Who are the hardest-working people in Hollywood? You might think of The Rock, Robert Downey, Jr., and other actors But the first name that pops into my mind isn’t a real person–it’s DC’s clown prince of crime, the Joker. Now, I want to be super clear: I love the Joker. I love Hamill and Nicholson’s portrayals. Heath Ledger’s Joker is legendary. Joaquin Phoenix’s Academy Award for Best Actor speaks for itself. I love the character and think he’s one of the most interesting ones in all of comics, not just in Gotham or even in DC. But guys, he needs a break. Give him a mojito, a gun that shoots out a “Bang!” sign, and a ticket to Cabo San Lucas. The rest of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery is wildly under-represented and many of his adversaries deserve their own shot at a big-screen adventure.
The Joker is busy
It’s an understatement to say that the Joker is all over the place in DC movies. Out of eight Batman movies–if you count the 1966 film–he’s appeared in three, as well as Suicide Squad. He stands out from, well, every other comic-book villain ever in that he’s the star of his own dedicated movie, too, and that movie made a cool billion dollars. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be a sequel. This week, rumors began to circulate that Matt Reeves is prepping a Joker character for a future Batman film following The Batman, and that’s when we started to think about how overworked the Clown Prince is.
Reeves has the right idea with his upcoming film, which has Batman facing off against the Penguin (played by Colin Farrell) and the Riddler (Paul Dano), but we still think that not everything needs to be a warm-up to Arthur Fleck/Joe Chill/Jerome/Jeremiah/Sonny/wanna know how I got these scars? Each of Batman’s many rogues has their own compelling backstory, and while many of these villains have had big-screen time, many were mistreated by their studios or relegated to secondary roles.
Poison Ivy is the first to come to mind. The only time she appeared on the big screen was in the much-maligned Batman & Robin alongside Mr. Freeze, and director Joel Schumacher reduced her to a caricature much like everyone else in the movie. But as shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Harley Quinn have demonstrated, along with countless comics, Ivy is anything but. Despite her vibrant red hair and emerald complexion (sometimes), she’s one of the more interesting villains in Batman’s line-up.
Ivy’s origin is generally not linked to Batman, unlike so many other villains. She also has her own agenda and especially in our current era, it’s pretty defensible. She’s an extreme environmentalist in a world where climate change is already affecting the world. She has a point, and she’s not willing to let politicians hem, haw, and ultimately bow to corporate interests. So she takes extraordinary measures. She’s not explicitly bad, and she’s not unhinged. That gives room for a complex character and a nuanced performance from whatever actor plays her.
Victor Fries was similarly done dirty by Schumacher just a few years after Paul Dini and Bruce Timm had rewritten him from a golden-age goof into a tragic character. Incredibly, Harley Quinn latched onto Freeze better than Batman & Robin did. Freeze isn’t a bad guy so much as he is a cornered guy who has been forced, in his own eyes, to resort to crime to save his comatose wife. The “Heart of Ice” storyline from the Animated Series would be enough on its own, with some more adult tweaks, to serve as a pretty interesting Batman movie, and Freeze’s condition lends itself to some neat character designs that I’d love to see brought to life.
Clayface has previously been a difficult character to put in a movie because he’s a walking visual effect. It’s only in the past five or six years that visual effects are really at a place where they could handle a character like that. After seeing how effective all-CG characters like Thanos from the Marvel movies can be, now could be the time for Clayface. I can’t imagine them calling him Clayface in trailers or anything, but there’s still potential here.
The Animated Series version of the character combines a few different Clayfaces. Following an accident, actor Matt Hagen finds himself disfigured. He looks to chemicals produced by Dagget Industries that allow him to mold his face into whatever look he wants, but the substance is addictive–or at least Matt develops a dependency on it. When he tries to steal some, Daggett’s goons submerge him in the substance, and he melds with it, his vanity and dependence turning him into a Twilight Zone version of himself; he can look like anyone, anytime, but his default form is monstrous.
The Harley Quinn take on Clayface is much sillier and hardly villainous, but it plays with ideas that could make for a more human character. As Clayface gets used to his new form an accepts it, he tries to return to life as an actor. Meanwhile, his technically genderless form leads him to new ideas about who he is and can be.
There’s room for a strange, beautiful, and misunderstood character, and modern VFX could make him look truly awesome.
We’ve seen Two-Face in two movies, so he’s had a bit more screen time than other Batman villains. His first appearance, played by Tommy Jones, was in Batman Forever, and then later by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. The former was cartoonishly comedic, while the latter was ghastly and horrifying. It was hard to take Jones’ Two-Face seriously as a villain, though that was by design. Schumacher was making a more family-friendly film after concerns from Warner Bros. about the dark tone of Batman Returns. Eckhart’s Two-Face, meanwhile, had a bit more of the pathos that we see in the character in his best moments. But he was ultimately a pawn for the Joker rather than his own character. Further, his wounds were so ghastly that it’s hard to imagine him becoming a criminal fixture in Gotham. That dude had maybe days before an infection took over.
I’d like to see a Two-Face that is a tad bit more grounded, and who can face Batman on his own terms rather than as a tool of some other villain. His history as a DA and Bruce’s friend turned sour by his anger issues and misplaced blame could make for an interesting story.
And Many More!
If Harley Quinn is proving one thing, it’s that digging deep into the Batman back-catalog is tantamount to hitting a vein of gold. If Harley Quinn can turn Kite Man (hell yeah) into a character with wants and needs and a backstory, a good writer should be able to make a movie out of any villain. Deathstroke could be a great supporting character for a more cerebral Ra’s Al Ghul, for example.
And if they really have to do another Joker story, all we can hope is that it’s not about how he’s chaos to Batman’s order and that he just wants to show everyone that even Batman is just one bad day away from losing it again. But what I’d really prefer is that the Joker sit back, relax, and let some other villains do the work for a while.