Sunday, May 10, 2015

Remaking the Joker

There's been another redesign of The Joker on Suicide Squad that's had some fans upset.  This comes on the heels of the Dark Knight Snyder version, which because it was being played by a Brokeback Mountain actor (that ironically enough, was the Indy definition of Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding), gave fears that he would give a less than sterling portrayal.  (Nevermind that Frank Miller's Joker displayed overly Gay tendencies benefiting a portrayal worth vilifying)

It's not unusual to have a beloved character replaced with a similar expy if the previous actor is no longer available, no matter how much money you throw at their graves.  I suspect that what everybody seems to be clamoring about is the need for Jaret Leto to appear more extreme than the previous incarnation.  Scott Snyder did his utmost best to create a "realistic" portrayal of the Batman's world, which sadly, seemed to extend towards the Superman movies as well, which should've been a study in contrasts, rather than similarities.  The Joker by all rights should've been a mix of comedic and terrifying, though the focus seems to be leaning more towards horror than comedy.  So how did they choose to portray his threatening nature?  Why by having Memento-style tattoos sketched all over his face and chest.  There's going to extremes to make a point, and there's going beyond the boundaries of good taste in order to provoke a reaction.

The design for The Joker seems tailor-made to what studio heads feel should resonate strongly with the audience, rather than have those traits appear naturally.  This comes from relying too much on analyzing certain trends and capitalizing upon them.  (Tattoos are cool and threatening!)  It gives the stench of simply trying too hard and thereby rings hallow.
This could be a prime candidate for Seinfeld is Unfunny.
At least they didn't try to go the Scott Snyder route he did for the comics (Yes, the man wrote for the comics as well as the movies) by putting the lead villain in a Saw face mask, probably because smearing makeup all over your face wasn't considered profitable enough if anybody could simply do it themselves.
Fun for the whole family!
Having the Joker redesigned to suit the tastes of current events is nothing new, but there should be some kind of consistency.  The most enjoyable aspect of the Joker, other than his homicidal tendencies (which have been overplayed in favor of his other talents) is that he's also capable of outrageous and outlandish plans that have the surface element of being funny.  And the recent serious portrayal of him from his skin mask and botched makeup is very far removed from the inspirational source of humour he comes from.  It smacks of simply trying too hard to be relevant and extreme.

Furthermore, they're also committing the cardinal sin of borrowing too many elements from Hannibal Lecter.  Whenever a TV series or movie tries to delve into a serial killer's threatening nature by having them appear overconfident in shackles and smelling the interrogator's perfume, I begin to tune out.  Constantly reusing the same traits that made Hannibal intimidating reeks more of copycat attempts, and like other copycats, they're pale imitations of the original.  There's more than one serial killer mindset, and simply rehashing the same one over and over gets tiring after awhile.  Others, like the Green River Killer, who simply killed, and appeared apathetic when revealing the location of the bodies, and was unable to fully explain his motivation behind his acts are more believable and unsettling.

But that's the thing, isn't it?  Having nihilistic shocking portrayal of the depths of humanity is easy.  Creating 4th wall-breaking black humourous jokes is hard.  When stripped down to his basic elements (a maniacal clown who delights in doing outlandish crimes that defy conventional methods and takes refuge in audacity), the Joker works perfectly well.

Of all the portrayals of The Joker, there's one that I'm surprised hasn't made wider strides in the Entertainment industry, of a once-popular figure who bleached himself to the point that he was virtually unrecognizable from how he first looked.  I'm speaking of course, of Michael Jackson.
From MAD's Similarities between Greek Mythology & Musicians.
Like The Joker, Michael Jackson did all kinds of outrageous acts that would be considered too extreme for attention-starved narcissists.  One reporter described Michael Jackson's antics as being an exaggerated representation of Celebrity culture.  Other Celebrities are subject to their personal whims and private demons.  Michael Jackson just happened to go to further extremes than what would be considered normal.
If millions of people consider cosmetic nose surgery acceptable, Jackson embarks on a long-term program of self-renovation that all but obliterates his nose. If society is obsessed with white and black skin, Jackson bleaches his so thoroughly that it must be protected from the sun with the utmost care. If much of humanity strives desperately to appear young, Jackson makes it his lifelong project to look and talk as much like a child as possible; (...)  Moreover, when everyone agrees that standard sex roles are weakening, he moves a major step further by becoming an androgyne, wearing his hair in the manner of an old movie actress and talking like a teenaged girl of two generations ago.
When faced with criminal charges that would be considered career-ending moves for anybody else, Jackson simply took them in stride and his numerous fans continued to support him, no matter what he did.  If he actually killed anybody, he would've unintentionally bred a cult more terrifying than The Following.  But maybe being too faithful to the source material is too taboo for the Entertainment division to consider.  They'd hardly want to acknowledge that their business is culpable for creating self-centered mentality with celebrities.
See the resemblance?
Or is it just me?
As far as I know, apart from the fedora and Sean Penn hair, there's never been a similar comparison between the two pale-faced performers.  Not even an ElseWorlds successful version of The Joker, which would be fairly interesting from a sociological point.  (After all, the Joker is extremely fond of pointing out the hypocrisy of media whenever possible)

