A few days after the first official clip of Jared Leto’s take on the Joker in the trailer for David Ayer’s DC Comics criminal-centric “Suicide Squad” at the San Diego Comic-Con sent the internet into a frenzy, fans of all things Batman were given more reasons to look forward to 2016 — as if the first live-action face-off between The Dark Knight and The Man of Tomorrow in Zack Snyder’s “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” weren’t already enough.
During the Comic-Con panel for his most recent animated venture, “Justice League: Gods and Monsters”, an intriguing look into the fate of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in an alternate universe, Bruce Timm, the designer and produced behind the beloved “Batman: The Animated Series” series from the ’90s, announced that DC Entertainment shall once more pick one of the many iconic Batman stories from the rich collection of graphic novels to be adapted into an animated film. With Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns already brought to animated screens in spectacular fashion, there was never any real doubt that Timm and Co. would get their hands on the story that undoubtedly ranks with Miller’s two novels as three of the best Batman stories ever told.
Ironically, though, Alan Moore’s seminal “The Killing Joke”, drawn by Brian Bolland and coloured by John Higgins, is less a story about Batman, and more about the story of how a struggling comedian, down on his luck and pushed into a corner by the depressing circumstances of his lack of success and dear personal loss, succumbed to the call of insanity to become the Detective’s greatest nemesis. The Killing Joke is, more than any Batman story ever told, a story about the Joker.
And so, again, there was never really any doubt that there could only be one man who could be trusted to bring the Joker to life for the deepest and most insightful look back at the life that shall haunt Batman until the end of his own. The Clown Prince of Crime has been portrayed on the big screen and small by a host of actors, each placing the character in a unique spot on the spectrum between “Clown” and “Crime”. Cesar Romero was little more than a clown designed to earn a few laughs, a mark of the campness of his time. Jack Nicholson retained some of that campness, his penchant for the extravagant masking his proclivity for the heinous. Heath Ledger’s unnamed Joker was a twisted, highly functional sociopath with clear psychopathic tendencies and an unnervingly logical yet ruthless desire to show Batman exactly how powerless he truly was in the face of Gotham’s inherent inescapable evil. In “Suicide Squad”, Jared Leto looks set to deliver the most hopelessly insane version of the Joker yet. Of the animated portrayals of the Joker, in “The Dark Knight Returns”, Michael Emerson of Lost and Person of Interest fame gave the character a chilling and highly calculating drawl that was as menacing as his crimes on screen. In “Under the Red Hood” John DiMaggio gave us a menacing and gravelly voice you would naturally associate with the monster who nearly beat a Robin to death and then blew him to smithereens. A thug for hire, but with his own agenda, DiMaggio’s Joker was closer to Ledger’s portrayal than anyone before him, a criminal with a purple suit and messy clown makeup in a universe highly grounded in reality. Troy Baker gave us the closest we’ve heard to the Joker of our childhood.
That Joker is, of course, Mark Hamill. With his iconic turns in the animated series, numerous animated movies, and even the Arkham games, he encompassed every aspect of the Joker we’ve seen in the past, the menacing growls, the camp yet terrifyingly out-of-control laughter, the hints of melancholic recognition of his own insanity, quickly replaced by barely hidden glee at the (temporary) success of his latest devious machinations.
Hamill can be a clown in the animated series, and a cold-blooded killer with an extraordinary capacity for violence and inhuman atrocities in the games. The man who originally gained fame for his turn as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movies is set to return for a seventh installment in the iconic franchise, but for those who grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, there is no doubt that Hamill was born to play the Joker, and his announcement of his plans to play the character one last time in the animated version of “The Killing Joke” will have caused many a grown man to let loose a whoop of delight. Having read the comic book several times, I have no hesitation in admitting that the only voice I heard in my head while reading the Joker’s dialogues was that of Hamill; with Alan Moore having penned the most beautifully articulated monologues, Hamill’s voice will not leave a single emotion beneath the surface, a single tinge of madness unrevealed.
I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to seeing what DC Entertainment do with “The Killing Joke”. While the early Batman and Justice League animated movies were stunning both in terms of visuals and story, the more recent efforts, such as “Justice League: War” and “Son of Batman” have been let down by hyper-realistic visuals that had very little of the richness of early efforts such as “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” or “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker”. My only wish for the movie is that the creators stay true to their roots and make a total return to the dark deco hyper-stylized neo-noir visuals that made the Animated Series so memorable.
Nothing else can do justice to the greatest Joker story ever told.