As one of the most infamous names in all of comic book history, the Joker has bedeviled Batman across platforms including movies, video games, and television — so it’s only natural that he might get his own movie. News broke on Tuesday that a Joker origin film is in the works with “The Hangover” filmmaker Todd Phillips in talks to co-write and direct, and Martin Scorsese possibly involved in an unspecified role.
But fans are questioning if an origin story is really the best way to go. The Clown Prince of Crime’s true identity and past are notoriously hazy in most continuities. Even in “The Killing Joke,” which many fans regard as the closest thing to a definitive origin, the character says, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.”
“The Killing Joke” has already been adapted into an animated film, and was met with many negative reviews. So rather than trying to retell the origin and possibly ruin the character’s mystique, here are five Joker stories that could be told instead.
Jared Leto’s Joker and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn were introduced to the world in last year’s “Suicide Squad” film. Many fans were left cold by Leto’s performance, while others were disappointed by how little screen time the character got. “Mad Love,” originally written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, tells the story of how the two characters met and how the Joker tricked the one-time psychologist into falling in love with him and becoming his accomplice. A “Mad Love” story could help flesh out the characters and potentially redeem Leto’s interpretation of the character in fans’ eyes.
“The Dark Knight Returns”
“The Dark Knight Returns” takes place in a dystopian future where the United States government has forced the Batman into retirement and the Joker has supposedly been cured of his mental illness. However, when the Caped Crusader returns decades later, the Joker once again returns to crime and goes on a killing spree. “The Dark Knight Returns” is a story that helps illustrate how deeply hero and villain are connected and (SPOILER ALERT) how desperate the Joker is to get the last laugh, killing himself in the end to frame Batman for his murder.
“Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth”
Arkham Asylum is often written off as Batman’s revolving-door prison: Batman puts the villains in, they get out soon after. Grant Morrison’s graphic novel explores the history of the asylum and casts it in a more sinister light, a place where the villains feel at home and where the Joker believes Batman also belongs. “Arkham Asylum” is a cat and mouse tale where the Joker challenges the Bat to escape alive while also trying to prove that the hero is just as insane as the villains. An “Arkham Asylum” film could establish a history for the hospital in the DCEU and also delve deeper into the damaged minds of both the Joker and Batman.
“The Man Who Killed Batman”
Written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm, “The Man Who Killed Batman” is an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.” After Batman is allegedly killed by a common crook, the Joker believes that “crime has no punchline” and mourns the fact that he was not the one to end his foe. “The Man Who Killed Batman” explores the Clown Prince’s motivations and teases the question: without Batman, would there still be a Joker?
“Batman #1″/”Batman: The Man Who Laughs”
The Joker and Batman have been at war since the very first issue of “Batman” in 1940. Both issue one and the 2005 retelling “The Man Who Laughs” reveal the first time that the two forces clashed. When the Joker goes on a spree of murder and theft, it is up to the world’s greatest detective to crack the case and bring the villain to justice. In the original story, the Joker falls on his own knife and is presumed dead until the very end of the comic. An early Batman/Joker film could be used to demonstrate both Batman’s detective prowess (which has been neglected in many cinematic iterations of the character) and the Joker’s deadly skill with chemicals that leave a pile of grinning bodies in his wake. The near-death experience could also provide more background for the Joker’s obsession with the Dark Knight and a motivation for revenge.