Oftentimes, The Joker is portrayed as someone who is a master manipulator, creating a seemingly chaotic chain of events that plays to a plan that only he can see, giving him the sense of someone who's above it all.  If we're to take his insanity defense seriously, he'd have to be shown incapable of telling the difference between right and wrong, which is difficult given how much glee he takes in defying authority.  These instances would show that he does know the difference - he just doesn't care.  A truly insane individual would be spouting a rambling stream of consciousness where rational thought hardly comes into play.  The closest anyone got to this form of Joker was Joker: Switch where he had his mouth improbably surgically moved to the back of his neck, and tried to find out who did this to him, with less than stellar detective work.

Some other alternate interpretations that haven't been fully explored:

Being immortal:  The Joker is infamous for routinely coming back from the dead from situations that would normally kill any other man.  Frank Miller's abysmal sequel The Dark Knight Returns had among its technicolour nightmare sequences, an immortal Joker being casually beheaded and catching his own skull in the same panel.  Just recently, it's seems that Snyder's gone this same route, going for the dull immortal walker archetype.

Being effectively immortal is certainly a logical explanation for how he keeps routinely escaping such hubris deathtraps.  However, my interpretation was somewhat different.  The kicker being that he himself doesn't know this.  Whenever he comes back to life, he fills in the blanks of how all those bullets dodged him by inventing some elaborate scenario of getting out of that situation that he'd devised ages ago, even if that plan never actually happened in the first place.  He could be casually playing Russian Roulette in private, and getting a bad luck of the draw, then while his head's recomposing itself from being shot at point-blank range, and he's wondering where all this blood's come from, thinks that he loaded his chamber with red paint, and resolves to do so next time.  With how often he rewrites his personal history, being a mixture of a skilled gangster, a failed comedian, and a hitman, this wouldn't be too much of a stretch.
People's lives are so much more interesting if you just fill in the blanks yourself.
Even funnier would be if he was constantly confronted with this information, and shown irrefutable proof of his unknown ability, The Joker would refuse to admit the obvious and see this attempt as nothing more than trying to goad him into committing suicide.  Especially if they constantly kill him over and over, and The Joker refuses to believe it.

Being an avatar for Nyarlathotep:  The Lovecraft connection is tenuous at most in the world of Batman, its most infamous tribute being Arkham Asylum, which was an unnamed commodity for years.  Every once in a while, Nyarlathotep would take over the Joker's consciousness, as a human who can process more information that would normally drive mortal men mad, and given knowledge that man was not meant to know.  (The Joker is broadband, other people are dial-up)  Such constant influence on a rational mind would drive them to irrationality when left alone, which would be part of Nyarlathotep's devising, since he prefers more to leave madness than death in his wake.
"Why would I cause one death
when I could inflict torment upon Thousands?"
Considering the vast resources that can be gleamed from everyday ordinary objects twisted into strange shapes, escaping from a Maximum-security prison is nothing more than child's play.  When possessed, there's a kind of dual cooperation where both sides get to fulfill their sides of the bargain until such time when Nyarlathotep's finished his deeds and leaves the Joker to his own devices.  Being used to the demands of his eons-old masters, Nyarlathotep sees no qualms about following his host's unusual whims, as long as their interests coincide.

Which could explain why Batman is reluctant to kill the Joker, since he's the one human body he keeps coming back to, and if he suddenly died, Batman would have to find another avatar that the madness-inducing being would spawn from, which would be made doubly difficult, since this time, he knows he's being watched, and will spare no time or expense to drive him to distraction in ways that The Joker could only hint at.

Subtle Smile: The Joker is well known for having his trademark Gwynplaine rictus grin, which only serves to further heighten his frightening appearance.  When it comes to portraying realistic versions of this, the closest constant would be from Greg Rucka's Gotham Central.
You know someone's truly unnerving
when they dominate the room without saying a word.
Similar interpretations would have a constantly smirking smug gangster who is constantly spouting non-sequiturs in addition to thinly veiled threats.  Even when he's being beaten within an inch of his life, his smile never wavers, since he knows the right words that'd bring his tormentors to tears with a quick turn of phrase.  This isn't someone you want to face in a Dark Alley, or even in a Brightly Lit Alley.  This is someone who uses every available resource to his advantage and handles himself cooly, even as everyone else (except Batman) falls to pieces.

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