“You’ve changed things… Forever.”
I have to admit that I’ve always had a sweet spot for the Joker.
Perhaps it’s because of Jack Nicholson’s chilling portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in 1989’s Batman. At six years old, in a run-down theater on Wildwood’s World Famous Boardwalk, I sat in awe as I watched the lives of two men collide. While one stood for justice (and in Tim Burton’s universe, a bit of vengeance) and the other stood for calculated chaos, I was enamored at how much the two were eerily alike.
Maybe it was Mark Hamill’s devilishly sinister, yet frightfully amusing take on the Joker in Batman: the Animated Series. As a rabid Batman fan, aged perfectly to experience TAS in all of its glory after long days in Elementary and Middle School, I felt spoiled getting to witness a vocal artist such as Hammill pour his heart and soul into a character that everyone loved to hate.
But I soon realized that I could never actually hate the Joker. I mean, how could I?
First of all, as a sane man I understand that killing people is… Dead… Wrong ;) But in all seriousness, I knew I’d never turn into a shmuck who blamed tv, music, or any other artistic outlet on the madness that manifested itself into criminal behavior. So I never envied the Joker or his deeds. Instead, I used them as a way to live out the angst and frustration that all people seem to experience throughout their lives.
What I learned early on about my favorite superhero is that each member of his rogues’ gallery was a piece of his individual psyche. The difference is that he chose to be an agent for good. The rogues, however, had evil intentions that drove their personalities.
The Joker was always different, though. He wasn’t just a “piece” of the Batman. Somehow, the Joker is a mirror image of the Caped Crusader. But, just like any other mirror image, the Joker is inverted, backwards, and maybe even twisted.
He’s just as passionate, just as driven, just as absolute in his intentions and actions. The two share keen, even genius-like intellect. Some may argue that the Joker’s physical strength (or maybe it’s his masochistic tolerance for pain) rivals the brute strength and force of Bruce Wayne.
But Bruce is an agent for justice. Joker is an agent of chaos.
“Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”
It could have been Nicholson. It could have been Hammill. But it wasn’t. I truly fell in love with the Joker because of Heath Ledger.
I remember when he was first cast as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s then controversially-titled the Dark Knight (I mean… Omgzzzz… How can you, like, NOT have ‘Batman’ in the title of a Batman movie??!?!!?1?). I followed the production of that movie more closely than I’ve ever followed anything in my life. That first official picture of a tortured soul veiled behind white and red face paint with a carved-in smile had me hooked.
I recall this was around the time that I was going through a divorce. I was an extremely young dad of two beautiful kids whose mom decided to leave her kids for selfish reasons. And while I was overjoyed on the inside to be rid of a person who I felt was a burden to me, I was left alone to take care of a household. After working long days at the job, coming home, and putting my two little angels to bed, I was by myself. So I filled my time with being infatuated with the Dark Knight’s production.
And how could I not be infatuated? Every nugget of information tantalized me. Heath Ledger seen with a tint of green hair on set? The old Chicago post office being demolished by a school bus? The USA Today teasing us with glimpses of The Joker hidden behind that Grumpy mask? It was all too much… And I loved it!
I have been a fan of action figures for as long as I have been a fan of Batman and the Joker. I recall being 4 years old, taking my Batman and Robin and Superman and Joker across the street to a friend’s doorstep to play in his Batcave. Somehow, I trained my imagination to live vicariously through these little plastic men. As I got older, I didn’t play with figures so much. Instead, I marveled at the craftsmanship that went behind their making. Every little detail. Every stroke of paint, stitch of fabric, or molded expression was crucial to turning a small hunk of plastic into a living piece of my imagination.
During the making of the Dark Knight, I started trying my hand at sculpting. I wanted to feel the joy of recreating my heroes (or anti-heroes) in scaled down, museum-like poses. While I was no Michaelangelo at first, I did fairly well. One of my first projects was a 1/6th scale bust of the Joker in his grumpy mask from TDK. It was simple, but elegant. And I loved it.
Then Empire Magazine released what BatFans were STARVING for. A glimpse of Mr. Heath Ledger in full Joker costume!
With the movie still in post-production at the time the magazine was published, his performance was already becoming stuff of legend. I vividly remember pouring over every article, every interview, every sound byte or video clip while cast and crew bubbled over in admiration on what was being predicted as the performance of a lifetime.
With my Empire Magazine in hand, I set out to sculpt a 1/6th scale statue of Heath Ledger’s Joker sitting in his infamous Gotham MCU jail cell. It took time to come into focus at first, but it was turning out beautifully. After the kids were tucked snugly into their beds I’d scurry to the kitchen, staring at the photo of Heath Ledger for hours while sculpting what I hoped would be a worthy interpretation out of Sculpy and paint. After sculpting, I’d read biographies on Ledger, learning about his love for his darling daughter (just like me!) and his heartbreaking split with Michelle Williams. He seemed to be a master at his craft, as I quickly took a crash course in his filmography.
Then I got the call. Yes, I know. “The call.” As if a friend or family member was taken from me, right? No. Mr. Ledger was not my family, and not even my friend. But my close family and friends knew how much I had engrossed myself in all things the Dark Knight… and Heath Ledger… for the past several months.
I was driving home from work when my cell rang. “Did you hear,” the voice asked. Obviously, I had not. “Heath Ledger died.”
I was heartbroken.
There I was. Spending hours sculpting this man, learning about his life and his life’s work. And now, he was suddenly gone.
