The Joker is not a man like most of you think. The Joker is a mindset. The Joker is anarchy and chaos contained in human form. The Joker is the dead fly you find in your favorite meal after a bad day. The Joker is that jerk who cut you off and made you late for work, AGAIN. The Joker already lives inside all of us. A sleeping giant we are lucky enough to keep caged for the most part. Those moments when someone says something to piss you off and you have this instinct to bite their nose off but it quickly goes quiet. THAT is the Joker. Moms who are holding their newborns, smitten, but also flirting with the thought of putting a pillow over that baby’s face to spare themselves the lifetime of that baby, milking them dry, literally and figuratively. THAT is the Joker. And while everyone (myself included) is talking about Jared Leto’s new movie role as The Joker, why don’t we take a minute to go back through the history of all the actors who have portrayed the Joker in cartoons and see what unique aspects each one brought to the clown prince of crime? Sounds fun, huh kiddies!
Mark Hamill: Bow Before the TRUE King of the Clown
To start this list with anyone but Mark Hamill (yes, THAT Mark Hamill) would have been a huge mistake. Most know that Hamill did the voice of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series from the 90’s, and his menacing cackle pretty much went on to define how the truest fans of Batman would hear the joker in their head when they read him in comics from that moment forth.
The first thing you will notice about Mark Hamill as The Joker is just how much genuine, twisted fun you can tell he is having playing the clown prince. His voice has a little rasp to it, like he may have smoked too many cigs and drank too much hooch in his younger days, but that just makes him seem more palpable and realistic.
To be honest, to many fans (of which I am one) Mark Hamill Is the number one Joker. His highlight easily being the Arkham games and the recent Killing Joke movie, where he reprised the role one last time (which is what he ALWAYS say, by the way.)
Next up, we have a cheap imitation…
Troy Baker: Good Voice Actor (but Just Does Hamill Impression)
Now let it be known, Troy Baker is one of the most talented voice actors in all of voice work right now. I also want to make it clear, when they hired him to do The Joker in the Arkham Origins game, they did essentially want a younger sounding version of Hamill’s Joker, which is just what they got. But since then, he has had a few more opportunities to reprise the role (Lego Batman movies) but still just dials it in as Hamill light.
Hey, if something isn’t broken we can understand not wanting to fix it, but if you are going to be the Joker, bring something new to it. Think of The Joker as a classic rock song, and each one of these voice actors as bands playing different versions of a cover.
Thing is, Troy’s Joker is just a cover of a cover.
John DiMaggio: Bringing Something Darker and More Sinister to the Role
I am a HUGE John DiMaggio fan, and so you are but you likely don’t know it. One of the greatest voice actors alive, you may know him best as Bender the robot in Futurama or as Jake the Dog in Adventure Time. Or heck, even for you hardcore geeks out there, you might recognize his from Gears of War and a great deal other voice work he has done for gaming. But when DiMaggio was given the leash to play the Joker in the DC animated feature, Batman: Under the Red Hood, he did something VERY different with the character.
This was not Mark Hamill’s Joker. This was not an impression of an impression. This was a more unhinged Joker. A darker, deeper, smokier voice and some disturbingly violent scenes end up making this a very memorable version of the Joker.
I will admit, it is SO different than when you first hear it, you cock your head the way a dog would hearing a noise for the first time. But by the end of the film, you get it. This is a sicker Joker, and that even reflects itself in the gravelly tone of this Joker’s baroque. Takes a minute and he didn’t stay long, but DiMaggio made a VERY unique Joker, and I, for one, would love to see him get more chances to play the clown prince of crime.
Kevin Michael Richardson: The Underdog So Few Know (Though He Is One of the Best)
Richardson took his vocal shot at the Joker in the short lived The Batman animated series, and from the look to the voice, this was a whole new Joker, and for a few simple reasons, he really shined. One, as you can see from the clip above, this is a very different take on the Joker in every way (even visually) so the take on the voice had to be as unique as well. What Richardson does is bounce (literally) between screaming psychopath and whispering loon. One thing Richardson’s Joker brings to the roundtable of Jokers is, he never feels small. There were times when even the amazing Ledger would seem small while portraying the Joker (small is in weak, brittle) but Richardson’s Joker seems most likely to rip your limbs off with his bare hands and drink blood from the stumps.
Also, voice work side, I loved those green dreads and the gold grill this Joker had. Just something so unique about him, especially when compared to some of the others on this list. Just a shame he wasn’t given more of a chance to shine.
Michael Emerson: Soft, Quiet, and the Most Psychotic Yet
You may all know Michael Emerson best from his role as Benjamin Linus on Lost, but few seem to know he played the Joker for TWO animated Batman movies. The Dark Knight and the Dark Knight Returns. Much like DiMaggio, Emerson puts a very unique take on the Joker that it takes a minute or three to get used to. Keep in mind, when we first meet him, he is reformed and represents himself as such. But as time goes on and he tries to lull the Batman out of retirement with some truly sick acts (how can you do that to Dave Letterman?), the Joker in that voice starts cracking and coming through more and more until it finally reaches a crescendo that ends up with one of them dead.
To tell you more would be spoilerific, so I won't. Watch the movies, trust me. The Joker you know may be mostly quiet until the final act here, but man, this is the Joker most likely to keep you up at night as far as cartoons go.
And Finally, to go out on a lighter note….
Jeff Bennett Brings Back Campy Joker (When World Needs It Most)
For the animated series The Batman: The Brave and the Bold the creators went for something wholly unique for Batman fans. They took it back to the golden age of comics when everything was safe and super cheesy and they decided to make a funny, meta, self referential show that was WAY ahead of it’s time and sadly, died too young for just that reason.
But Jeff Bennett’s take on The Joker was a perfect mix between Cesar Romero from the TV show and Jack Nicholson from the first movie. It was cheesy but with a flair for the theatrical and grandiose. This is another case where playing the Joker seemed like it must have been a great deal of fun to play. And you could hear that elation in Bennett’s performances.
But sadly, in this modern age of gritty reboots (that don’t seem to work) Batman: The Brave and the Bold was just too cool to stick around for very long. But for those of us who loved it, Jeff Bennett’s Joker had a lot to do with that.
So as stated in the middle of the article, if you look at the Joker like a song and look at all these voice actors as bands doing unique covers, you will walk away with a great deal more appreciation for just what these guys do and how good they do it.
Two Requests for Future Joker Voices:
PLEASE let singer Mike Patton play him some time. Vocally, the man is a God (or demon, depending on if you close your eyes when you listen). I bet he could take the Joker to some insane new depths of creepiness.
How about giving Andy Serkis a try? He is only the best voice and digital actor of the current age. Bet he would murder it, pun intended.
You are laughing because you know I’m right. Or you might be laughing because the toxin I put in this article is finally working. Either way, I win.
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