So Tuesday the genre press fired their engines trying to make sense of Warner Bros.’ official confirmation that Jared Leto will as rumored be playing iconic Batman villain the Joker in David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, with Margot Robbie also officially confirmed as Harley Quinn.
While the Suicide Squad is of course a team of government operatives made up of supervillains, as any true comic book fan of good standing can tell you, the Joker is not your average supervillain… and not a team player, unless it (rarely) suits him.
Any notion of the Joker playing along with anyone else's agenda, for any reason, goes entirely against the essence of the character. The Joker is always a step-and-a-half ahead of everyone – even Batman – until the inevitable last second of their encounters when Batman eventually triumphs (often at great cost).
So while the Joker has of course been incarcerated during his career, the idea of the Joker aiding and abetting a government agenda even for personal gain seems sharply out of character.
If nothing else, true aficionados of the character couldn’t help but see any plot involving the Joker serving as a field foot soldier as him simply playacting while his Machiavellian plans plays out. For fans at least, trying to guess how the entire plot is really serving the Joker’s interests would threaten to overwhelm the narrative.
Now perhaps that would work if Leto was the A-list star of the piece, but the presence of Will Smith as Deadshot strongly suggests this won’t be The Joker, Harley Quinn and oh yeah, the Suicide Squad.
Perhaps adding to the confusion is the fact that the other so-far confirmed characters – Deadshot (Smith), Rick Flag (Tom Hardy), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) have all served in the comic book Suicide Squad lineup… and all together, in fact, under writer John Ostrander, whose run DC’s Geoff Johns cited as “one of the best and underrated in comics history” following the Tuesday night announcement.
And this just makes the Joker and Harley stand out as sore thumbs all the more; even though Harley is a modern-day member of the Squad, she wasn't even a character that existed yet during that run.
Of course one easy answer (and a popular theory) is that the Joker could be the villain of the piece – the antagonist the Suicide Squad is in fact assembled to take down.
The inherent problem with that notion, however, is the Suicide Squad will exist in the budding DC Comics Cinematic Universe and having the Squad pursue the Joker effectively puts Batman in a corner… and nobody puts Batman in a corner.
Again, all true DC fans know if the Joker is out there, presenting a national or world security threat the United States government is aware of, Batman would be one-step ahead of them, taking it upon himself to end the threat. More than any other superhero-arch enemy combo, Batman and the Joker are quintessential yin and yang. Where there is the Joker, there is Batman.
So if the Joker isn’t a team member and if he isn’t the central villain, what sort of role could be play?
Asking ourselves that question Tuesday night a series of mental images popped into our heads, which could help explain what the Joker’s role might be – images you’re all familiar with as well.
Does this ring a bell?
How about this one a movie later?
And this one?
This one goes back a little further ...
(That's Magneto's cell, btw)
And of course, while hardly the first, this is the one that popularized it…
And Ninie90 did us this favor by combining most of them all together on Tumblr…
Yes, the glass prison – a purely cinematic cliché/invention that allows hypnotically intense supervillains to send shivers down the spines of moviegoers without the distraction and indignity of your garden-variety iron bars.
Now let’s return to what Leto and Robbie’s roles will probably be – a way to help raise the Q factor of the obscure Suicide Squad with more mainstream and international moviegoers, as well set up to their roles as the true major villains in the first Ben Affleck Batman solo movie (whenever that may be).
The glass prison has achieved meme status because it’s in fact a cinematically compelling visual and a convenient and compelling plot device. There’s something seductive and dynamic about a highly intellectual but purely evil and combustible force of nature being held in a glass jar.
So perhaps the Joker, locked away behind glass walls by Batman, is recruited by Amanda Waller not as a team field operative, but as a consultant, lending his unique insight into the devious mind. And like Lecter and Loki and Khan and Bond’s Raoul Silva, despite being locked up, he is the one with a secret agenda pulling strings in his favor.
And so how does Harley Quinn fit in? That’s a pretty easy one. Imagine Suicide Squad as her origin story. In a “Mad Love”-ish subplot (her origin from both the Batman: The Animated Series from whence she came and also from the comic books she later found herself a part of), Amanda Waller assigns psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzell, M.D. to interview the Joker and extract the information the teams needs. In other words, playing the Clarice Starling to the Joker’s Hannibal Lecter.
But of course this time "Lecter" succeeds in seducing "Starling," and Quinzell adopts the identity of Harley Quinn to help him escape in the film’s final act, setting both of them up for the aforementioned next solo Batman film.
That way Warner Bros. can have their cake, eat it too, and then go for seconds. They get the draw of the Joker and Harley to help sell Suicide Squad, they get to tell the origin of Harley without upsetting the apple cart of the property’s core concept, and they get to set things up in a nice tidy package for the next Bat-fleck epic. After all, it's pretty easy to imagine a post-credits scene where Waller calls Batman – addressing him as Bruce, of course – and tells him the Joker broke out and now he has a sidekick, with Bats driving off into the night to begin his search.
That work for you? Tell us what you think on Facebook...