Misery in film is always in fashion. And as the Batman archives prove, so is its architect, The Joker. Unless you grew up reading comic books, chances are you’ve never developed a taste for it - despite your enjoyment of the subsequent films and television series they’ve spawned, both DC and Marvel alike. As for indulging in the screen adaptations of comics however, that’s a far more palatable task for a lazy couch jockey. And with the Suicide Squad film just months from dropping on August 5 and Jared Leto re-introducing The Joker for the first time on screen since Heath Ledger’s death, there’s never been a better time to look at the progression of the super villain over the course of the past six decades.
In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the ever-so-camp Batman television series featuring Adam West as the not-so-Dark Knight and Cesar Romero as the Clown Prince of Crime.
So as we count down the days until The Joker lives again, we look back on the unbalanced murderous villain and a timeline of the most iconic forms he’s taken on our screens since 1966.
1966 - The 1960s television Joker
Looking back, Cesar Romero’s original on-screen Joker definitely puts the clown into clown prince. Just as camp is the entire series, which diverted away from Batman’s dark roots to embody a zanier time in history, with the 1966-67 season being the debut of full-time color television programming in the US. Up until then, while color TV sets and shows existed, most networks refused to adapt. Sound familiar? Cough. Streaming. Cough. Anyhow, Romero’s Joker paid closer homage to the Joker’s name, the character’s crimes more intent on carrying out mischief than creating sheer and utter mayhem.
1989 - Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson’s Joker
With new-found interest in Batman thanks to darker and more complicated re-imaginings of the characters in the 1980s comics, Batman returned to the big screen for the first time in more than 20 years (The original Batman film of 1966 largely starred the same actors as the TV show). And to accompany a new cynical and tormented Batman came arguably the most iconic incarnation of The Joker - Jack Nicholson’s twisted Clown Prince of Crime. He was still flamboyant like Romero before him, donning the iconic green hair, white face, red hair and purple suit, but the 1989 interpretation involved far more sinister tendencies. This Joker liked to kill - and look good doing it.
1992 - The cartoon Joker you remember from the 1990s
Only looking back now can you realize just how careless your parents were, allowing you to watch an animated series as deep, heavy and almost as graphic as any True Detective episode. Like The Simpsons, adult humor under the guise of cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series may have been showed in minor-friendly hours but the undertones of its content were anything but slap-happy. If Burton’s interpretation was gothic camp, then the animated version was pure gothic, taking The Joker’s maniacal ways to sick yet calculated new heights. He did manipulate his therapist, Harley Quinn, into becoming his sidekick afterall. Better yet, he was voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. It’s safe to say, this interpretation served as inspiration for the only other two actors to portray The Joker in live action since.
2008 - Heath Ledger’s Joker
Like Nicholson’s interpretation before, it would be almost another 20 years before The Joker returned to live action on the big screen, this time played by late Australian Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Hinted at in director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins, The Joker finally made his appearance in 2008 and thanks to Ledger he was sicker, more twisted and more homicidal than ever. His makeshift outfit and running colors paid tribute to the Jokers who came before him, but Ledger’s dishevelled visual interpretation of the Joker was more haunting than ever - that iconic smile literally cut into his face and bearing the scars to prove it. He was a true homicidal maniac and brought more terror than any Joker who came previous.
2016 - Jared Leto
Courtesy of the studios clamoring to exploit franchises on a larger scale than ever, and perhaps at the detriment of the series, we don’t have to wait another 20 years until Batman returns - no pun intended. In fact, in less than four years since The Dark Knight trilogy ended in 2012, Batman will have returned to cinema not once but twice. And while The Joker was nowhere to be seen in Batman v Superman earlier this year, the most recent incarnation by Jared Leto will debut on August 5 in Suicide Squad. And from the trailers, it’s as if Leto’s effort is the “after” picture of Ledger’s “before”. Shirtless, ripped, tightly trimmed do, subtle make-up, no visible scarring and expensive silver teeth to boot, the new Joker is every bit 2016 - more narcissistic than ever.