The Joker is one of the oldest villains in the history of comic books. The character was created all the way back in 1940 when he first appeared in the movie Batman and quickly became an essential reference for a villain. Throughout the years, the Joker has gone through many changes and evolutions, incarnating several versions of himself in different movies. However, with the latest Joker film, it seems actor Joaquin Phoenix has finally managed to capture the ideal Joker fans have always been searching for. With his unique personal history and natural instinct for dark characters, it seems Pheonix’s new take has finally settled the character and won our hearts. Let’s take a look back at the incredible evolution of the Joker and see how Phoenix’s personal life came to shape the latest Joker.
The Joker Becoming Art
In the 2019 hit film ‘Joker’ directed by Todd Philips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, audiences got to see some of Joker’s backstory and we must admit we are completely hooked. Finally, we get to see the man behind the facepaint and we must say it explains a lot. While critics have described the film as groundbreaking and brilliant, its important to note that only Phoenix could have delivered such an amazing performance.
When Philips got the chance to create his version of the Joker in 2019, he decided to create something that was anything but predictable. This time, he took the character and created a story that went back into the Joker’s very beginning.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Performance
In the new Joker, Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role of the character Arthur Fleck, who started his career as a clown who struggles to make ends meet.
The movie portrays the clown really struggling to make a career and to get by while simultaneously taking care of his mother. His mother is sick in the film and plays an integral part in why and how Arthur Fleck eventually grows into becoming the Joker towards the end of the movie.
The Script Changed
Interestingly, as the actress Zazie Beetz shares in a recent interview, the filming process of the movie was fascinating and ever-changing. Some scenes were written and rewritten the night before, and actors would have to memorize them really quickly.
These constant re-writes show that in comparison to previous Joker movies, this particular one had a much more improvised component to it, probably making it so much more enjoyable. The film gained much critical acclaim due to the rawness and humanistic approach it has given to the Joker, bringing light into very serious societal issues.
A Positive Performance
Another interesting fact about Phoenix’s performance is that to prepare for the movie, the actor watched videos of people suffering from pathological laughter, basing the Joker’s laugh in these videos.
Before the filming process started, Director Phillips Todd claims that they had envisioned the Joker’s laughter as something that would be seen as something excruciating. Curiously, while many actors of the past have gone to really dark lengths to achieve this laugh and the whole performance, Phoenix claims that his experience was different and more positive.
The final Joker?
Joaquin’s performance has been described as breathtaking and brilliant and his version of the characters could be the best so far. When asked about it, Joaquin Phoenix has stated that he wouldn’t have had such a talent for dark characters if it hadn’t been for his dark childhood. Joaquin was born in Puerto Rico and during his early childhood, his family belonged to an extreme cult.
After that, his family escaped the cult and managed to flee to Hollywood where Joaquin’s parents forced their children into acting. According to the actor, it was all of this that helped him connect with the character of the Joker. But how did the other versions of the Joker start and is the Joker we know now anything like how the creators originally saw the character? Here is some more information about how the joker evolved.
The Original Joker was inspired by a clown
In the DC universe, the Joker has been a master villain who often goes up against Batman. Originally the Joker was modeled after a Clown from the 1928 Drama ‘The Man Who Laughs’. The film was based on the novel by Victor Hugo about a laughing man that ends up falling completely in love during a freak show circus.
In this film, the main character had particular characteristics that would later inspire the Joker’s, particularly odd look. The character had a wide grin and a very long face, combined with slick hair that would result in a scary-looking character. A bit more than a decade later, ‘The Man Who Laughs’ main character’s appearance was transformed into the Joker we know today.
The First Debut
When the Joker was created, he had an ashen white face, green hair, and a very particular grin on his face. Curiously though, when Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Bob Kane first created the Joker, the plan wasn’t really for him to become a continuous character.
