The first announcement that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment weren’t just moving forward with a Suicide Squad movie, but were calling on certified Hollywood stars and an acclaimed (but gritty) director had the fans cheering in disbelief. But those cheers quieted when it was confirmed that the collection of DC villains would also include a new take on The Joker. Even with Oscar winner Jared Leto landing the part, fans were cautious: with the most recent version still fresh in audiences’ minds, it wasn’t even a question of whether it was too soon to surpass it, but whether that was even possible.
The question of comparing the old to the new went out the window when David Ayer revealed the first image of Leto in costume, embodying a harder, tattooed and manic take on the Clown Prince of Crime. But as shocking as that debut may have been, footage and details released since have shown a brooding, unpredictable Joker more in keeping with the comics. But the truth is: some of the most famous comics dealing with Batman’s worst enemy didn’t just inform the design of this character, but offer fans a good idea of Ayer’s vision as a whole.
In the release of trailers, set photos, and social media posts from the cast, we’ve done our best to find the hints and connections to the comic book world. And Ayer being as big a comic fan as he is, they weren’t hard to find: the recreation of the infamous “Killing Joke” cover, the classic fashion glimpsed in trailers… the list goes on and on. But one fact rose above all others (and proved divisive among some fans) – that Leto would be bulking up for the role.
When we visited the set of the film, and had the chance to discuss the Joker’s design and wardrobe with costume designer Kate Hawley, she drove home just how much the comics were being relied upon. Well… that, and some real world drug cartel kingpins. But the actual crimelords Jared Leto’s Joker is based on has a stronger tie to one comic than you might think:
“We started off at the beginning, believe it or not, looking at doing all their kind of more comic stuff much for faithful to the comic book…. When David started looking at these drug cartel guys and he was also talking about Scarface and how he wanted a Joker that was in total control, and very put together. And I think that’s in, is it the Frank Miller one? There’s that look: he wanted him buff, he wanted him powerful."
It’s hard to know exactly how much muscle was contained beneath the white suit worn by Joker in Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and how much was down to Miller and artist Klaus Janson’s blocky style. But then, Zack Snyder managed to get Ben Affleck up to the hulking slab of muscle that’s depicted in that comic, so if Leto and the new Dark Knight are to face off in a solo film, it only seems fair that they should match it as best they can.
But it isn’t just Joker’s actual look that has revealed some comic book influences. Ask any fan of the Batman’s nemesis for a comic book taking a dark, realistic, but deeply twisted look at Gotham City’s Rogues Gallery, and “Joker” by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo rises to the top of the pile. From an unpredictable, street-level Joker, a more humanoid Killer Croc, and a sultry (but sleazy) Harley, the comic was at least assumed to be on Ayer’s radar. Heck, the character of Johnny Frost (Jim Parrack) was completely lifted.
So we shouldn’t have been surprised when Hawley implied just how close that comic comes to the aesthetic being pursued by Ayer for this sliver of the DCEU:
KH: There’s that beautiful book which actually I based some of the [constructed, but scrapped Harley Quinn Jester costume] stuff we were playing around with on. Is it the graphic novel The Joker…?
By Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo?
KH: Yes, that one. That I’d say has the closest visual quality to, possibly, what David’s trying to do. And the world, and the Harley stuff, and you look at his trashed-up girls. You know, the feeling that there’s coke on the floor, and all that sort of s***.
Even Killer Croc is similar in that comic.
KH: Yeah! Absolutely, absolutely. So it’s all come from that kind of world.
Of course, it isn’t just the modern, darker, edgy versions of Joker that Ayer is enamored with. Hawley spoke at length about the “dress-up” sessions they had in the costume department, with her, Ayer and Leto simply trying different clothes to see what worked. But the director made sure to create at least one comic book image down to the smallest detail:
“We’ve also made the beautiful two-toned tailcoat, we’ve followed it completely to the letter. [David] wanted the gloves, the waistcoat, and everything. In the end you do see, we recreate the classic image of Joker in his tailcoat. And Jared looks, you know, quite wonderful in that.”
The film’s trailers have shown brief snippets of the costume, with the black tails and white carnation seeming more than a little out of place on Leto’s tattooed frame. We can only assume that it’s his attempt to put on his very best (he is trying to get his Harley back, after all), but judging by the scenes teased, things may not go according to plan... for him, or anyone else. The good news is that no matter how the actual plot of the movie plays out (and believe us, we’ve got some ideas), comic book fans will have plenty of opportunities to spot these easter eggs and many, many more, since Hawley confirmed that the costumers made every effort to add nods to the fans, knowing that they’ll almost certainly be spotted and appreciated.
Are you happy to hear that there is still the comic book version of Joker pumping through this new version’s veins? Or does the tease of Bermejo’s influence have you that much more desperate to see how Harley’s live-action Jester suit looked in the flesh?
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.