Last week I did a Morning Article Link announcing a new Joker movie by Martin Scorsese of all people, which appears to be an origin story for the Joker beyond “fell into chemicals, has skin bleached and hair turn green like the joker playing card, went insane”. I mentioned that I thought this was a bad idea since lacking an origin is an important part of the Joker’s character.
I thought I should expand on that but I’m trying to fit a lot into this week so I’ll use this video from Owen Loves Comics to get the important parts of why this is a bad idea and build on it. Plus I can promote this series to check out, so bonus for everyone!
First of all I’m not convinced Scorsese is the right man for the job. None of his previous credits have any connection to comics or anything superhero related, but that’s nothing new for DC properties. Only the shows produced for the CW (one formerly from CBS) indicate any attempt to care about the source material. Who you choose is rather important. To use my usual example, you wouldn’t have Steven King writing a romance novel just because he’s a good writer. And don’t tell me he’s just the producer and Todd Phillips is directing. That didn’t stop the recent Ninja Turtles movies from feeling like a Michael Bay picture, and it’s Scorsese who, according to one of the links at the bottom of this article, pursuing a Taxi Driver feel to it. Phillips’ directing and writing/co-writing credits don’t help either. Most of his work are screwball comedies like the Hangover series, while co-writer Scott Silver made 8 Mile for Eminem, and giving him a movie is never good for a resume. He also did the Mod Squad remake but I didn’t see the movie or the show so I can’t comment, but knowing Hollywood’s recent remake craze I’m not hopeful for fans of the actual show.
Like Owen I see the Joker as a mysterious force, a counterpoint to Batman’s personality. Where Batman is serious and logical, the Joker is always laughing and imaginative. Where Batman is about protecting lives the Joker will gladly take them if he thinks he can make a show out of it. It’s that dynamic that makes the Joker interesting but knowing where he came from–as Tim Burton, Alan Moore, and Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm‘s writers did (although in Phantasm we just see he’s a flunky for a mafia group)–takes the mystery that makes the Joker unique. We know all about Batman but nothing about the Joker, and he likes it that way so much that even he doesn’t know where came from.
Think of Doctor Who. Who the Doctor is and where he comes from starts out as a mystery. It’s right in the title: Doctor who? Over time elements came up, like his home planet, his people, and their history, but despite what Andrew Cartmel thought when he came up with his “Master Plan” to restore mystery to the Doctor (with that nonsense involving “The Other”, which means he planned to basically solve his own mystery) there is still a lot we don’t know about him and probably never will. Why did he choose the Doctor as his name? (Outside of the Master once commenting “the man who makes everyone feel better”, which is counter to how the Doctor was portrayed when we first met him thus he couldn’t have used that to decide on his name) What is his real name? What was his family like, such as Susan’s parents? Why did he leave Galifrey, or was “wanderlust” pretty much it? The more you answer the less interesting the Doctor becomes.
And that holds true with the Joker as well. He is chaos incarnate, a “wild card” like the playing card he resembles. If he were actually some trickster god ala Loki that also shouldn’t even be so much as hinted at. It’s that mystery of where the Joker came from that not only makes him all the more a threat, and thus scary, but all the more interesting. Take that away, make him just some guy, and you take some of that power away from him, making him less of a symbol and less threatening.
Kind of like Batman in a way.