I’m a big fan of the current iteration of the Joker. It’s how I felt the DCEU should have been handled from day one. Make a good movie first and then a sequel. Country simple. Having a brilliant actor like Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Arthur Fleck was a great move as well. This Joker will go down in comic book history as one of the best, joining the ones played by Jack Nicholsen and Heath Ledger.
But what about the Jokers that came after Jack and Heath, these two acting legends? What about the hidden Jokers that don’t get the fanfare?
The first was actually played by a legend all on his own. I’m talking about Mark Hamill. After Star Wars, Hamill slummed it in B-movies like Guyver and video games like Wing Commander. I know what the gamers are going to say, but it was considered below any respectable actor’s sensibilities at the time. At that point in his career, he wasn’t known for his acting skills. Even as Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, his acting was adequate at best. By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around, he wasn’t the only one.
The Animated Series needed a Joker, and Hamill stepped up the plate. Mind you, this was only three years after Tim Burton’s Batman hit the screens. For a lot of folks, Nicholson’s Joker was the end all and be all. For Hamill to take on the mantle after Jack freaking Nicholson… well, that took a big pair of brass ones.
And dude nailed it. That cackle sent creepers up all our spines. I remember being shocked when I heard it was Hamill behind that voice because it wasn’t Luke. It was our favorite psychotic.
The other Joker that tends to not get the recognition he deserves is John Doe in the Batman Telltale games. It truly is a tragedy that Telltale went under. I loved both seasons of their own Batman universe. The way they dealt with the characters was both original and intriguing. Bruce Wayne out of the Batman costume was way more interesting than him in it. I’ve never seen a Batman story do that.
[SPOILERS] The following contains spoilers for the Batman Telltale games. Skip to the last paragraph if you haven’t played it yet.
They did the same thing with Joker, or rather John Doe. The pale amnesiac befriends Wayne after the hero is wrongly committed to Arkham. He’s basically friendly but obviously dangerous. Doe really tries to be a good person, but his moral compass just doesn’t point where it should.
Anthony Ingruber, the voice actor, did a fantastic job with Doe. All of us players knew who he was going to turn into and we liked him anyway. I sympathized with this Joker in a way I never could before. The game lets the players choose whether this Joker turns into the nutso villain we know and love or into a failed vigilante, one who tries to do good in the worst way possible. I went with the latter, and it was a beautiful tragedy played out on my computer screen.
The Joaquin Pheonix Joker made the character even more relatable. It took what was started in Telltale and gave him a name, a history. Even two weeks later after seeing the movie, it still gives me chills.
This Week’s Question
What what is your favorite underrated comic book villain?
We’d love to hear from you at the reading group.