Of all the news superhero movie fans have been anticipating about the ever-chaotic state of Warner Bros DC Extended Universe features, "Martin Scorsese producing a Joker origin movie from the writer/director of The Hangover" was probably never on the list until it suddenly became a reality. Sure, from certain angles it makes sense: Among his many celebrated contributions to modern cinema, Scorsese set the template for the modern "life story of a criminal scumbag" genre with Goodfellas and subsequent films like Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street while Hangover maestro Todd Philips obviously has an affinity for men-behaving-badly in a more comedic sense, he's recently stepped into more dramatic territory with the (very) Wolf of Wall Street-esque War Dogs last year.
Even still, the news (which is, apparently, unrelated to Warner Bros' previously-announced plans for Joker Vs Harley Quinn movie) has to come as something of a shock even to folks who'd happily watch nothing but Batman-related movies all year long. The Joker is arguably DC's most famous (and certainly most popular) villain, but he's also proven among the most culturally-sacrosanct to fans and among the most difficult to adapt. It was widely assumed that Jack Nicholson's celebrated performance from Tim Burton's 1989 Batman would remain impossible to top until audiences got their first look at Heath Ledger's interpretation in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Then, with Ledger's tragic death mere months before the film was released, it briefly became Hollywood heresy to even suggest that someone else take up the part. The most recent attempt at creating a new live-action version of the character in Suicide Squad was met with a disastrous reception with many fans aghast at the new interpretation and critics savaging actor Jared Leto even worse than they did the movie.
The reasons for all this difficulty are many: Joker is a strange character, fans get very attached to their favorite interpretation, etc. But while the same is true of many comic-book characters, the Clown Prince of Crime is unique in that - when asked - a sizable number of his most fervent fans will tell you that one of the things they consider most key to the character's lasting appeal is that his origins, psychosis, rationale and even his actual name are generally unknown. In other words: They don't want The Joker to have an origin story. Of any kind. Ever.
While that may sound bizarre to a casual observer, given the superhero genre of comic books is full of obsessive details about the with the mythos of every henchman, sidekick, Mother Box and Infinity Stone, most of this fascination with The Joker remaining inscrutable is about adherence to DC Comics tradition. When Joker first appeared, he was an enigmatic figure whose freakish clown-like "natural" appearance was as mysterious as the answers to where he came from or what was "wrong" with him. According to the character's widely recognized (with input from Bill Finger and Bob Kane) creator, writer Jerry Robinson, that was intentional - and while he'd discussed giving an answer over the years, none proved satisfactory compared to the steadily-mounting mystique.
The white skin, green hair and frozen grin eventually received an explanation: he had previously been a masked criminal called The Red Hood, who had fallen into a vat of toxic waste during an encounter with Batman. But exactly what his identity was under the hood prior to that would remain a secret for decades; eventually becoming a permanent fixture of the character's essence... a mystery that not even Batman can solve. Other origins either supplanting or expanding on this were introduced over the years, but none ever managed to "stick" as the real thing.
In 1988, comics legend Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland collaborated on a one-off Batman story, The Killing Joke, which aimed to create a definitive (possible) backstory that also held to the known DC continuity. In this story, we learn that The Joker was a struggling stand-up comedian who'd been pulled into donning the Red Hood costume (there is no "real" Red Hood, it turns out) by a group of burglars on what just so happens to be a day where his entire life has fallen tragically apart in a series of horrifyingly absurd coincidences. Finally driven over the edge by his Batman encounter and subsequent disfiguring chemical bath, The Joker is born - and we still don't learn his real name.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 2 (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019