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Joker Origin Movie: 7 Comic Storylines DC Could Adapt

The Joker is, as always, pretty much everywhere. The Dark Knight’s premier adversary is starting to outgrow their relationship, at least supposedly, as Warner Bros. look to include the character in several films going forward.

There’s the Suicide Squad sequel, the purported Joker/Harley “rom-com” (blegh), another solo film involving Jared Leto’s character, and a few other appearances sure to follow. The one worth the most attention, however, is WB’s planned origin story being produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Todd Phillips. Joaquin Phoenix is set to star as the titular character, which is said to be a loose adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal, albeit controversial comic, The Killing Joke.

Phillips et al. should tread carefully however. The Clown Prince’s origin, though detailed in that particular storyline, has never been definitive; part of the fascination surrounding the character stems from the fact that he’s constantly changing, and that no one truly knows his story. As the rogue says in Moore’s comic, if he’s to have a past, he’d prefer to be “multiple choice”, and with so many Joker stories to choose from, the old adage applies to audiences too.

With schemes involving murder, Dick Sprang-style murder machines and even fish, these are the stories that’ll make this particular film one worth exploring.

7. The Killing Joke

DC Comics/Brian Bolland

You’d struggle to find a Joker story more controversial than The Killing Joke, and yet, there are few as influential as it. Moore, as with plenty of his other DC works, has since disowned the tale, but there’s no denying how compelling his version of the Joker’s origin is – even today.

Centred around Batman’s efforts to track down the Clown Prince after his latest escape from Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke is most famous (or rather infamous) for the Joker’s horrendous assault on the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, and the subsequent torture of Jim Gordon. While that particular aspect of the story could probably remain sequestered away for the time being, the book’s flashbacks to the Clown Prince’s ostensible origin are worth developing – with the caveat being that the film doesn’t treat it as the definitive origin tale.

With the film also said to be set in the 1980s, spotlighting a version of the clown who once worked as a failed comedian, it certainly looks to be paying homage to Moore’s story. If Phillips and Phoenix can convey the tragedy of this particular origin, then it could end up being a massive success – just as long as they don’t forget to sew seeds of doubt regarding its authenticity.

6. The Man Who Laughs

DC Comics

The Man Who Laughs gives the modernising treatment to the Joker’s original appearance in Batman #1, and it’s actually rather good. The title itself is actually a homage to The Man Who Laughs film, which inspired the Joker back in 1940 with Conrad Veidt’s portrayal of the eponymous character.

The Ed Brubaker, Dough Mahnke comic also serves as a sequel of sorts to Batman: Year One, showcasing The Dark Knight’s first meeting with the Clown Prince as the first of Gotham’s supervillains embarks on a murderous rampage – ostensibly without rhyme or reason.

It’s a suitably dark tale, and one that touches upon the various origins of the character sporadically throughout. It’s also a story that spotlights the relationship between Joker and Batman in a really compelling way, and though the film hasn’t touched upon the Caped Crusader yet, if it does, The Man Who Laughs provides the building blocks with which to forge that relationship anew.

5. The Laughing Fish

DC Comics

The Laughing Fish is a storyline fans of Batman: The Animated Series have come to cherish, but it was an actual comic long before it became a cartoon.

Written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Marshall Rogers, The Laughing Fish revolves entirely around the Joker’s efforts to trademark the aquatic life surrounding Gotham City. By adorning the fish with his menacing image, he attempts to trademark the stock and make a killing in the market. Gotham being Gotham, however, doesn’t take too kindly to the Clown’s machinations, denying him the opportunity to copyright the fish as they’re a natural resource.

What follows is a story that embodies all there is to love – and fear – about the Joker, with the goofy premise being offset entirely by the lengths the Clown goes to in order to see his fish make it to market. Characters die in horrendous fashion, left with the iconic and unnerving Joker grin as they pass on, and Batman is forced to contend with his nemesis at his most unpredictable.

This new Joker film is said to be an origin story, and though this particular arc revolves around the villain in his prime, there’s nothing to stop Phillips from making a non-linear tale that switches back and forth between this story and the aforementioned origin from Moore and Bolland’s comic.

4. Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker… !

