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Why So Serious? Heath Ledger Joker Trifecta/Countdown To The Dark Knight

June 20, 2008

     It’s far from a well-kept secret that I’m a Batman super-freak.  And thank god that we’re less than a month away from Christopher Nolan’s new visionary masterpiece, ‘The Dark Night’ which, as reported, is the only Batman film without ‘Batman’ in the title because, amazingly, Nolan wants it to be a ‘darker’ departure from the last film.  Darker?  Fantastic.  As if ‘Batman Begins’ was a rosy kaliedoscope of happiness and rainbows.  I’m so psyched about the new film (and the accompanying animated film for simultaneous release on DVD via the marketing wizards at Warner Bros.) that I can’t contain myself.  It’s eating away at me that the new feature length live-action film hasn’t been released yet, and I literally cannot wait.  The promos, viral videos and bumper ads on Myspace are eroding what little patience I have regarding the new movie.  On the one hand, I don’t understand why they waited this late in the summer blockbuster season to release what is obviously going to be a cultural event on par with ‘Titanic’, but then again, I can see why WB wouldn’t want to go head-to-head with ‘Iron Man’ or ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (the latter of which I have a mild interest in’. 

     As far as I’ve always been concerned, The Joker is the main star of the show.  I’ve got two and a half short mylar boxes stuffed to the rafters with Batman comics, one-offs and graphic novels and in my humble opinion, The Joker has been the real star of the show the entire time.   Super-hero stories are defined by their villains.  I’ve also had the recent pleasure of reading Batman: Monsters & Madmen (which I was so bowled over with that I wrote a gushing review on for Buffalo Rising) and the impulsive delight of picking up a Batman: The Killing Joke anniversary figurine pack with a delectable vacation Joker, Batman and a trade copy (in whichever iteration or printing, most likely the seventh or eighth or ninth) of The Killing Joke, which is without question one of the top five Batman/Joker stories of all time.  Top this off with a handsome anniversary hardcover of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke and you’ve got a recipe for impatience.  Why isn’t it July 18th yet, goddamnit!  Agh!

     And it doesn’t take a psychologist to determine why I’m so attached to the mythos.  A sociopathic clown who was a former standup comic with anti-social tendencies and a flair for the theatric.  Hmph.  Love it.  Love it, love it, love it.  I’ve seen every single film in the theater (which is a big deal considering that I see about two movies a year on the big screen), I’ve got every copy of Paul Dini’s animated series, a handful of Batman Beyond seasons and a few of the animated films (Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm being the jewel of the crop). 

     Every sign points to Heath Ledger’s performance as being nothing less than once-in-a-lifetime.  The hype factor over his recent death is going to make this the movie of the summer, bar none.  Nicholson (also a hero of mine) is furious that he wasn’t even considered for the role of the Joker, but give me an f-ing break, Jack.  The new series is a re-boot, and there’s no place in the continuity to explain bringing back a 60-something who defined the role eighteen years ago. 

     They say that Ledger spent a month holed up in a hotel room getting a feel for the role reading tomes including The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum while keeping a notebook so that he could record thoughts that the Joker would find funny.  Good on ya, Heath.  I’m not going to pounce on the bandwagon and pretend that I gave the vaguest shit about his other work, because I don’t.  A Knight’s Tale and Brokeback Mountain?  Couldn’t care less.  Just from the clips, though, it’s clear that he fell hook, line and sinker into the role and knocked it straight out of the ballpark and right into the pantheon on the way out of this mortal coil.

     Plus there’s the collectible factor, which is eating away at me.  After combing the web to find a new action figure that never even APPEARED on store shelves, I discovered that there’s not one, but three new Ledger facsimiles.  I’ve got a small pumpkin patch of Joker figurines at home (the crown jewels being an ’80s era Justice League figure and not one, but two Dark Knight returns Jokers, one in box, one outside the box) so there was no way in hell that I was going without one of the new ones.  Apparently, Mattel came to the shocking conclusion that a likeness of the homicidal lunatic from the new film in Ledger’s visage was too scary for children, so they decided to render the 6 inch figure ‘Collector’s Edition’.   Bullshit.  No company is that stupid.  They’re driving the values up.  It doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to figure that one out.  So aside from a chilling 6 inch figure, they’ve released a watered down 5 inch figure.  And another company has released an 11 inch that’s a spitting image of Heath walking down the middle of the street with a switchblade licking his lips like a rabid dog in the trailers for the film.  It retailed from DC Direct as a bundle pack with Batman (like anyone cares about him).  The Joker statue alone is starting at $125 on Ebay.  While this is slowly eating away at me, I can’t justify spending $125 on a toy that’s going to sit on my shelves of curios in my study. 

     The Joker (as a collectible) has always remained a hot item.  When cases of new figures come out, he’s a variable, he’s a rarity, and he’s the first to dissappear from big box toy retailers before he even make the sales floor.  I’m not a big toy geek, truly.  But I’ve been amassing a small collection of Joker figures here and there that could be the envy of any collector come early August.  I have zero intention of selling any of them, but in all likelihood, I’ll snap like a rubber band and buy the new 11 inch stature.  Along with seeing the new film five or six times in solemn fascination in theaters.  Less than four weeks to go.  Why so serious?  Because I can barely contain myself, that’s why. 

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