Which Joker is wilder? (or back to the Batblog!)

Cary Ashby
Mar 29, 2010


I recently proposed the merits of choosing Batman or Superman in "Cary's Comics Craze." Now let's check out Jack Nicholson vs. Heath Ledger as The Joker.


First, an obvious disclaimer: You might have noticed this blog isn't consistently "CSI"-related. You also should realize I've been taking full advantage of the "crime" part of this blog's title by also covering my part in a local horror movie or spying on the upcoming Batman blockbuster, "The Dark Knight." Besides, it's my blog!


Let the blogging — and debating — begin!


I got inspired to blog about the Great Joker Challenge when I read some of the tidbits Heath Ledger has given reporters lately. The new Joker actor shared his preparation process with IESB.net.


“I mean, for The Joker I locked myself away in a hotel room for six weeks. I just formulated a voice and a posture and found a real psychology behind The Joker,” Ledger said.


You can't dispute the Aussie's dedication.


When Ledger gave New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall a tour of his rented North London apartment earlier this month, the writer found the actor’s “Joker diary,” which Ledger began about December 2006. Lyall described the compilation — and Ledger’s reaction — this way: “It is filled with images and thoughts helpful to The Joker back story, like a list of things The Joker would find funny. (AIDS is one of them.) Mr. Ledger seemed almost embarrassed that the book had been spotted, as if he had been caught trying to get extra credit in school.”


Wow. Talk about truly being obsessed with getting into a character. No matter what you think about Ledger, creating a Joker diary is damn impressive. I bet Jack Nicholson didn’t put so much energy into preparing for the same role in 1989’s “Batman.” As a matter of fact, I vividly remember his co-star Michael Keaton quoting Nicholson as saying they needed to let the make-up do the acting when the pair were in the make-up trailer together.


My sister, who admittedly didn't like "Batman" and detests Nicholson, once said Nicholson played The Joker is like Nicholson playing Nicholson as The Joker.


The 1989 version certainly had a wicked sense of humor. And Nicholson nailed the character's wacky, devious aspect. He is so much fun to watch that Batman — the title character, for goodness sake — gets the short end of the Batpole. The Jack-Joker basically seemed to kill only because it amused him (which I guess doesn't stray too far from the comics.)


But, he came off more interested in delivering un-humorous, “sound bite”-type one-liners than tormenting Gotham City, and in turn, Batman. Sadly, the deadly, truly dangerous side, of The Joker's comic book roots was missing.


Nicholson used the word “furious” three times when MTV asked him what he thought about Ledger playing The Joker. “They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker. I know how to do that,” Nicholson said. “Maybe it's not a mistake. Maybe it was the right thing, but to be candid, I’m furious.” (The irony was the actor later admitted he might actually watch "The Dark Knight" if someone told him it was any good.)


Note to Nicholson: “Batman Begins” was never intended to be a sequel to the previous franchise started by Tim Burton. It’s an origin movie, used as a starting point for other films that are more realistic and, even more important, more accurate to the comics universe.


Nicholson shared Burton’s vision of The Joker: “Tim said (he) should have a humorous dark side to him.” Though The Joker commits crimes only he thinks are funny, there is much more dangerous side to the villain than simply having a dark side. The comics version is twisted and lethal.


Let’s face it: the Jack-Joker might have shot his gangster boss in cold blood. He also scarred the beautiful face of his girlfriend for the sake of making “art.” Burton's version even had the pre-Jack-Joker killing Bruce Wayne's parents. (That's not true to the comics.)


But I couldn’t see the same Joker doing some of the unexpected, yet calculated, cold-hearted things he has done in the comics. In “A Death in the Family,” he beat the second Robin to a bloody pulp with a crow bar and left the Boy Wonder in a warehouse rigged to explode. This was all after Jason Todd had journeyed to Africa and found his birth mother, who was working for the villain. Then, knowing the extent of Batman’s fury over his partner's murder, The Joker had himself appointed an ambassador to a third-world country in order to get diplomatic immunity. That's just plain cruel.


And that’s the kind of crazed, deadly mayhem I expect from the Heath-Joker. Ledger told MTV his goal is to “scare the crap out of audiences” in “The Dark Knight.” I don’t doubt his Joker will do just that.


As always, now I want to know what you think. For the Nov. 4 New York Times feature on Heath Ledger, click here. Check out the second part of Jack Nicholson's exclusive interview with MTV at this link.


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