael Emerson (better known as Ben Linus from Lost) in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2. I am looking forward to this rendition because I always liked Michaels Lost character and I think that he’ll play it like that to a point, but only time will tell.
Well folks, thats most of them. There have been a couple other Jokers through the years (The Batman, Super Friends, Brave and the Bold) but my list here is top notch. I’ve gotta thank C-Mart for coming up with the idea of this companion article because it allowed me to sift through my movies and watch so much awesome Joker footage over the past two days! If I had to pick a favorite though it is without a doubt Mark Hamill, Mistuh J himself! Make sure to return tomorrow for our look of Boy Wonders through the ages!
Batman…Batman! Can somebody tell me what kind of a world do we live in, where a man dressed as a bat gets all of my press?
This town needs an enema!
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