One of its creators’ biggest fears was that by keeping the Joker alive and coming back, Batman would be seen as a weak hero who was not capable of destroying his villain. But in the first edition, editor Whitney Ellsworth convinced creator Bob Kane that allowing the Joker’s character to survive was the best decision. He then went on to appear in nine issues out of the following twelve Batman issues.
A Child-Friendly Version
When the Joker was first introduced to the world, its primary audience was mostly mature readers. Eventually, as his popularity grew all over, a kid-friendly version seemed to be a good idea. So around the early 1940s, the brand Detective Comics agreed that they would probably be able to sell more if they introduced the villain to a younger audience.
Because the Joker was initially created as a bit of an evil-doer with a violent nature, the character was then changed into a prankster. That way, the Joker became a little bit more approachable and less scary than its initial version.
The Famous Red Hood
Initially, the Joker only appeared in DC comics when he was fighting Batman. For over a decade or so, he was always associated with being Batman’s villain, and never really had the chance to show his own origin story. That changed in 1951 when Bill Finger decided to write the Joker’s story, bringing some light into who he was and why he behaved the way he did.
The story appeared in DC’s issue number 168, revealing that before he became known as the Joker, he was just another criminal called Red Hood. The man who was under the hood fell into a chemical vat by mistake, which resulted in him becoming disfigured and turning into the Joker.
The Establishment Of The Comics Code Authority
Due to the dark nature of the origin story, a couple of years after itas published, comics regulations became increasingly harsher. As a result, in 1954, The Comics Code Authority implemented several regulations that had the intent of combating violent content from comic books.
Parents and several readers started complaining that the books were having a negative influence on their children and other people, especially on young male readers. Some even began burning comics as a form of protest. Very quickly, the industry started obeying these guidelines to continue their publications safely, including the story of the Joker.
Romero’s Campy Joker
As comic books became increasingly funnier and less harsh, Batman finally came back to television around 1966. The show took a fantastic stride when it got its show on ABC, casting Cesar Romero as the Joker.
But because of the high sensitivity that came with being on TV, the character saw many changes when it turned into a TV character. Romero played a very comical and campy version of the Joker that actually gained a lot of popularity amongst viewers.
The Joker’s Reborn
Sadly for Batman and Joker fans, in 1968, the Batman comic series was canceled on ABC. After the show was canceled, the Joker basically disappeared from the public eye for a long time, until 1973. That year, the Joker returned, and it was darker than anyone remembered.
DC decided to focus on the most mature readers again this time, hoping to increase sales in comparison to the previous attempt. Eventually, the Joker’s Five-Way Revenge was finally released, with Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams returning to the initial story of the Joker.
The Joker From The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns was published in 1968, re-imagining the Joker’s character one more time. Frank Miller wrote the story, and this time it took place at a different time, adding a bit of a twist to the Joker’s story.
In this version, Bruce Wayne had already retired, and the Joker had become a celebrity who dearly missed his old foe. This particular version of the Joker became a significant influence on future interpretations of the comic villain.
Death Of The Family
Even though the Joker had created a pretty dark story related to who he was and the way he acted, for fans and readers, the villain did the unthinkable in the Death Of The Family.
In this version of the comics, readers apparently voted towards Robin’s fate, who was played by Jason Todd at the time. The vote was for Robin’s death, being particularly executed by the Joker. This drastic turn of events opened the floor to even darker stories related to character, resulting in the incredible performance given by Jack Nicholson.
Jack Nicholson, The Perfect Joker
In 1989, Batman was released, in which Michael Keaton played Batman, and the legendary Jack Nicholson played the Joker. The film was directed by Tim Burton and quickly became a big hit at the box office, making about $251 million.
The movie completely blew up and was received with a lot of positive critical acclaim. In the film, the villain and Batman had a familial bond with a performance that became known as one of the best of Batman and the Joker together.
