Opinions Expressed in "Rants" while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.

How Do They Replace Heath Ledger’s Joker?


Like a lot of people, I really wish Heath Ledger hadn’t died.  He was an extremely talented actor, right at the onset of a lifelong, fulfilling, amazing career.  It’s worthwhile paying tribute to him just for that.

But I also mourn because of Batman.  If you’ve read my articles on Joseph Campbell and on Batman/Superman, you know that I regard the Batman story as more than just a cool movie or comic book.  Batman is a mythology – a UNIVERSAL STORY, that especially now that it’s being told properly (under Chris Nolan’s directorship), has a potential sociological impact.

And the Joker is an indispensable part of that story.

I have to say a word about how glad I am that they finally got the Batman story right, after having endured Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s pale attempts at hitting on the heart of what Batman is.  The animated series got it pretty close – the true heart of Batman, of course (for us purists), can be found in the comics, which after decades of tweaking and changing and evolving, can be best represented by Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” or by the “Killing Joke” by Alan Moore (best known for “the Watchmen”).  In my article I try to flesh out the essential elements of that story.

So, having watched THE DARK KNIGHT for the second time last week, with my good buddy Sharkman – I couldn’t help but marvel at his incredible interpretation – Ledger made the Joker what he should be, more than just a scene stealing funny villain that acts out our ID fantasies – the Joker is, and is meant to be, menacing, frightening, fascinating, thrilling, evil – the Joker should be as evil and menacing as Hannibal Lector – and the Nolan/Ledger interpretation of Bob Kane’s character FINALLY achieves that goal.

So I’m excited to see Nolan continue to explore and develop the Batman story, realizing the sociological significance that this character (if it continues to be done right) can have.  And that continuation somehow requires the continued involvement of the Joker. 

One thing I’ve noticed is that Nolan, at least for the time being, seems to be determined not to introduce any SUPERPOWER component to his stories.  His Gotham City is a real city with real people (in fact, its Chicago) – this makes the characters all that more frightening – who wasn’t chilled when the Joker blew up that Hospital, reminding us of similar incidents we’ve seen in the news? 

But his commitment not to have SUPERPOWERS rules out half of Batman’s villains.  Killer Crock, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Manbat – they either have to be gone-altogether, or need to be significantly overhauled.  As for other villains, well, we have the Penguin (lame, all he is is a short guy with gadget umbrellas), Bane (who’s just some wrestler pumped up on roids) and Riddler, Mad Hatter, and Ventriloquist are all just less interesting versions of the Joker.  That basically leaves us with Catwoman – who is freaking hot – can’t wait to see her again.  And we had Scarecrow, a non-immortal version of Ra’s al Ghul, and of course Two Face, whom we are likely to see again.

Anyway, my point is, they need to find a way to keep the Joker in the storyline.  As I point out in my article, the Joker is THE Archenemy of Batman – he represents everything that Batman fights – the Joker is the chaos Batman seeks to control - the Joker is the force of nature, vs. Batman as immovable object – the Joker is MURDER, is DEATH, that stole Batman’s parents from him.

And if the story continues, it is the Joker who will cripple Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), and will kill Jason Todd, the second Robin. No one will get to Batman more, will drive him closer to madness, come closer to turning Batman into Lex Luthor, than the Joker.

So, in spite of the fact that Heath Ledger’s performance will be difficult to EVER match, that he will be replaced to the same quality, I think he NEEDS to be replaced, somehow.  The Joker must live on.