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Friend Chad recently asked me if I had any interest in the upcoming Joker movie. You know the one. It just won the Golden Lion award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. My answer, in short, was no. In long, it was *hell* no.

As a longtime reader of comics, I have a well-established mental image of what I expect from Batman and his rogues gallery. As a general rule, I don't enjoy films about gangsters (which Joker was in the 40s) or films about serial killers (which Joker has been since the 80s). I've seen both Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers exactly once, and that's each one time too many.

My biggest problem with the film is that the Joker is unequivocally a villain. Pure capital-E Evil. However, a story's protagonist has to be relatable to its audience. Just as the short-lived Joker comic series of the mid-70s focused on its eponymous star's zany antics (and minimized the collateral damage), to put the character at the center of a film it becomes necessary to humanize him, to turn him from villain to anti-hero. No, thank you.

Call me a prude, but I don't see any reason to make a film exploring how someone becomes a narcissistic, mass-murdering sociopath on the scale of the Joker. In fiction, the Joker has beaten a child to death with a crowbar, slaughtered an entire talk show audience on camera, and gassed the United Nations General Assembly. All for giggles. If such a monster existed in the real world — an Osama bin Laden-squared — would you pay to see that person's biography on the big screen?

Joker works best in comics as a larger-than-life malevolent force of nature, the personification of the chaos that Batman strives to eliminate from the world. That's exactly how "Why so serious" Heath Ledger played him (and "This town needs an enema" Jack Nicholson before that). If you insist on reinventing the character, I'd say making him mortal is the wrong direction to go. Forget realism for a character that is inherently unreal. Give us a film about how Cesar Romero's wacky Joker earned his place as Gotham City's Clown Prince of Crime with a painted-over mustache (the anti-Groucho Marx!). Or choose to elaborate on any random Joker entry from silly The Super Dictionary.

Joker is a liar! Beets are NOT good to eat.

But don't try to remake Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy with a super-villain behind the greasepaint. Once was enough for that one, too.

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To be continued...

 

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