Making Movie History: The Evolution Of The Joker

This new column of mine is going to be a periodic one that comes out from time to time so people can get totally up to date with films that will be hitting theatres. You know there are prequels, sequels, trilogies, remakes, etc…that are coming out of the woodwork and not everyone actually realizes they have a history behind them. It seems only right that everyone gets brought up to date on what has been going on either in the history of the film or a particular character or certain actor. In this debut of MMH, we’ll see what lies behind the late Heath Ledger as the Joker.

Welcome to my first ever column here on Popcorn Junkies which is to be entitled “Making Movie History.” In it you will see how different characters, actors, or films have evolved throughout the history of movies and television. With all these sequels, prequels, and what not coming out so often; it only seems fitting that those who have never seen earlier variations of certain things get the full benefit of what they are about to witness. For those that have experienced the good and the bad of past occurrences…well, it doesn’t always hurt to relive them. With The Dark Knight shortly about to arrive in theatres, it seemed only fitting that we look at the history of the Joker.

The Joker is a character from the Batman comic books that has been around since 1940. He is a master criminal that has all of the most evil intentions so that he may not only do whatever he wants, but also to foil the one he lovingly refers to as “Batboy,” “Bat Brain,” and numerous other things. His hair is green, his lips are bright red, his skin is snow white, and he almost always wears his traditional color purple. You can’t miss him no matter what variation of him may show up in your comic books, your graphic novels, on your television screens, or even on the biggest of screens in theatres. He is an evil loving criminal that also enjoys having a good time or a side-splitting laugh.

Throughout history, the Joker has been portrayed by numerous people on television and in theatres. Many actors have stepped into the purple suit and donned the green hair so that they could be seen smiling on screen while doing the most sadistic things. Others have gotten behind the microphones so that the numerous animated mutations of The Joker could be graced with their voices. The word “mutations” is used for a reason which you’ll see later, but let us begin with one of the earliest versions of the Joker we ever saw on television.

Cesar Romero – Batman (Television Series)

Cesar Romero was one of the first people to ever play the Joker period whether it be on television, in cartoons, or in films. His version of the smiley-faced villain was not much like the character we have come to know today. This Joker was not murderous or evil or enjoyed the pain of others as much as later versions would be. He was very comedic and always ended up looking more like a clown then anything. And when I say clown, I really mean a clown. The guy giggled and gaffed his way through crimes while never quite being menacing or bad in any way.

Jack Nicholson – Batman

Jack Nicholson always had this look of evil implanted on his face no matter what role he played in films. Many weren’t fond of the decision to cast him as the infamous laughing man of Gotham, and some today still consider it to be one of the worst casting decisions ever made. Still, he brought the character to new depths that ran much deeper then anything Romero ever did on the old television show.

Nicholson stepped into the shoes of Jack Napier at first and told a story of how the Joker first came into existence. It was one of many origin stories that have been told over the years of how Joker first got his smile, but it was done interestingly enough. Nicholson took the dark level another step forward to not only being funny but killing people right out. I mean, who can forget the infamous hand buzzer scene and then the lovely line of “I’m glad you’re dead! HA HA HA HA HA…I’m glad you’re dead.” Good stuff if you ask me, and he really did a pretty damn good job at being laughing boy no matter what anyone says.

Mark Hamill (voice) – Batman The Animated Series

Making way into the animated world, the Joker took a little bit of both Romero’s playfulness along with the darkside of Nicholson and was made into a great villain that could be viewed by both adults and children together. Batman The Animated Series is one of the best cartoon series in history if you ask me because it stays true enough to its animation nature for kids while providing storylines and characters that will intrigue adults. One of those characters would be the Joker who knew how to have a good time but could get really pissed off if need be.

Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker) provided the voice for Joker in this series and it was just awesome. That voice is now synonymous in my head every time I even think of the clown and it’s the only way he is pictured in my mind. Hamill’s voice and shrilling laughter made Joker such a funny individual that could kill in a moment’s notice and just pierce your heart with his cold tone. This is one of my favorite depictions of Joker because it is the first one that truly brings forth the character from the older comic books.

And he hangs out a lot with Harley Quinn so that is just fantastic.

Kevin Michael Richardson (voice) – The Batman

As if he wasn’t strange enough, the Joker got a complete overhaul in both look and attitude when it came to another animated series entitled The Batman. To be perfectly honest with you, it took a lot for me to be able to totally take this Joker seriously and accept him. He looks nothing like any variation we’ve seen before and almost is a brand new character. Here Joker is a big ol’ guy with some strange type dreadlocks that is very agile and wanders around in his bare feet which allow him to climb and scurry out of sight quicker then in shoes. Weird, but he has grown on me. Very little though.

Kevin Michael Richardson, who has voiced hundreds of characters, steps into Hamill’s shoes here and his voice does nothing for me in the way of the Joker. It is too deep and let’s be honest here folks, but it’s too damn ghetto for the Joker. So are the dreads and everything else about him. Maybe they were hoping to give him a more urban feel which they succeeded in doing, but that’s just not the painted face clown everyone knows. There are those times when this Joker’s humor gets me giggling because he is quite funny. But little else pleases me. Especially when he gets serious and mad because it goes from old school evil tactics to “I’m big now, so I can kick your ass.”


Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

The late Heath Ledger is who will fill Joker’s purple shoes when The Dark Knight hits theatres on July 18. I can’t quite say exactly how he will do as the Smilex-fueled villain, but by what I’ve seen so far; he’s impressed me enough already. Through trailers and the small handful of clips that have been released from the film so far, Ledger has gotten the psychotic mind of the Joker down to an exact science. He has the look, the attitude, the voice (if you can really say Joker ever had one coming from comic books), the persona, and just the overall feel of what the Joker truly is all about. It is quite scary to be blunt here because Ledger was said to have gotten so carried up in his work as the Joker that it drove him to mild lengths of insanity. If that’s true we’ll never know for sure, but I can see how it would happen.

Some of the trailers have him throwing out such wonderful lines as “Come on, hit me!” “Evening…Co-missioner!” and “A little fight in you. I like that.” All of those just scream Joker and when you actually see and hear them being said; they also scream out insane sadist and masochist. Ledger appears to have put every ounce of his being into making the Joker as evil and hilarious as you can possibly imagine. He obviously wanted Joker to be rib-cracking funny while at the same time being so incredibly morbid that it made you squirm in your seat. The way things look right now before even actually getting to view the film; Ledger succeeded in his very last role and perhaps delivered the performance of a lifetime.

The Joker is someone that has entertained and haunted comic book, television, cartoon, and film fans for years. We’ve seen him in every aspect imaginable and had to pick and choose which versions we liked best. Even though The Dark Knight is still days away from being released Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker would have to be my all around favorite already. Coming in a close second would be the Mark Hamill voiced Joker from Batman The Animated Series. His life has spanned almost seventy years now and he will surely be around decades more. Before my life is over, I’m also sure that I’ll witness countless others try to play him on screen or master the absolute perfect voice for him. He’s already found his way into my heart so much that this…

…will be my next tattoo. Yes, I do like the Joker that damn much. Think about it folks when you sit down and watch Christian Bale as Batman take on Heath Ledger as the Joker. Think about whom is your favorite and see if it’s one of the past, that from the present, or one that could possibly come in the future.

And let’s put a smile on that face.


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