It goes without saying that Batman is one of the most iconic superheroes ever created, and that his Rogues’ Gallery is no less widely known. So it also goes without saying that the Joker is his most recognizable and most dangerous enemy; his popularity among comic book fans and Batman enthusiasts alike has been strong for decades. He’s received good portrayals from the likes of Jack Nicholson (Batman), Mark Hamill (Batman: The Animated Series), and Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight).
In the most recent case, Ledger gave an Oscar-winning performance for the reboot film series by Christopher Nolan, bringing a fresh, dark take on the familiar joke-obsessed psychopathic clown. And despite the actor’s death in 2008, his final complete performance is one that will long outlive him–so much so that it inspired a group of independent filmmakers to produce their own tribute (and humble add-on) to The Dark Knight: a series of YouTube videos made from 2008 to 2010, known simply as “The Joker Blogs.”
The Story: It’s Love At First Sight… Horrible, Horrible Love
The story picks up after the end of The Dark Knight. The Joker–now known as “Patient 4479”–has been taken to Arkham Asylum, where he begins therapy sessions with Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Unfortunately, as the sessions continue, the two begin to take an unhealthy interest in each other–it being decidedly sicker from the Joker’s end. What follows is an unforgiving campaign against Dr. Quinzel, the staff, and the asylum’s administrator, Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, although as the story goes on, it becomes apparent that lust and revenge aren’t the only objectives of the Joker’s complex scheme…
Much of the plot is rooted in an existing origin story about the Joker’s iconic sidekick and love interest, Harley Quinn–one that was already played out in Batman The Animated Series. However, the “video blogs” in this series attempt to portray such a story from the gritty lens of Nolan’s Dark Knight series.
The Cast: They’re Not Professional, But They Sure Act Like It
In addition to being the series’ creator and writer, Scott McClure gives a stellar performance as the Joker. He not only manages to capture the voice and the mannerisms of Ledger’s performance, but takes it in a slightly different direction, as The Dark Knight didn’t allow us to see the Joker as a protagonist. It’s a testament to his enthusiasm and dedication that he can make you laugh at a quick joke, then cringe at whatever piece of raw horror he manages to pull out from his sleeve. And then there’s The Laugh, without which no Joker portrayal would be complete.
The rest of the cast do fairly well, although much like what happened with Christian Bale and the other actors in Dark Knight, the Joker’s performance has an unfortunate tendency to outshine their own acting. Kira Westberg as Harleen Quinzel and Steven Molony as Jeremiah Arkham play the straight man to the Joker’s dry, dark wit, while also getting some tragic character development by their constant contact with him. They’re slowly pushed into a spiral of despair by his antics, although it’s inevitable that Harleen should end up all the more drawn to her ruthless patient (I mean, with a name like hers, what else would we expect her to become according to the Comic Book Naming Conventions?).
The Style: Viral Videos Meet Quality Entertainment
The entire series is filmed with a handheld digital camera–a fact that is constantly touted within the show itself, as the Joker constantly breaks the fourth wall and makes mention of his videos being put up on YouTube. Even so, the filmmakers used several quick and creative ways to establish their setting, using basements and other easy-to-find locales for the scenery of Arkham and Gotham City. However, there are one or two elements by Season 2 that allow the filmmakers to ramp up their production value, such as simulating gunfire and explosions or getting to drive around in a police car.
And since the filmmakers are such fans of the Batman franchise, there are tons of references, cameos, and shout-outs to the comic books, the films, and the various animated series. Besides the ongoing cameos by Dr. Hugo Strange and The Scarecrow, we also get more references scattered throughout the series, particularly in the news ticker that runs throughout all of Episode 18 in Season 2 (in one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it viewings). Completing this tour-de-force is the well-placed use of the original score for The Dark Knight as composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.
Final Verdict: You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cringe, But You Won’t Be Bored
I know none of this specifically falls under the genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but honestly, these videos have to be seen to be believed. They’re a love letter to The Dark Knight, to Heath Ledger’s Joker, and to the Batman franchise as a whole. They’ll give you genuine chills and plenty of laughs (albeit a few uncomfortable ones). And if nothing else, I think they’re a testament to what independent filmmakers can do if given the chance. I honestly thought McClure’s performance was strong enough that he could probably be the Joker if he were to ever be brought back to the big screen (and considering what a massive impact the late Ledger left, that’s saying something).