I refuse to give my opinion on the new image of Jared Leto as the Joker because at this very moment, my opinion has no basis. I have grown a bit leery of reactionary behaviors, and therefore will reserve judgment until I have seen the whole performance in action. What I will say is that I have faith in Jared Leto. I have never seen the man turn in sub-par work. His commitment to shaving off his epic beard, cutting his long hair and removing his eyebrows must have some bearing on the level of work he is doing to play this character. A man does not simply sacrifice that amount of hair without having a damn good reason.
The Joker has always been one of DC’s most compelling characters. More a force of nature than a man, even the slightest hint of his presence can bring fans to their knees. I think what is interesting about this reaction is, I find it a bit reminiscent of the backlash we got when Heath Ledger was announced for The Dark Knight. I remember very clearly people losing their minds, yelling and screaming about how that pretty boy would never be able to cut it as Mr. J. Then the movie came out and what we were treated to was an Oscar-winning performance. People claimed there would never be an actor who would be able to fill Ledger’s shoes. That after his run, it would be decades before someone could play The Joker again. Strange that a mere seven years later, we are looking at a new actor playing the same role.
The thing about it though is, it isn’t actually the same role. The Joker, like all comic book characters is more conceptual than anything else. He represents a series of tropes and thoughts which are translated through various media to the intended audience. In the case of The Joker, we are looking at chaos, madness incarnate, pure evil. The problem of course is that madness, chaos and evil are all completely subjective. What is madness to one person can be completely sane to another.
According to Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan, the best version of The Joker was an anarchist. He was a man who was driven by a philosophical standpoint. Jack Nicholson and Tim Burton had a completely different view of the same character. Their incarnation was…well…Jack Nicholson. Then, of course there is Cesar Romero, who played the crown prince of crime like an overgrown child who simply wanted to take what wasn’t his. It is also interesting to note that Romero refused to shave his mustache to play the iconic character, instead opting to put thick makeup over it. Doesn’t sound nearly as committed to the role as Leto. Then of course, there is the ever brilliant voice-over work of Mark Hamill and a plethora of other voice actors in the animated series. What about the great work Andrew Koenig did in the short Batman: Dead End? For me, Koenig’s work was sublime.
A multitude of different actors have all given different interpretations of the same character, and somehow all of them seem to have captured the essence of what it is to be The Joker. Which means that there is actually no truly definitive Joker at all. This of course is only appropriate; he is after all, a character who has seventy-five years of history. He is a part of the American zeitgeist just as is his counterpart, Batman. All of this means that the Joker like almost all comic characters is something very specific and at the same time completely amorphous.
So far, all we have seen of Jared Leto’s Joker is this simple picture and a possible video of him testing out his voice at a concert.
With all of this in mind, who am I to say that Jared Leto and David Ayer have not created an accurate depiction of their Joker, tattoos and all.