With a DC Comics-based cinematic universe on the horizon due to the 2016 releases of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, one of the biggest casting announcements to come out of the news of the latter film was Jared Leto as the Joker.
While not historically associated with the Squad, Joker’s presence in a film full of historically villainous DC characters may give an interesting hint at the kind of Joker we’ll be seeing with these new conceptions of DC characters, including Batman and his supporting characters of allies and enemies.
Rumors have surfaced recently that claim the Joker will be appearing in some form in Batman v Superman, as well as others saying that Batman will show up in some form in Suicide Squad. The common denominator in all of this is the Joker and the filmmakers may be taking cues from the modern comics in turning Joker into something he’s become in the DC Comics universe: the boogeyman.
Why The Modern Joker Is More Like Freddy Krueger
Although the Joker is easily Batman’s most iconic and identifiable enemy, the character in the comics has only been used sparingly for the majority of the last ten years.
Beginning with writer Grant Morrison’s seminal run on the Batman comics titles starting in the summer of 2006, the Joker has only appeared once every few months, sometimes as little as once a year, and the result is that he’s become something of a specter casting a dark pall over the people of Gotham City, not to mention Batman himself.
Joker showed up in Morrison’s first issue of the ongoing Batman series, where he was critically injured. He didn’t appear again for several months, disfigured and more murderous than ever in a unique story called “The Clown at Midnight.”
Going on a chilling spree of murder and mayhem, he then quickly disappeared once again, not reappearing until a powerful organization almost succeeds in destroying Batman and his entire legend.
Nearly a year later, Joker would surface again, being fully aware of the fact that a new man was under Batman’s mask after the apparent death of Bruce Wayne.
Since the “New 52,” Joker’s appearances have been even more sparing. In the first issue of the new Detective Comics series, his face was cut off by a villain known as the Dollmaker.
Joker has only recently appeared again, over a year after that story’s conclusion, to bring a level of finality to his conflict with the Dark Knight in “Endgame,” a story that just concluded – shockingly, I might add – this week in the latest issue of Batman.
For the last several years, Joker has been turning up like a murderous ghost from Batman’s nightmares, having a far closer resemblance to the likes of a grotesque cinematic slasher like Freddy Krueger than a traditional comic book supervillain.
Could this be the direction that the films take with Jared Leto’s Joker?
Jared Leto’s Joker vs. Ben Affleck’s Batman
When director David Ayer released the first photo of Jared Leto in full Joker makeup (see top image), the reaction was divisive to say the least. The design seems like it’s going for a scarier aesthetic overall, with the character’s chromed front teeth drawing no ambiguous parallel to Jaws from the James Bond series, while also clearly trying to get across the fact that this is something of a deranged individual.
While far less extreme than the Joker who wore his face like one wears a Halloween mask from the comics, the rumors surrounding where the character could show up are already causing a frenzy of discussion and anticipation towards when and where this Joker will make his presence felt first.
With a lot of speculation surrounding the history that will have already played out between Leto’s Joker and Ben Affleck’s Batman – which may or may not include at least one murdered Robin – things would certainly prove interesting if Leto’s Joker becomes the “boogeyman” of the new DC cinematic universe.
While the aesthetic is certainly striking, and presuming that what we’ve seen from the picture actually survives to the final cut of Suicide Squad, many movie fans are likely preparing to compare the performance of Academy Award winner Leto to Academy Award winner Heath Ledger.
The late actor’s haunting portrayal of Batman’s nemesis in 2008’s The Dark Knight certainly leaves big shoes to fill, but just as Ledger managed to differentiate himself from Jack Nicholson, Leto’s versatility will also likely breed a new conception of the “Clown Prince of Crime.”
Whatever ends up happening with the Joker, the next iteration of the timeless conflict between he and Batman will most likely be addressed by Jared Leto and Ben Affleck. That will extend a tradition begun by Adam West vs. Cesar Romero, and one that was continued by the likes of Michael Keaton vs. Jack Nicholson, Kevin Conroy vs. Mark Hamill, and Christian Bale vs. Heath Ledger.
It’s an exciting time to be a comics fan with all of the movies on the horizon, and the idea of getting to see Batman vs. the Joker on the big screen again at some point in the near future certainly adds to the anticipation that will come with Jared Leto’s casting as DC Comics’ most iconic villain.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, the Junior Editor at GeekNation.com, and a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.