DC Comics

A comic written by the late, great Len Wein, Batman #321 is a veritable classic of the Caped Crusader’s bibliography, and a story Joker fans in particular should take note of.

As you can probably guess from the title, this particular comic is all about the Joker’s birthday. Or at least we think so; at the very least, there’s a giant birthday cake death-trap and the story itself has a big birthday theme, as it sees the Clown Prince kidnap key members of Batman’s supporting cast and strap them to giant sized candles that’ll explode, save for the event Batman trades his life for theirs.

Of course, Batman does arrive, having prepared a plan to beat the Joker at his own game. A melee ensues as The Dark Knight busts his comrades out of a waxy grave, before Joker and Bats duel by the docks outside.

The issue actually ends with the villain’s supposed death, but it’s famous for two other reasons as well: first, most obviously, was Wein’s resurrection of the torture traps that typified Dick Sprang’s tenure on Batman during the Golden Age; second was the Joker’s execution of one of his thugs, which he carries out with his now trademark flag-firing revolver.

3. Gotham Central: Soft Targets

DC Comics/Michael Lark

Gotham Central is just about the best Batman series published in the 21st century, and it barely even features the Caped Crusader to begin with.

Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, with art provided by Michael Lark for the series’ majority, Gotham Central is all about the average joes who work for the G.C.P.D. It’s a fascinating dynamic to explore, as everyday officers are forced to contend with a world chockfull of villains with freeze-rays, umbrella guns and, in one particularly troubling occasion, a purple and green suit.

Joker’s arrival in the comic coincided with a particularly gruelling period for the force, who’d already had to contend with both Mister Freeze and Two Face by this point. To make matters worse, the Clown Prince commenced his killing spree during the run up to Christmas, and this wasn’t any ordinary rampage. The Joker, equipped with a sniper rifle, targets key elements of Gotham’s legal and political systems, including the mayor.

It’s a fantastic story, made even better by Gotham Central’s already stellar premise. Batman does get involved of course, but if DC are looking to make this particular film one all about the Clown Prince, shifting the focus to Gotham’s finest could be just the trick they need, with the comic having also inspired elements of The Dark Knight.

2. Batman #0

DC Comics

The New 52 might have been a divisive and ultimately unnecessary reboot of DC’s main universe, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman was a constant highlight.

Beginning with a rip-roaring story involving the Court of Owls, Snyder and Capullo’s stories instantly set themselves apart from the competition for being atmospheric, dark and full of horror elements. When it came time to tell their version of Batman’s origin story in the rebooted continuity as well, they didn’t fail to deliver, providing yet another compelling origin for the Clown Prince in the process.

This particular story reimagines the Red Hood premise established decades earlier – this time with the identity working as a gang of sorts. Their crimewave is so dramatic that it actually forms the catalyst to get Bruce Wayne to don the Batsuit for the first time, with one of the members of the gang heavily hinted to be the Joker.

The story closes with the leader falling into a vat of chemicals at least. In any case, if the new film is gunning for a crime drama feel, the Red Hood gang actually makes a lot of sense.

1. The Joker’s Five Way Revenge

DC Comics/Neal Adams

The Joker’s Five Way Revenge is one of, if not the most important Batman story every published. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams pretty much reinvented the character’s mythos when they were handed the keys to his comic back during the burgeoning moments of the medium’s Bronze Age, with their reintroduction of the Clown Prince perhaps ranking among the run’s biggest accomplishments.

The story, apart from providing the definitive image of the Clown Prince for a generation, returned the character to his homicidal roots, reminded The Dark Knight of his importance and provided a tone that would dominate the character’s comics for decades to come. If this latest film were to opt for a non-linear route, then, utilising the two comics that have influenced the villain the most (Killing Joke, as well as this one) would be a surefire way of providing a uniquely compelling narrative.

If the DCEU has proven anything so far, it’s that looking to only one source of inspiration when adapting a comic book is a big mistake. The franchise wears Frank Miller on its sleeve and it’s worse off for it.

However, should this new series of films take a different approach – one that takes into account the decades’ worth of history these characters have built up – they could be set to boast an appeal the DCEU is yet to find. Five Way Revenge is the path to that appeal, and in borrowing bits of pieces from various other Joker tales, this particular feature could yet be the Clown Prince’s best.

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