I went home with tears in my eyes and stared at the unfinished sculpture…I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. So, it sat for months.
“You and I are destined to do this forever.”
One of the last brilliant lines I heard Mr. Ledger deliver as the Joker in my first screening of the Dark Knight amongst Warner Brothers executives in a Pittsburgh Cineplex. The man may have been gone, but his legacy and performance would live on forever in cinematic history.
That night, I went home and began to finish work on my sculpture. After a few more days, it was complete and I was proud of my work. And while I was proud of my accomplishment and my homage to an amazing talent gone too soon, I wanted something more to add to my fledgling collection.
Later that year I learned about Hot Toys. I had collected toys for a long time, but never in 1/6th scale. But my dabbling in sculpting made me appreciate the scale. My first 1/6 figure was not Hot Toys, however. It was a Takara Batman Begins Batman figure. It was so amazingly cool with an interchangeable head and costume. The attention to detail floored me. When I heard that Hot Toys was known for offering even more impressive craftsmanship, my interest was immediately piqued.
Hot Toys had delivered a high-quality version of the Joker with their first wave of figures inspired by the Dark Knight. The Hot Toys MMS (Movie Masterpiece Series) 68 is truly a work of art that deserves the utmost of praise. With that said, one detail that was glaringly incorrect in regards to authenticity was the sculptor’s portrayal of Heath Ledger.
For those who followed the production of the Dark Knight closely, one would remember how seemingly impossible it was to peek around the thick shroud of secrecy surrounding the film. This shroud covered the eyes of companies with licenses to sell products based on the movie as well. The lead sculptor of this head was no different, only having a single photo and source photos of Mr. Ledger to base his final product off of.
While the sculpt is a fantastic interpretation, it suffers for being just that. It is not a close enough likeness to Heath Ledger’s Joker. And while I myself and other fans have touted the great work of this sculptor, we yearned for something closer to that chilling image of Ledger as the Clown Prince of Crime that is etched in our minds.
Enter Hot Toys’ MMS 079 Bank Robber Joker.
While Hot Toys has proven to up the ante, so to speak, over the last five years since this figure’s release, The MMS 079 Bank Robber Joker is a true masterpiece. Starting a trend that has held true until today, Hot Toys made up for those who were disappointed with their MMS 068 purchase and included a second head. This interchangeable head can be used on the Banker Robber Joker himself, or swapped with the original head on the MMS 068.
Speaking of heads – from head to toe, this figure is as movie-accurate as you can get. The detail from (almost) every stitch of fabric on his clothing, to the grenades encased in the infamous navy blue shoulder bag seen in the Dark Knight’s “prologue” sequence, to the smile and sneer captured on his faces are truly breathtaking. The only detail that I noticed was missing from the ensemble was the purple thread that unraveled from the Joker’s coat, plucking the pin from a smoke grenade in the bank manager’s quivering mouth while the devilish clown left the scene of the crime.
Look closely at sculptor Yulli’s portrayal of Heath Ledger. Yulli and art director JC Hong capture the sinister intent guarded deep within the soul of the Clown Prince of Crime. Though we never see Ledger’s hair slicked back in a single frame of the Dark Knight (aside from his brief stint disguised as a cop instead of a clown), the first head was designed so the “Grumpy” clown mask could be properly displayed with this iconic figure. Underneath the hauntingly accurate clown mask lies, what I believe, is one of the more accurate renditions of Heath Ledger in the long line of Hot Toys TDK Joker figures. The widow’s peak points poignantly toward the raised brow of the Joker, evoking human emotion so rarely rendered through an inanimate sculpture. The figure’s dark brown eyes match the eyes of its human counterpart, capturing a depth in the sinister soul of the Joker that only Ledger could communicate through his timeless performance. The mischievous, half-cocked Glasgow Grin is covered by a smear of red clown paint, framed by a ghoulishly pale white face.
The next set of details lovers of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy will notice is the attention paid to the bank robber’s getup. The distinct print pattern on Joker’s shirt is faithfully replicated on this amazing 1/6th scale figure. Apart from the wrinkly, tattered gray suit, Joker’s brown shoes worn during the heist were equally as visually impactful. They’re represented rather authentically as well.
Next are the weapons. All stunningly replicated and included with this fine piece. The MMS 079 comes complete with the navy blue luggage bag containing four fragmentation grenades and three smoke bombs. The powerful handgun used to off the “Bus Driver” comes complete with a removable clip (and, look closely… you can see the bullet!) Finally, a fully realized MK760 with a removable clip – also included to complete collectors’ original MMS 068 purchase. The icing on the cake comes in the form of mini $1 bills with Joker smiles etched onto President Washington’s face and a stack of Joker cards true to their depiction in the Dark Knight.
“This city deserves a better class of criminal. And I’m gonna give it to them.”
Hot Toys’ release of the MMS 079 Bank Robber Joker was like a gift to this avid collector and admirer of sculpture. Only the charcoal work of Barry Jazz Finnegan rivals the realistic complexity and devotion to detail that Hot Toys’ sculptors and artists like Yulli and JC Hong deliver in their final pieces. Like Mr. Finnegan’s exemplary work, I urge collectors of figures, fans of art, and lovers of Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of my favorite caped crusader and his rogues gallery to check out an MMS 079 up close and personal.
“See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
To read more from Vinny Marone, check out his blog geekOUT on Hot Toys!