There is an interesting history behind the comic book character Joker in both the original DC comic book, the 50s portrayal in the comics, the original TV show and movie and Hollywood movies since that is worth exploring.
Caesar Romero artfully played Joker in the 1966 movie and TV show Batman. A campy, colorful mid-60s romp that played the character as more light and quirky humor villain. Sure, he was a bad guy, but he was not the kind of bad guy that caused people watching to think of committing violent acts against others. This was also the comic book depiction of Joker in the 50s.
But how did this depiction come to be?
This was the result of the Comic Code Authority, (essentially a censoring bureau) inspired by research from a psychiatrist named Frederick Wertham, that changed the original 1940s darker coming book Joker.
via Wikipedia Joker page (emphasis mine):
By 1954, the Comics Code Authority had been established in response to increasing public disapproval of comic book content. The backlash was inspired by Frederic Wertham, who hypothesized that mass media (especially comic books) was responsible for the rise in juvenile deliquency, violence and homosexuality, particularly in young males. Parents forbade their children from reading comic books, and there were several mass burnings. The Comics Code banned gore, innuendo and excessive violence, stripping Batman of his menace and transforming the Joker into a goofy, thieving trickster without his original homicidal tendencies.
Book burning over comic book content? Seriously, doesn’t this sound extreme and, well, crazy?
The problem with this change? In 2012, a study was done on Frederick Wertham’s research and found the following:
“Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.”
To recap: this psychiatrist claims comic book violence is bad, gets the Comic Book Cops to police and sanitize the comics version of Joker, only to turn out we learn some 60 years later that Wertham’s research was a sham.
So, the movies — other than Batman (1966) have attempted to retain the original vision of the comic book portrayal Joker as a dark, evil character, hellbent on destruction and mayhem. Both Joker characters have that sinister, hyena-like laugh.
Which Joker is best? The 50s falsely sanitized Joker or the original diabolical, psychopathic Joker?
If you are a purist for movie adaptions, you probably want the original Joker. That would be the version in all new Batman movie and sounds like the version the new Joker 2019 movie will be following, albeit with a normal guy turned dark by the cruelty of social environment.
(Ironic considering this is what Wertham claimed the original comic were doing to impressionable teenagers!)
I haven’t seen the new Joker movie yet, but it hits our local theaters this coming Thursday October 3, 2019:
I am looking forward to seeing this movie. Not as excited about this Rambo: Last Blood or Terminator: Dark Fate or even JUDY that I just saw this week..
As with all movies, I’m going to give the new Joker portrayal a chance. Maybe I’ll finally enjoy the original, darker version of the Joker. Up until now, I’ve preferred the 1966 Joker played by Romero. The TV show never tried to be anything serious, The cartoonish Batman was fun when I was younger and while it is dated now, it is still entertaining.
Some of the Batman movies have been good, but I like Joker as, well, a joker. A more comical fun character that is bad, but not nightmarish bad.
Whichever way you prefer Joker portrayed in film, it is fascinating that there is a parallel in time between 2019 and the 1940s when psychologists were looking at how Joker impacted people outside the comics.. Now we have people looking at Joker in 2019 as to whether or not a fictional story will cause violence in the theater. At least two theater chains have banned moviegoers from wearing masks and painted faces in the theater.
A bizarre coincidence at the least.