John's Blog The ramblings of an unpublished author


Most Faithful Joker? Not Yet

So I just did something stupid and let myself get emotionally involved with a message board argument on IMDB. I know better, I really do, but something about this just bugged me.

The question for debate was whether or not Heath Ledger gave the best Joker performance, hands down. Naturally, the argument held opinions in favor of Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero, and Mark Hamill as well, but what got me was that several people think Nicholson's Joker (in the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman, for those who are non-geek or just not old enough to have seen and remember it) was the most faithful to the comics.

They're not reading the same comics I am, I don't think. The Joker I know of from the comics doesn't spend most of his time with flesh-toned makeup on to hide his white skin; he revels in his difference from everyone else. But that's not my argument here. I say we have only seen pieces of a faithful Joker thus far. To prove it, I'll use two of the most cited sources for the "definitive" Joker (at least as far as IMDB went): Alan Moore's Killing Joke and Paul Dini's Mad Love. To that, I'll add Grant Morrison's Batman RIP and Jeph Loeb's Hush portrayals as well.

First, what qualities have we seen from the Joker on film? Well Romero and Nicholson played up the humor aspect, and that is key for the Joker. Admittedly, Romero used more camp than humor, but for Joker, it still fits. Hamill also gets this in the animated series and Arkham Asylum. Ledger not so much, but that went for hyper-realism over faithfulness. What Ledger did give us was the extremely high intelligence the Joker needs. Nicholson touched on it, but never really nailed it. Hamill, yeah he got it too. Most fans will argue insanity for Joker, but that's not it. Not at all. That's okay though, because no actor has shown him as truly insane. Nicholson shows him unhinged, but that's not exactly it. Ledger shows a psychopath and sociopath which is closer, and would have it nailed if he didn't throw in the anarchy complex as well. Joker's not an anarchist, at least not by nature. Hamill comes closest to balancing it, but he's still not exactly on the money for this either.

Now people are freaking out and wondering why I say Joker's not insane. Let me explain, using the sources above. Insanity is generally regarded as a deficiency that would not allow the plans Joker makes to work or even be moderately effective. In Killing Joke, he reasons that anyone would snap if they had a bad enough day. The fact that it didn't work doesn't prove his logic faulty; his assumption was just wrong. The logic was sound. He pushed as hard as he could on Gordon, it just didn't work. Mad Love shows he is capable of feeling for someone else, even if that feeling is variable. Hush shows he does care about his own life as he runs when he realized Batman may have finally decided he (Joker) would be better off dead. And Batman RIP? Well that shows it exactly. He tells Black Glove why they are going to fail in an eloquent and well thought-out speech that shows Joker is not out of his mind. His insanity is calculated to get a specific response from people. Psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, and obsessed - all forms of mental illness, true, but not the assumed insanity people associate with the Joker.

And that's what we haven't seen yet: the intelligence that allows Joker to use insanity as a tool to achieve his goals.  A Joker who laughs because that's just who he is and because his sense of humor is a little more tweaked than the rest of us. Is this a Joker we're likely to ever see? Probably not. Every director or writer who uses him in a film or television series will write him the way they want him, not how he is in the books, or how he was in Movie X. And that's the point (that I didn't know I had when I started this little rant). It really doesn't matter who plays Joker. Every actor chosen for the role is going to bring something different to it and give it their best; the ones who are going to decide how faithful the character is to the source material will be the writers. All we're going to be able to do as fans is decide whether or not we like the current incarnation. And I'm okay with that. After all, it could be worse.

We could have no Jokers to choose from at all. And that would be the worst.

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