“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” – Joker, The Dark Knight
This was a post I had planned to write as we got closer to the August release of Suicide Squad, since there was an interesting theory regarding the origins of Jared Leto’s joker character, suggesting that he is actually Jason Todd, more commonly known as the Red Hood. However, in light of developments regarding Joker’s origins in the comics, it seemed relevant.
The most common origin story for the Joker is that he was just an ordinary criminal, who fell into a vat of acid while being pursued by Batman, hence the strange appearance. However, with each portrayal of the character, we seem to get a different an origin, each more involved than the next. Some, like Batman ’89 say it outright, while The Dark Knight leaves it up to interpretation.
Of course, there’s been a lot of speculation for the movie Suicide Squad, in which Jared Leto will play the character. One theory has become rather popular since the release of the trailer for Batman v. Superman. This theory involves the former Batman sidekick, Jason Todd, also known as Red Hood.
The typical origin story for the Red Hood/Jason Todd is that, while fighting as Robin alongside Batman, he was captured, mutilated, and killed by the Joker, only to be reanimated one way or another. This disenchants him, making him more willing to break the “don’t kill” rule that Batman and most other superheroes adhere to. One of DC’s best animated movies is Batman: Under the Red Hood, which explores the Red Hood’s origin story and shows him trying to convince Batman to kill the Joker in an incredibly heart-wrenching scene.
The Robin suit seen in Batman v. Superman seems to indicate that Jason Todd’s story has taken place in this universe. A popular theory seems to indicate that the character Jared Leto will be playing in Suicide Squad isn’t actually the Joker that we have seen before, but instead is Jason Todd as the Joker. (That full theory can be found here.)
And there are a lot of theories about Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, with the most popular being that he is a war veteran, and the most interesting (but certainly least qualified) is that he’s the narrator from Fight Club. But the best thing about Heath Ledger’s Joker – actually, there are too many great things about that character – one of the best things about Heath Ledger’s Joker is that nothing is overtly said.
And of course, speculation is a necessary part of not revealing every detail and maintaining an amount of mystery for a character. When we don’t have every detail, our imagination rushes to fill in what it doesn’t know. But maybe we don’t need to do that for every character.
Aside from any botched robberies, facial scars, murders, or anything of the like, the best origin story for the Joker is no origin story. He’s a character who is bigger than his origin story. In the comic book/superhero genre, such an emphasis is placed on origins and a tragic backstory, that to have a character in which the origin is mysterious, and mostly not even really sticks out. The Joker is easily contrasted with characters like Batman or Spiderman, or alternatively, someone like Mr. Freeze, whose origin stories are their motivations, and in a way, who they are. Peter Parker’s Spiderman isn’t who he is if he doesn’t inadvertently cause the death of Uncle Ben, and Dr. Freeze isn’t who he is if he isn’t trying to save his wife. But no matter where the Joker comes from, he always transcends it.
When we have a Joker with no origin story, he is more than a man but less than a devil; he becomes a force of nature. He’s chaos. He’s unpredictable. And to try to give him an origin story like “Oh, he’s Jason Todd,” or “he’s a war veteran,” or something like that can really water him down. The interesting thing about the Joker is what he is, not how he became the Joker.
On this blog, I’ve talked about The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s Dollar Trilogy. His origin story is in his name; he doesn’t have one, he doesn’t need one. He’s less of a character and more of a symbol, an icon. He represents the West. The Frontier. Adventure. And if we were to give him a name and a story, like to say that his name was Clint Wayne and he was from Texas and his parents were killed in a stagecoach accident, so he’s disenchanted with the world, doesn’t that make him just a little bit boring?
Another case of this is Rey from Star Wars: the Force Awakens. In non-spoiler terms, I can say that we don’t really know anything much about Rey or where she comes from. Is it necessary to know where she comes from? No, it’s not. But still we’re making big grand spectulations about how Jyn from Rogue One is going to be her mother because they’re both British and white. Rey is a lot like Luke, in that the way that she comes from nowhere, and serves as the kind of character that the audience can project themselves on. The more you add to her origin story, the more you take away from the audience.
Edit: Now that I think about it, this applies to so many characters. Sure, we see Luke’s origins, and that’s fine, but think about some others. Han Solo, Obi-Wan, Boba Fett, Darth Maul. I for one don’t think we need to see a movie focusing on where these iconic characters come from, but we’re still getting a Young Han Solo movie. Look at how devastating it was to see any and all questions about Darth Vader answered.
My point behind all this is that a little bit of mystery can go a long way. Without spoiling the twist for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, (if you’d like to know, watch this video from IGN) the origin that DC has recently provided for is gleefully chaotic, and doesn’t take out all the mystery. (In fact, it creates even more mystery.) And while I think that trying to answer the question of Joker’s origin shouldn’t be done, but I’m rather satisfied with what DC has given us.
I suppose what I mean to say is this: everyone comes from somewhere, but where they come from doesn’t always matter more than who they are.