The Animated Series
Right after its release on the big screen, in 1992, ‘The Batman: The Animated Series’ debuted on television. Inspired by the character portrayed in Tim Burton’s movie, the Joker was portrayed by Mark Hamil and was played in a much more light-hearted way than some of the character’s previous performances.
While the series aimed at all ages, including kids, the character still brought some light into the Joker’s darker sides. In the series, Mark Hamil created a peculiar devilish laugh for the role, which set the bar really high for the performances that followed.
After Batman: The Animated Series ended in 1995, a big hole was left when it came to the Joker’s character. It didn’t take long, though, before Hamil returned in 1997 to voice the character in the New Batman Adventures.
This time, the character had been completely redesigned, and his appearance was very different from some of his previous portrayals. For example, his lips were no longer there, his grin had grown a little bit wider, his chin was extraordinarily sharp, and his eyes were nothing more than black orbs.
One More Time For Hamill
After voicing the Joker’s character for more than ten years, Hamill once again had the opportunity of playing the role of the Joker, but this time with a twist.
In the show Birds of Prey, the Joker’s character was played very briefly in live-action form and was played by Roger Stoneburner. In a flashback scene, the actor’s performance was dubbed with Hamil’s voice, creating a bizarre feeling to the character. Many viewers had mixed feelings about the performance.
The Joker With Dreadlocks
In 2004, The Joker went through another considerable redesign. This time, the Joker looked even more different than what we remembered from Batman. In these animated series, the Joker was portrayed as a maniac, taking a completely fresh approach to the character.
One interesting detail is that in the series, the Joker starts wearing an Arkham straightjacket, and only after moves into his well-known suit. He also looks completely different in his physical appearance, with huge red eyes, green dreadlocks, and scary teeth.
About twenty years after Jack Nicholson’s incredible performance for the Joker in Batman, Heath Ledger took over the character. His interpretation was so proper that the performance might arguably be the most iconic performance the Joker has ever seen.
Ledger went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his role in The Dark Night, which was sadly his last. It is known that to transform himself into the Joker, and Ledger pushed himself both physically and mentally in ways that he had never done before that role.
Not Really About The Joker
After the live-action Batman TV show that was released in the 60s, in 2014, the show Gotham premiered as another live-action of the show. This time though, the show had a different storyline.
It was about Jim Gordon, who worked his way up in the Police Department to become police Commissioner. In this show, another version of the Joker’s origin story came about, played by Jim Gordon. The character was teased for about five seasons until his story was finally released in the last couple of episodes.
In the year of 2016, the actor Mark Hamill returned, playing the role of the Joker for the animated feature-length Batan movie.
The movie Batman: The Killing Joke was released in theaters for only one night, and was the first Batman movie to receive an R-rating. Critics, however, gave the film a hard time, even though viewers and fans were very excited about the return of Hamill. They claimed that the story had been disjointed and had become overly dark.
Could It Be The Worst Joker Ever?
Mark Hamill didn’t only play the Joker in 2016; it was also performed by Jared Leto on Suicide Squad. Curiously, fans were very unhappy with his performance, and have even rated him as one of the worst Jokers of all time. Leto chose to portray Joker as a tattoed ‘gangster type’ instead of the maniacal lunatic seen previously.
In the movie, the Joker was completely covered in tattoos, which included one on his forehead, with Leto’s performance really lacking in many aspects. While the movie was actually a huge hit, the DC movies that followed didn’t do so well, which resulted at the end of the DC Extended line of films.
Batman Ninja And The Joker
Following the disaster that was Leto’s Joker came Batman Ninja and the Joker in 2018. This is quite possibly one of the worst interpretations of both the Batman and Joker. Here Batman got a Japanese makeover complete with nunchucks and a brand new storyline. In this version, the villains are feudal lords out for control of the Gotham kingdom
This series provided fans from around the world with an anime version of Batman. The character was voiced by Wataru Takagi in Japan, and in the United States, Tony Hale took over the role. He is known for his performance on Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and from Veep.