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Will the Real Joker Please Stand Up?

The JokerGotham city has always been a place steeped in shadow and superstition. A dark place. But there’s always been that one person, bright and dapper. A man with a grin that lights up the room. A man who wants nothing more than to put a big, wide smile on your face (whether you want him to or not) – the Joker, Gotham’s clown prince of crime!  With his assortment of not so harmless pranks, toys, Joker toxin and more than a few killing jokes, the Joker has firmly seated himself as one of the greatest villains, not only for the Dark Knight, but for all of comics.

Being the one villain that immediately comes to mind when you say ‘Batman’, the Joker has taken his mayhem to every medium that has featured the Dark Knight- the comics, cartoons, games and movies. He has been portrayed by a number of great actors on television, the big screen and animation, the latest and much hyped name being that of the late Heath Ledger, whose performance in The Dark Knight won him a posthumous Oscar and tons of accolades from viewers and critics alike. Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker has been called “iconic” and “the most realistic” and so on. People have gone on to call his rendition the best portrayal of the Joker. And in all fairness, it was a splendid performance. But was it the definitive portrayal? Was it THE Joker?

The Joker

It’s no surprise that that little calling card at the end of Batman Begins had me eagerly waiting for the Joker’s introduction in Nolan’s vision of the Bat mythos. And I won’t say I was disappointed. Ledger did do a great job (I loved the pencil magic trick!); man, did he take Bat-Bale for a ride throughout the film! And there were moments when he was genuinely terrifying. But there was something missing. It was all done pretty well, but it lacked the classic Joker touch. This was a psycho who killed people with much the same methods that most psychos who kill a lot of people use. None of the killer gags or tricks. The crimes were clever, but they didn’t quite have the distinctive Joker feel. Ledger sure did put his finger on the crime, but he sort of missed the clown bit. For a guy who asks every second person “Why so serious?” Ledger’s Joker wasn’t all that funny. “Do I look like a guy with a plan?” he asks Harvey, yet the whole movie is a chain of elaborate plans he’s formulated. He is an “agent of chaos” who tries to show “the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things are.” Yet at the end, he’s the one who’s been keeping the control for the bombs on the boats, in his pocket! Ironic isn’t it?

The Joker, as I’ve known him from the comic books, and the 90s animated series, is a guy with a really twisted sense of humor. And you know what? He actually is funny a lot of the time, albeit in a very dark way. And he has the most hilarious one-liners. You know he’s doing horrific stuff, yet you can’t help laugh a little (and then feel guilty about it afterwards). That’s his charm. He’s also a snazzy dresser. Remember that flower he wears on his lapel? The one that squirts acid? He has an assortment of killer party gags. The joy buzzers, the Joker teeth, that gun of his that goes bang! And let’s not forget the most important- his signature Joker toxin. It’ll make you smile, even if it does kill you! And that laugh of his. That maniacal cackle, made famous by Mark Hamill, that no one who’s watched Batman The Animated Series can ever forget. That guy really brought the Joker to life. How many times did we hear Ledger laugh again?

The Joker

I’m sure some of you are pretty riled up now because you think this is a hate article against Ledger’s Joker. It’s not. Ledger’s performance was brilliant like I’ve said before. But I feel calling it the “definitive” and/or the “best” Joker does injustice to all the other people who have played that role.

- by Shuvo Das
Legally known as Shuva, Shuvo an avid comic book fan, anime geek and gamer from Calcutta. He is also a master procrastinator, an amateur hobby artist and a cat lover. And also, also a "little" bit crazy.