Lately, the internet has been exploding over Jared Leto’s depiction of The Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. And the general consensus I’ve gotten from friends, forums, and articles is less than positive.
The topic of this came up at work not long ago and got me to realize something – despite him retiring the voice some time ago, many fans of Batman and other DC media outside of the comics still consider Mark Hamill’s depiction in the various animated series’ and games to be the superior Joker. Why is that?
Well, before we answer that, I want to silence one particular argument I hear whenever I discuss this. Every time I broach the topic of The Joker’s many iterations, they disregard Hamill’s performance along with all animated/game media. I want to make it clear that the medium of choice has no effect on the quality of writing, nor development of a story’s characters. You can make a good story about anything in any format with the proper skill.
So, if the medium isn’t the problem, what is it? Well, the main problem with writing for a character like The Joker is that his character is INTENTIONALLY difficult to pin down. He’s so unpredictable and bares such a fluid personality – combined with multiple contradicting backstories that he made up on the fly – that the finest doctors at Arkham Asylum have never been able to make a concrete diagnosis of his condition (though his general desire to simply do whatever he wants with disdain for authorities that would stop him seems to point towards Anti-Social Personality Disorder; Thanks, psych minor!).
This means that, depending on the kind of carnage he wishes to unleash, The Joker wears multiple hats. What’s more, each of his most famous depictions presents a different hat; Cesar Romaro’s manic prankster, Jack Nickholson’s ruthless but dignified gangster, Heath Ledger’s sociopathic anarchist, and now Jared Leto’s psychopath.
So why do we love Hamill’s Joker? Because he was all of them.
The combination of Hamill’s characterization (he literally had a different laugh for every emotion) along with the amazing writing talents of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm – both known for making their stories analogous to reality by way of equal parts comedy, drama, and deceptive banality – allowed us to see the full terrifying spectrum of what The Joker could, and often would if it meant getting his way, become at a moment’s notice.
In short, we probably won’t see anyone that can truly challenge Hamill for the crown of the Clown Prince of Crime until we get a writer/actor combo that’s not afraid to explore the full range of what one of fiction’s most infamous criminally insane villains can be.