The last week or so has been a big one for The Joker. He had his 75th birthday / anniversary, we got to see what Jared Leto's incarnation may bring us in the Suicide Squad movie and the incredible and brutal ending to the Endgame arc in the Batman comics hit stores. I could go on about that all day, but this post is just about The Joker. Mister J. My all time favourite villain. You see, I've realised, now I'm back into reading comics, that The Joker has been a massive inspiration source in my life and when I sat back and thought about it, he's really been there all along.
Familiar to the vast majority of people between 20 and 60, this is the first Joker I met. A dark comedian, one step ahead of Batman, but never really that lethal. You always knew it was all just a joke, one you could be on, and that Batman would always stop him. I pretty much watched this TV show just for his episodes, though I don't think I realised it at the time. This Joker is so ingrained in my psyche that every time I read anything the Joker says in a comic now, he has Mark Hamill's voice and he always will.
Batman & Batman
I saw both Batman movies very early on in my life, maybe at around 8 years old. But they had a profoundly different effect on me to each other. While I loved Cesar Romero's Joker, he had little lasting impact on me. He was one of a group. He danced about with a squirty flower. He did have a fantastically menacing laugh, but ultimately was always a bit too tame for me. Jack Nicholson's Joker on the other hand was the opposite end of the spectrum. One of my earliest "Nope" moments was the he walked into his old boss' office and gunned him down all the while laughing hysterically. I remember lasting up until the point he wiped his blood off the newspaper before sitting down for a read, before I begged to have the film turned off. Fair enough, one may say, it was a 15 rated movie and I was definitely too young. That's stayed with me though.
A Death in the Family
Despite Jack Nicholson scarring me a little, that didn't stop me wanting to read about the Joker. I was still young when I went on holiday one Summer. For the plane ride I had been allowed to choose something to read. I'd chosen the Batman graphic novel; A Death in the Family. As an adult, I now realise no one had pre-read this comic before allowing me to have it. The image of Jason Todd being beaten to death is etched into my brain. A truly brutal and very personal act from a character who, up until that point, I'd always seen keep his distance from his enemies. I spent the rest of the holiday looking over my shoulder, genuinely thinking Mister J would be there if I was alone too long. It was over 15 years until I touched another Batman comic.
As an adult, naturally, my irrational fear of the Clown Prince of Crime went away and I returned to enjoying the character. I watched the Batman movie, of course, and like many other people I was dismayed to learn of "pretty boy" Heath Ledger being cast to play him in the Dark Knight. How the hell could he be the Joker? And like nearly everyone else, I was proved utterly wrong. He was incredible. He deserved that Oscar for sure. But not my kind of Joker. Mine was still the one that skulked in the world of comics with his hateful laugh and his utter disregard for life. He wasn't chaos, everything was about Batman and Batman's everything was him. His arch nemesis. The black sheep of his family. That, to me, was so much more.
Death of the Family
Mister J ultimately drew me back to comic books. I heard they were creating a sequel arc to A Death in the Family called Death of the Family. It scared me a little. I knew it would be worse. I had to read it and I've stayed reading ever since. He still has that effect on me. When he pops up my stomach knots a little. There's just something about him. You just know he's different; so much worse than every one else, even though he's just a man. That is the kind of villain I need to create. When I write now, I try to create characters who can rival the effect the Joker has on me for other people. I want to create a truly evocative villain that leaves a hollow feeling in your guts, but you always want to see more. I'd say that's a pretty good goal.
The Suicide Squad
This is where the Joker is heading next, well, a first look anyway. I have to admit, I'm super intrigued. He's modern, he's utterly different and that's great. Every Joker should be different so that in a way, he's always his own man. Jared Leto as the Joker has received much internet hate. But so did Heath Ledger. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him take me along for the ride. Will he be my kind of Joker? I don't know. But I can always hope.
That brings me to the end of laying bare my love for a psycho clown; ironic as for as long as I can remember I've been afraid of clowns. Maybe he's to blame for that too? Touché sir, touché. So Happy Birthday Mister J. I will look forward the next time we meet with a smile and a joke.