BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!

In Defense of
The Heath-Joker's Look

Author: Alex Winck
Sunday, May 20, 2007

One of the funny things I came to notice about fanboys over the years is this interesting contradiction: they often complain a lot about how they want fresh and different things and they don’t want “been-there-done-that.” One of the biggest fanboy complaints about Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS -- one to which I agree only partially -- is that it paid too much homage to Richard Donner’s brilliant SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE instead of trying to do something “fresh.” What’s funny about that is that “fresh” meant to go and retell the origin yet again; but I digress…

But what’s really weird is that fairly often, when you actually go and give them something fresh and different, they go ballistic against it. They want what they’re used to, even if it’s “been-there-done-that.” We have seen four different variations of the Batmobile as a sports car with fins in previous Batman movies, haven’t we? So it would be safe to say that is “been-there-done-that,” right? Then Chris Nolan went and gave us something fresh and different with his Batmobile, AKA “The Tumbler,” a car unlike any prop car ever developed for a movie. And fanboys initial reaction was what? “I want a sports car with fins! I NEED a sports car with fins! Give me a sports car with fins or I´’l fall into fetal position and hold my breath ‘til I go blue!” Okay, I exaggerate…but not really that much.

But then people went and saw The Tumbler in BEGINS and saw what an amazing work of crafty engineering it was, what a badass stunt machine it was, and how well it fit the context and mood of the movie. Then The Tumber ended up winning over the fanboys…most of them, at least.

Now we have the look of THE DARK KNIGHT’s Joker.

Have we never seen The Joker as the usual image from the comics -- the greenish hair combed back, the bright-red lips, the chalk white skin -- in a live-action movie? Hell yeah, at least twice! First, the very clown-esque incarnation -- as played by Cesar Romero -- then the somewhat darker approach with Jack Nicholson. It’s “been-there-done-that.”

As I said in my article “Who will have the last laugh?” here on BOF, there was no point in bringing back The Joker to the Batman movie franchise unless you did something different. If the look and portrayal of The Joker was just a repetition of Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero, it’d have fanboys complaining like crazy that they wanted something fresh and different, darker and creepier. And does Mr. Nolan do? He gives us something fresh and different, something much darker and creepier, a Joker that looks like he belongs in a dark serial killer movie rather than a summer blockbuster.

And what is the initial reaction? “I want bright red lips with clean white skin! I NEED bright red lips with clean white skin! Give me bright red lips with clean white skin or I´ll fall into fetal position and….” OK, you get the picture.

You know, when I look at my favorite images of The Joker, such as Brian Bolland´s horrendous gaze of insanity when the character is “born” in THE KILLING JOKE, there’s nothing funny about it. He’s not a clown. It’s a dark, scary version of it. Above everything else, The Joker has to give you the chills when you look at him. And that’s what this Joker does for me. If I met a guy looking like this in a dark alley, I’d run like crazy.

And here’s another thing fanboys are forgetting -- the way this Joker was presented to us was pure, absolute “Joker.” In one of the most original marketing stunts for a movie I ever seen, Warner Bros. played a game with us, just as the clown prince of crime would have done himself! A classic, positive image of Harvey Dent was completely messed up and The Joker himself tricked us into showing his image beneath it. They even gave him the same style of lettering used by Dave McKean in ARKHAM ASYLUM.

Sometimes movies play with the look of a classic comics character, in a bad way. The fact that Batman had nipples on his suit was bad not because it wasn’t comics-accurate per se, it was because it was a gratuitous sexually exploitative thing that served no purpose and Batman had no reason to put on his suit. It also brought back all the homoerotic innuendo towards Batman and his sidekick Robin. Batman wearing a black suit instead of blue and gray? That wasn’t comics-accurate either, but it worked, because Batman is supposed to look dark and he’s supposed to be creepy and mysterious.

And The Joker is supposed to be scary. And he will be in THE DARK KNIGHT.

Alex Winck, AKA "Ultimatefan," hails from Florianópolis, Brazil. He's a journalist and advertiser and writes the scripts and articles for Sesinho, the most popular educational comic book in Brazil. It has one million copies distributed for free in schools and with an estimated readership of four million.

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