With the release of Suicide Squad gaining a whole lot of hype, one thing came to my mind: The evolution of The Joker.
We all know The Joker; supervillain and arch-nemesis of Batman with a disturbing clown-like appearance.
Over time, The Joker has been played by many.
1. Cesar Romero – “A joke a day keeps the gloom away!”
The first ever non-comic adaptation of The Joker was introduced in the 1960’s by the Batman TV series. Cesar Romero was the first man to portray The Joker in a real-life form.
Previously cast as ‘Latin Lover’ types, Romero surprised everyone in Hollywood when he took on this role. Romero fully embraced the campy, clown-like way of the character.
He said, “when [you] get in an outfit like that…you fall right into it.” That said, he refused to shave his trademark moustache which meant the white face paint had to be applied quite copiously.
His first appearance was in The Joker is Wild episode. The comical character was perfectly portrayed in this episode, which is an extravagant prankster with more concern for out doing Batman over piloting any of the violent riots he is known for.
Romero went on to make twenty-two appearances throughout the show as The Joker.
While iconic in its way, it’s safe to say this version of The Joker is well-suited to the comical character. His energy, shrill voice and signature laugh (which was an apparent accident!) have provided a demonic prototype for future Jokers.
2: Jack Nicholson – “Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Batman’s next live action appearance wasn’t until 1989 when director Tim Burton took the helm.
Although 70’s comics saw the birth of a darker, insane Joker, it was the 80’s that defined the character at his most evil.
Nicholson’s version of The Joker recycled some of the early origins, including Romero’s gimmicks and bright costume. He then took us down a darker path that the comics moved towards during the 70’s and 80’s.
Nicholson played the character almost orthodoxly, with less of the cackling, despite his Joker grin – which took 355 silicone paste prosthetics to create.
Burton’s dark portrayal of Gotham City contrasted with The Joker’s colourful appearance – something that made his disturbing personality that much more unsettling.
Nicholson’s take on The Joker had a heavy influence on the development of the villain.
The film itself was a huge success, despite initial opposition toward the dark take on the character. The portrayals of both Batman and The Joker became iconic versions of the characters for years to come.
3: Heath Ledger – “Why so serious?”
Twenty-odd years later and The Dark Knight introduced Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Ledger is the only actor to receive an Academy Award for his role as The Joker. He won a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor and the first to do so with a comical character.
He evolved The Joker into a clever, superior sociopath. To say his take on The Joker wasn’t the darkest and most vicious so far would be a joke.
Heath Ledger’s Joker upheld the insanity that had defined the villain for so long while insisting he was the sane one in an insane world. Ledger ditched much of the humour found in Nicholson’s Joker. Ledger’s Joker wouldn’t laugh without reason and delivered puns with a straight face.
In saying that, his laugh became a trademark signifying his disordered take on the world – one in which rules are ignored in search of pure chaos. A psychopathic killer, desperate to finish Batman.
Several saw Ledger’s Joker as a return to the character’s comical roots and applauded his representation as being true to the character and his murderous origins.
4: Jared Leto – “All of that chit-chat’s gonna getcha’ hurt.”
Suicide Squad is yet to be released with Jared Leto taking on the role of The Joker.
Visually, it looks as though The Joker is in for a decent transformation. Leto’s Joker includes controversial additions such as a body full of tattoos and silver-capped teeth.
At the time of writing this article, fans seem divided over his new appearance. Maybe the talent to inflame such strong reactions is one of The Joker’s most exemplary tricks? And based on the trailers, this Joker seems to hold back the character’s cackling and manic roots.
Leto told Empire magazine he took the role very seriously. “There was definitely a period of…detachment. I took a pretty deep dive. But this was a unique opportunity, and I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. It was fun, playing those psychological games,” he said.
We’ll find out how Leto compares when Suicide Squad comes out August 4.
Watch the Suicide Squad trailer below: