Recently I wrote a blog post about why we should all leave Batman alone for a while, and while I stand by that for Hollywood, a recent web series entitled ‘The Batman Chronicles’ has brought it back up for discussion. Part 2 entitled ‘Night’ has just been released in the wake of Part 1 ‘Dusk’ (you see the theme developing). While I wasn’t a huge fan of part 1 itself, part 2 is really really interesting for me. This is all thanks to everyone’s favourite DC villain The Joker, who is in this case played by Anthony Misiano. Misiano is a New York based actor, screenwriter, filmmaker, composer, artist and cosplayer. All-round he’s a pretty talented guy, and made his name on the internet as Harley’s Joker, a cosplayer appearing at various conventions around the world and gaining a reputation as ‘The Handsome Joker’.
While the production itself is well edited, scripted and shot, Misiano himself is undoubtebly the star of the show. The reason I was so intrigued by his Joker is because I felt like he tapped in to a side of the Joker generally not explored in his most famous incarnations. I think the way it plays out in my head is that there’s some sort of psychological spectrum that all the various Jokers fall on to (also someone should make one of these spectrums for people like me who then have to paint a word picture and are likely to just confuse people; get on it).
In the 60s there was of course Cesar Romero, who started it all off. Romero brought to life the famous laugh that so many of us associate with the villain, as well as the strange formality vs insanity characteristics that we see so often in comic books and films nowadays. Though the original Batman series was completely silly, Romero nonetheless shot the character of the Joker in to the pop culture stratosphere and in to icon status. If we go back to my imaginary spectrum, Romero’s Joker would fall very far to the right as a ‘Clown’. After this, Jack Nicholson’s Joker really defined the role of the Joker as we know it today. His Joker is characterised by sadistic tendencies, a passion for violence and a larger-than-life pantomime portrayal of a man completely unhinged from reality. His lack of remorse and utter crazed kookiness was for many the epitome of the original comic book Joker they all knew and loved. Nicholson falls far more to the left of our spectrum, as the ‘Psychopathic Tortured Artist’.
However, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the maniacal man with a troubled past and a penchant for death and violence falls as far left as anyone has gotten on the spectrum. The key to Ledger’s Joker was perhaps the surprise element. In a Total Film article it’s pointed out that while Nicholson’s Joker perhaps played on his existing status as a bad-boy in the world of film, inviting people to make delicious comparisons between fact and fiction, Ledger’s performance completely blind-sided everyone and came out of nowhere seemingly. Much like the Dark Knight films themselves, Ledger’s Joker possessed far more seriousness than his predecessors; while Nicholson and Romero’s Jokers still lived up to their name with kooky and hilarious one-liners and a sense of humour which was often misplaced and completely manic, Ledger’s Joker was unhinged in a far more serious and haunting way.
Ledger’s Joker is certainly still one from the comic books, but his is a reincarnation of far more contemporary graphic novels such as Alan Moore’s Killing Joke and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum. Pictured below and still worth a mention as perhaps the best voice of the Joker that ever was: Mark Hamill’s voice portrayal of the Clown Prince of Gotham. Hamill falls almost bang on center of our spectrum. His Joker is still very much a bi-polar maniac, but with a big splash of kid’s humour and silliness that is reminiscent of Romero’s Joker. Obviously with his character being made for kid’s TV there was only so much he could do on the homicidal and terrifying side of things, but he is definitive nonetheless at capturing the wicked glee of the Joker and I think anyone around my generation who watched the cartoons will agree it’s Hamill’s voice, and laugh, you hear when reading the comics.
So what is it that Misiano’s Joker does differently to their various adaptations of the character? I’m going to do something that I’m sure is very uncouth indeed and quote YouTube comments here, because a lot of the discussion on the second installment sums it up perfectly. One user stated that: “Yes, the traditional Joker is played in an extremely rambunctious manner which is always fun to watch. However, I find this Joker captivating in a sense that it is not over-the-top yet the psychotic energy is still present”, while another compared the smooth-talking Misiano to Hades from Hercules, and another user states that his more downplayed yet still socio-psychotic performance makes him more a ‘Joker of the real world’. These three comparisons very much sum up my feelings on this portrayal as well – Misiano has managed to achieve all the psychotic humour and sadism of Nicholson’s Joker, with that hint of a man truly unhinged as per Ledger’s Joker while maintaining the real comic book feel of the character himself. Performance aside, the scripting, costume and make-up for this Joker was pretty flawless and completely outshone the rest of the cast. Misiano has proven with this performance that sometimes understated can be far more impactful than ‘big and crazy’, falling I would say perfectly on the spectrum somewhere in between Nicholson and Hamill. If, like his character, Misiano’s goal was to be ‘a star, a king’ and to ‘generate some buzz’, then he has more than achieved that.