Comics on Film: How Many Jokers Are Too Many?

Comics on Film: How Many Jokers Are Too Many?

Jun 08, 2018

With the solidly-outlined future of DC Comics-based films uncertain, outside of the either already completed or in-production films still coming down the pike, some pretty surprising news has cropped up this week that we simply can't ignore. We know that Warner Bros. is keen to feature Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in another project soon, so much so that they decided to pull from the superhero team known as the Birds of Prey from the stable of DC Comics characters in order to give her some worthy foes.

We still don't know solidly what to expect regarding Matt Reeves' in-development Batman film, nothing has been announced concerning the future for Henry Cavill's Superman, and even Ezra Miller's the Flash — at once thought to be fast-tracked — is now mired in shadow once again. Still, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that Gotham City is still probably the most popular corner of the DC Comics Universe, so more movies in the realm of the Dark Knight's domain shouldn't be too much of a shocker.

Except for the fact, of course, that the Joker — the Clown Prince of Crime, and Batman's legendary arch nemesis — now seems to be the focus of multiple film projects, from multiple producers, in multiple "worlds," and possibly featuring multiple stars. Famously, the Joker was off movie screens for nearly 20 years before Heath Ledger blew everyone away with his Oscar-winning performance in Christopher Nolan's second Batman film, but now we face a prospect of multiple films with multiple Jokers in relatively quick succession?! What madness is this?

 

The Current Rumor: DCEU Joker in His Own Film

As reported here at Movies.com, Variety says Warner Bros. is tapping Academy Award winner Jared Leto to produce a movie, while simultaneously reprising his role as Batman's nemesis that he first played in 2016's Suicide Squad.

At this point, that's pretty much all we think we know about the allegedly-developing project, and this is in addition to A) a Suicide Squad sequel, B) the Birds of Prey/Harley Quinn film, and C) a separately-developing Joker film supposedly set in the 80's, with Martin Scorsese attached as a producer and Joaquin Phoenix apparently circling to star as yet another version of DC's Harlequin of Hate.

As we've detailed in this column before, the very nature of DC Comics' publication history has always allowed for multiple versions of the same character to exist all at once, more specifically in parallel worlds. Weirdly enough, though, in the comics right now there are apparently three separate Jokers all operating on one world, but that's a whole other can of worms.

It largely all depends on the love (is that the right word?) that audiences at-large have for the Joker himself. He has always been one of DC Comics' most fascinating characters, and although Leto was either the best or worst cinematic Joker, depending on the fan, there's likely little doubt that the amount of unexplored history we've yet to see established in the Gotham City of the DC Extended Universe means that there's plenty of room to tell a solo Joker story in the same world as Man of SteelJustice League, and Wonder Woman.

 

The Wild Card

The Dark Knight

The truly unpredictable part of this whole scenario has always been the Scorsese project. Regardless of the kind of half-measure nervousness we seem to be seeing from WB in relation to their DC Comics properties, there seems to still be a fair amount of enthusiasm on the studio's part in moving forward with more DC exploitations. The Scorsese-developed Joker film could likely benefit from taking a more "prestigious" approach by looking for inspiration from the likes of the Nolan films, or perhaps even the likes of 20th Century Fox's Logan, in order to make a different, separate Joker project truly stand apart from the concurrently-developing Leto project.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as over-exploitation. While right now it may seem unlikely, it may not be totally outside the realm of possibility for the Scorsese project and the Leto project to become one: after all, in an interview with Empire back in October of 2015 (via The Daily Dot), Leto let slip an interesting detail when he said, "I always get the sense that the Joker may be much older than people think."

Was that speculation on Leto's part, or could it possibly open up the path for Leto's Joker and the character from the Scorsese film, rumored to be an origin for the villain taking place in the 1980's, to be...one and the same?

This is all, of course, speculation on our part. But, it's really intriguing to think about the possibilities, and whatever ends up happening, it should be encouraging that WB isn't yet giving up on DC, the Joker, or the larger world of Batman just yet, even after some recent critical stumbles. How things will shake out is anyone's guess, but if you know the Joker, you likely know at least one thing for certain:

He's really good at surprising people.


Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column "Comics on Film" weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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