Monday, August 01, 2016

Real Name: Unknown
First Appearance: Batman #1 (April, 1940)
Fight Club Ranking: #362

Featured Fights:
- vs BATMAN: Crisis on Infinite Earths #2 (May 1985)
- vs BATMAN: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (May 1986)
- vs BATMAN: Batman: The Animated Series Ep. 2 (Sep 1992)
- vs HARVEY DENT: Batman: The Long Halloween #3 (Feb 1997)
- vs BATMAN: Batman #614 (Jun 2003)
- vs BATMAN: Detective Comics #781 (Jun 2003)
- vs ROBIN: Detective Comics #826 (Feb 2007)
- vs BATMAN: Batman #663 (Apr 2007)
- vs JUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #15 (Jan 2008)

There could only be one choice for this week's Hero of the Week. Not only is he about to assault the big screen in the live-action Suicide Squad (August 5th), but he's also stirring controversy with the long anticipated animated adaptation of Alan Moore & Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke!

I am (of course) talking about The Joker! A character who is arguably as important to DC Comics and Warner Brothers as the hero he lives to fight. Interesting, then, that there are two very different visions of the character coming to screens. Three - if you project forward to the Lego Batman movie!

In The Killing Joke, DC & Warner seemingly offer the safe option. The customary reverence for Alan Moore's work is supported by the return of arguably the most beloved performer to play The Joker, if not the most celebrated: Mark Hamill. The film and actor have been inexorably linked by Hamill's desire to slow down as cackling maniac, whilst citing The Killer Joke as the story that would bring him back in an instant. Hamill, like comics readers, has a taste for the classics.

The oft referenced 1988 one-shot is brief, but significant. Remembered for giving Joker the closest he's come to an accepted origin (as The Red Hood), while also introducing the concept of a crippled Barbara Gordon, Batgirl: later wheelchair bound computer whiz Oracle - hero for the millennium.

It's the latter that likely necessitates the R Rating that puts WB's direct-to-video feature in the milieu of a short-lived trend of 18+ comic book films started by February breakout: Deadpool.

It's debatable whether an R is entirely necessary to tell this story. At the heart of that debate lies whether or not you believe Joker's assault on Barbara Gordon is sexual in nature. The filmmakers assume it is, and will pursue that interpretation in their animated vision. Personally, I've never been inclined to read it that way. I don't perceive sexual intercourse as part of The Joker's language. It's hard to argue definitively that it isn't in the story of driving Commissioner Gordon insane. It's simply not required. The message of vulnerability, personal injury, and violation is there regardless.

Of course, I can understand the impulse to look for something deeper and more chilling than what is committed to paper. The Killing Joke, despite its reverence, ultimately reads like a simple episode in the on-going war between Joker and Batman. In factoring Commissioner Gordon in as a target for a psychological attack - it's a pretty good episode, but not an overwhelmingly involving one. I like The Red Hood plot. I like what became of Barbara Gordon in the Oracle persona -- a character I think is far, far stronger than Batgirl. I'm just not especially enamoured with the story. Even less so, as an animated project, given how frequently they gut the subtext and nuance out of the stories they adapt. With so little to mine in The Killer Joke, I can see why they've taken perceived subtext and run with it. Naked Jim Gordon crawling around in circus mud can only fill so many minutes.

If The Killing Joke is testing the threshold for what's acceptable for The Joker -- Jared Leto is officially challenging it as the next live-action version! He was boldly introduced to the world in portrait. Warner Brothers chose to lead with everything they'd changed. A risky proposition.

The need to do something to distance the character from Heath Ledger's Oscar Award winning performance makes sense.

What's surprising is that their direction is moving away from the iconic vision of the comics! The Dark Knight loosely adapted the iconic visual cues of the purple clad clown, but could never be mistaken for the over-the-top comic visual. Going comics faithful seems like a good way to go. A thin, angular man with a big style. Leto goes OTT with a huge mouth, but not that way.

Ironically, one of the few positives taken away from Zack Snyder's direction of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was commitment to the visual. His efforts to bring a Frank Miller inspired vision to life - responsible for the first cinematic Batman to look like a comic book superhero! That his opposite will be so far removed is very surprising!.

Granted, there's a sense that Miller's Bowie-esque, thin white Joker of The Dark Knight Returns [#3] has participated in giving Leto a foundation. I imagine it will be argued the tattooed, metal toothed Joker should be seen as a "modern" evolution of that concept. I'm not sure it will ever deliver that.

Live-action casting is often met with reluctance, especially after a memorable performance by another actor. Ledger certainly wasn't someone embraced immediately for what he brought to the role once owned by Nicholson, and to that extent, Leto is in good company. I'm just not sure I will ever be able to accept this incarnation. Grotesque in ways I don't think I can ever accept of The Joker.

Suicide Squad opens in wide theatrical release today! Margot Robbie stars as the Joker's favourite gal: Harley Quinn! We'll be talking more about her and the rest of the Suicide Squad throughout the month of August in Friday Night Fights and HOTW! It's sure to be an interesting ride!

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