The Changing Face of The Joker

Posted by on December 16, 2007 in Blog tagged with

Since his first appearance in 1940, the Joker has been one of Batman’s most intriguing enemies.  His identity, along with his past, has always been extremely difficult to pin down.  In the 1988 The Killing Joke he says of his past that, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"  In many ways this approach to personal history is inscribed in his changing appearance as seen in numerous comics, television series, animated cartoons and feature film productions.  What I’d like to do here is to show you a few of the visual interpretations of the Joker, before finishing with the most recent images from the new film The Dark Knight.

This was how the Joker first appeared in the 1940 Batman comic; his bleached skin, red lips, green hair and rictus smile becoming the basis for all future interpretations.

Here we have the 1966 tv version played by Caesar Romero, and I don’t know about you, but I find the image distinctly unthreatening.  The Joker’s role in the series was more comedic than murderous.  However, if we move forward to the 80s, and back to a comic book version, we find a far more disturbing presentation.

The glare of homicidal insanity is much more evident in this illustration, from The Killing Joke (1988) by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, than in the role Romero played on screen, don’t you think?

Then of course, we have Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1989 film Batman directed by Tim Burton.  As with all Burton productions, a darkly humerous approach was taken, and Nicholson’s development of the Joker’s laugh became an iconic component of the Joker’s identity.  Fast forwarding on to the 00s, and news broke that the newest Batman film was to feature Heath Ledger, of Brokeback Mountain fame, as the Joker, leaving Batman fans to concoct possible images for the newest incarnation of the demonic clown.

To say this guess was far from the mark would be putting it mildly.  Have a look at some the images released by Warner Brothers for The Dark Knight, due to be released July ’08.

It looks like we have moved into a new stage in the development of the Joker’s appearance; one which is far darker, infinitely more disturbing, and seemingly more rooted in the horror genre than ever before.  In many ways, this psychotic clown seems closer to Stephen King’s Pennywise than Caesar Romero’s Joker.  What do you think of the changing face of the Joker?  Does it reflect a change in times?  Or is it, perhaps, that the essence of the Joker’s violent insanity, as portrayed in the comic books, has finally been faithfully translated into the medium of film?  Of course, it’s hard to assess with any conviction prior to the film’s release, but from the images and trailers released leading up to its premiere, it would appear that we’re in for a treat of the most sinister kind.

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