Episode 155: New Joker for New Times

If you’ve taken even the smallest glance through my blog you have already seen that I write a lot about Batman. He is one of my favorite heroes for many of the reasons that others love him. He is an ordinary human being who is extraordinary at just about every aspect aspect of life. But for me, what makes the Dark Knight so compelling as a character is that for all intents and purposes he should check himself into Arkham Asylum right after delivering another escaped rogue to its halls of potential but never actual mental rehabilitation. Batman is compulsive to a degree that he must have a contingency for every plan, even the ones that should never take place within a person’s neurons. He has prepared himself in case the people he most trusts betray him. And if he ever decides not to, the sense of a lack of preparation eats him alive. This is what keeps Bruce from making meaningful relationships with those around him. His insanity compels him to be the hero even for scenarios that only exist in his imagination. Batman’s mental instability is one of the untold but ever present elements presented in the comics and movies where he exists and no character brings that craziness to the surface like The Joker.

So when I see that the newest incarnation of Gotham’s paranoid prankster is going to look like this

Well I’m still not entirely sure what to think of it. Fun fact: You see the card tattoo on his shoulder? A four of a kind is a fairly invincible poker hand, especially with all Aces. But in games where jokers are playable cards, this is the ultimate five of a kind because jokers are always wild. If the Suicide Squad is indeed the ultimate group of aces meant to work together plus a joker, well that’s a winning hand n matter what. And that’s what Suicide Squad aka Task Force X is all about. Take some criminals and send them to do an impossible mission. They do it or die in the process with no one to trace them back to the government that sent them. So, win-win except for the squad.

Now, back to the Joker and the new look. If you see this man down the street you would assume that your life is in danger. Green hair is always iconic, no eyebrows is an interesting touch. But the tattoos are an interesting choice that make it so that this isn’t the Joker of old. For a quick snapshot of how the Internet reacted and some interesting photoshops check here. As an academic who studies pop culture and Batman I think I need to add my voice to the conversation as well.

Jared Leto’s portrayal of the character is going in a very interesting direction. This is a physical transformation like no other, especially when considering that Cesar Romero who played the Joker in Adam West camptastic version of Batman never shaved his mustache and just had it painted over white. We have had several photos leading to this one of Leto in full Joker attire only to not see him in any attire at all (please be wearing pants) [I imagine some of my readers would rather imagine him sans pants but that is neither here nor there]. We haven’t seen his mannerisms or even heard the laugh yet and yet the picture seems to scream insane beyond the accepted levels of supervillainy from comic books. The body art has a lot of the standard joker imagery. The smile on the forearm, the skull with the jester hat, the above mentioned cards, and hahahahaha all over. Plus you can see that there is more around the bellybutton area and probably around his back. I swear if he has a tramp stamp of Deadpool the Internet would explode. It’s a bit much for a character who is recognizable only for his face, especially once you see the facial tattoos. “Damaged” on the forehead is not exactly subtle. And teardrop that looks like a “J” is just strange to say the least. And the grill, (that thing on his teeth) is just wow. Unless he has an optimized bite attack D&D build, adamantium teeth are never a good idea.

Nevertheless, the insanity is clear. Here’s the problem, Joker isn’t the antagonist of Batman v Superman. He is one of the main characters of Suicide Squad. As a foil and an enemy to the caped crusader, the chaos contrasts with the methodical compulsiveness and you get an interesting duel of ideologies. But, as part of an ensemble of antiheroes at best characters Joker becomes comic relief.

I see Leto and I think manic-depressive, someone who flip flops between a sugar rush of laughter to someone trying to find humor in the macabre to have life mean something again. And that is ultimately Joker’s most important and defining trait. It needs to be funny. If he kills someone it has to be done in comedic fashion, even if he is the only one laughing. However, it feels like this Joker is redefined as the humor of a new generation that no one gets and the deadly artistry just comes off as more annoying than threatening. Maybe it’s my age starting to come out of the intended bracket of the demographic they are aiming for. Perhaps it is because if this is indeed being pitched as a darker grittier version of Guardians of the Galaxy. However, here’s the scary part:

A while ago it was reported that DC has a no joke policy now in their current filmography. Suicide Squad might be the exception and if that’s the case Leto’s Joker might steal the spotlight from the rest of the cast. But if they are making a no laughs at all film with all of these characters then I have no idea how this movie is going to be interesting. Within the the grander continuity of the DC current filmography, the only super in the world is Superman. That means there are no super villains.

My love of Batman stems from the fact that he is only human but surpasses all expectations of humanity. Suicide Squad has a chance to the extraordinary parts of humanity with a morality that ranges from the questionable to the deplorable. Leto’s Joker could mesh super well with Task Force X or he could stick out like a sore pasty tattooed thumb that makes the film flop. Time will tell but I want to see first hand how these characters are interpreted and what the trailers and eventually the movie will show us. Let’s see.

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