While it tends (especially lately) to draw more mixed reviews from critics and more unhappy scrutiny from fans than fellow DC Multiverse TV properties like Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, the offbeat Batman-prequel Gotham is still a hit for Fox in its ever more villain-centric second season. Of special interest to fans are the continuing teases as to whether or not The Joker will join the surprisingly ranks of villains who were apparently already active for at least a decade before Batman actually showed up.
Several would-be Jokers have already exited the series, and now it looks like another “maybe” could be stepping up to the plate – in the person of actress Lori Petty.
Granted, it feels unlikely that Gotham is planning to reveal that it’s version of The Joker is a woman, but the implication that Petty’s mystertious character could be in some way connected to the yet-unknown backstory of The Clown Prince of Crime is clearly meant to be felt by early teaser-images of the actress in conspicuous Joker-esque facepaint – although the context is rendered slightly less unusual in wider shots that show her in punk-rock attire attending what looks like an underground concert with dozens of other attendees in similarly garish getups.
Complicating Joker-spotting as a hobby among viewers is the fact that The Joker doesn’t traditionally have much in the way of an “official” origin in the accepted comics canon. Originally his clown-like disfigurement had no explanation (like the similarly grotesque nicknamed gangsters popular in then-contemporary comics like Dick Tracy) but was eventually revealed to be the result of falling into a vat of chemicals during a fight with Batman in an earlier guise as The Red Hood.
Writer Alan Moore would later expand that origin in The Killing Joke with Joker as an otherwise-ordinary failed stand-up comedian who had accidentally wound up dressed as Red Hood after a comedically-absurd succession of personal tragedies. Joker himself (who may not actually know the truth, either) has suggested having been abused with bleach by a cleanliness-obsessed relative as a child, while some recent stories have posited that he is actually the modern manifestation of a Colonial-era mythic boogeyman, The Pale Man of Gotham.
It is unknown whether these or any other variations thereupon are in the plans for Gotham’s future. Of Petty’s episode (“This Ball of Mud and Meanness”), a press release offers:
“Alfred and Selina help Bruce on his quest to find his parents’ killer, Matches Malone (guest star Michael Bowen). Meanwhile, Gordon follows up with Edward Nygma on Kristen Kringle’s whereabouts and Hugo Strange (guest star BD Wong) continues his treatment to reduce Penguin’s aggression.”
Few actual clues seem to be implied in Petty’s makeup and costuming, which look to draw from a variety of reference points: Her Joker-esque makeup recalls the subtle slit-mouth look of Heath Ledger’s Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but her mis-mash costume recalls the look often given to Joker followers (Harley Quinn, most notably) in the Arkham games – whose aesthetic Gotham has often been cited as borrowing from. The short haircut and large-frame glasses, on the other hand, recall no character so much as Ellen Yindel – the Commissioner of Police in the dystopian-future setting of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Could this be a fake-out, with Petty’s character turning out to be an undercover cop?
Fans won’t have to wait long to find out: “This Ball of Mud and Meanness” airs Monday, March 14 on Fox.