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In a baffling move from Warner Bros and DC Comics, they have just announced plans to develop a standalone movie based on Batman's most popular villain, the Joker. Joaquin Phoenix is set to don the white-face and green hair in what the studio has described as an origin story for the Joker.
The yet-to-be-titled Joker film will be produced by Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino) and directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs) and is set to be under a "new banner" of DC comics films, separate from the current DC Comics film universe, which include Wonder Woman, The Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, Suicide Squad, and most recently Justice League.
DC has announced that actor Jared Leto, who portrayed the Joker in Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman and is set to return in Suicide Squad 2 and the upcoming Joker/Harley Quinn movie is understandably displeased with DC's decision to create two cinematic universes. So why are they doing it?
One can only speculate, but my best guess is that both DC and WB realize that fans are not happy with the direction of the previous films (with the exception of Wonder Woman) but don't want to do another reboot.
DC/WB has been desperate to capture the success of Disney's Marvel Comics and Star Wars franchises, which have been very successful in introducing their individual characters in standalone films and then bringing them all together in event movies.
The Joker origin story is to set to take place in the 1980s and has been described as a hard-boiled, gritty crime drama, reminiscent of a Scorsese film of the period, which is probably the reason for bringing the Goodfellas director onboard as producer. The other reason, according to Variety, was to court actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who Scorsese worked with on several films, to play the Clown Prince of Crime. Needless to say, DiCaprio passed on the offer and Phoenix agreed to play the part.
Obviously, if this is a traditional Joker origin tale, one would think that Batman will be in the film as well, but as of this date, DC/WB has not announced if current Batman actor Ben Affleck will be in the film, or if they will recast for the "new banner" or if the caped crusader will be in the film at all (which would not be a good call).
For those who may not be comic aficionados, the Joker started out as a two-bit hood known as The Red Hood, because he wore a red helmet to conceal his identity. The Red Hood first appeared in Detective Comics #168 (Feb. 1951). In the original origin story, The Red Hood was an overworked and underpaid lab worker, who planned to steal $1,000,000 and retire.
While attempting to rob The Monarch Playing Card Company, he was confronted by The Bat-Man and after a struggle fell into a vat of chemicals. Surviving because of the special breathing apparatus built into the helmet, he was sucked out of the vat through an exhaust vent and flushed out into Gotham river.
When the crook returned home, he saw that the toxins in the vat had permanently disfigured him, turning his hair green, his skin white and his lips red. Driven insane by his reflection, he became the criminal known only as the Joker. Although the story went on to explain how the Joker came to look the way he does, it never revealed his name. It wasn't until the 1989 Tim Burton film, Batman, that the Joker got a name, Jack Napier. However the Joker's "real name" has not become official canon in the comic books.
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke expanded on the 1951 origin story, describing the character as a failed comedian who is duped by a couple of two-bit hoods into adopting the identity of The Red Hood to support his pregnant wife.
The Joker was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson, and first appeared in the debut issue of Batman comics #1 (April 25, 1940). Bill Finger claimed the look of the Joker was based on an image of actor Conrad Veidt's character Gwynplaine (a man with a disfigured face, giving him a perpetual grin) in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs. Jerry Robinson claimed the name came from a sketch of a joker playing card.
As for Bob Kane's involvement, one can only speculate as both Robinson and Finger have both claimed over the years that Kane took all the credit for creating Batman, but aside from coming up with the name of the character and selling the concept to DC Comics, he had very little involvement in the day-to-day writing and art chores.
Kane, of course, became rich due to his deal with DC Comics and the great success of the Batman character and franchise, while Finger died broke and Robinson went on to work in comics on several titles and became president of the National Cartoonists Society from 1967 to 1969 and served a two-year term as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists starting in 1973. In 2007, Robinson had been hired by DC Comics as a "creative consultant." However, Robinson never enjoyed the wealth generated from Batman and the Batman cast of characters he co-created.