With Jared Leto’s look as the Joker for the forthcoming movie Suicide Squad, many questions have been raised regarding whether his portrayal of the iconic villain will be able to live up to the past versions and most importantly, Heath Ledger’s brilliant depiction of the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Ever since his first appearance in the comics in 1940, the Joker has been one of the most iconic and recognizable villains in pop culture. But over the years his appearance and character have gone through a number of significant changes despite the maintenance of a number of essentials including his green hair, maniacal red grin and off course trademark purple suit. Let’s take a look at his evolution over the years:
The Joker’s debut in pop culture came in the first issue of Batman comics and was known to be based on the artist Jerry Robinson’s depiction of actor Conrad Veidt’s role in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs. This is when the red lipped grin and green hair came into existence.
1950’s and 1960’s
As the artist of the comics changed to Dick Sprang, so did the Joker’s look and character as he turned from a homicidal villain into a goofy and mischievous prankster harbouring a wider grin and a more lighthearted face. His signature purple, green and orange suit was cemented and has barely changed in the decades since then.
The first live action depiction of Joker was carried out by actor Cesar Romero and was initially aired on the fifth episode of ABC’s hilariously quirky Batman Television show. Romero infamously refused to shave his moustache for the role and the make-up artists were forced to paint over it!
Joker’s animated debut was seen in 1968 in the Filmation animated series The Adventures of Batman where he was voiced by Larry Stortch. He still featured his signature suit combination as well as a hairdo similar to the stepmother from a classic Disney fairytale.
The 1970’s saw the return of Joker to the Batman comics in issue #251 where he returned to his darker roots as a homicidal maniac rather than the mischievous prankster that had popularized his character. His appearance saw some slight changes as well with his long overcoat and fedora along with the darker tint to his character.
Artist Frank Miller reimagined the original Batman storyline and characters in a new series The Dark Knight Returns which gave birth to an older and bulkier Joker was a stark contrast to past interpretations of the character which were commonly believed to have made the Joker scarier than ever before.
Writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland humanized the Joker and showed how one bad day turned a lowly stand-up comedian into a homicidal maniac through their graphic novel The Killing Joke. Bolland drew the Joker with greater anatomical precision than his predecessors and in turn made the character a striking cross between insane and terrifying.
In Tim Burton’s classic film Batman, legendary actor Jack Nicholson brought the Crown Prince of Crime to life like never seen before on the big screen. Nicholson’s performance and appearance in the film brought the homicidal undertones of Brian Bolland’s take on the Joker to life with a permanent rictus grin that came to be associated with severe facial injury.
The Joker hit the small screen once again in Bruce Timm’s production; Batman: The Animated Series which saw a more simple and sleek yet gothic take on Joker’s appearance. The character was voiced by Luke Skywalker and bore similarities to the Joker’s original look in the 1940’s.
Christopher Nolan’s more realistic approach to the entire Batman sequence saw the emergence of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker more fitting for a homicidal maniac with a grin that’s literally cut into his face with jagged scars. This is by far the most iconic and dark portrayal of the Joker so far and Heath Ledger’s performance is something that is believed no other actor will ever be able to overcome and has shaped a basic outline for every movie hero since his popularity in The Dark Knight.
Jared Leto’s upcoming role as the Joker in the film Suicide Squad is something that has left heads turning with his increased emphasis on the insanity of his character and the gothic take on his appearance with various tattoos and chrome teeth along with slicked back hair and those sunken and terrifying eyes. The movie and its reception are yet to decide whether his performance will be as iconic as Heath Ledger’s or simply a joke as was Nicholson’s.