TRDL 2011 Series No. 1 - Joker [TRDL Redesign]
TRDL 2011 Series No. 1 - Joker [TRDL Redesign]
So you KNOW, if you’ve been around, how much I love to do redesigns.
I see redesign efforts falling into two camps:
a) Facelifts for the character or property that maintain a recognizable look in order to capitalize on brand recognition (ie. minor updates of major properties)
2) wholesale reinterpretation of a character or property based on either the name, the description, or the pre-existing body of work, either in continuity or in another genre.
My favorite redesign efforts are cross-genre, such as my Cryptohistorical Redesign series, taking mainstream characters and pushing them into an old-timey direction. I buy those elseworld type projects, and I love to design in the same way.
I’ve yacked about this distinction between redesign directions before, and how redesigns for major characters generally need to stay on model (the first kind) and how much HARDER that kind of design work really is. Updating an image that’s almost universally known is a daunting challenge. Generally the objective will be to appeal to a contemporary audience without alienating the base. I thought the Batman films in Nolan’s care, for example, are great examples of where character concepts were modernized (let alone as a step from comic to screen, which is it’s own challenge) yet completely recognizable.
When I posted about Ted Naifeh’s redesign work on his site, I was primarily gushing about his Joker redesign. This fell, successfully, into the first camp: an updating of a well-known character in a way that stays on-model and recognizable as a property. Like Heath Ledger’s amazing Joker, which in performance and styling sort of re-imprinted what Joker SHOULD be in my mind, Naifeh’s piece was completely consistent with the broad strokes of the Joker character, but in a lusciously drawn and cleverly modernized way. When you’re pushing that line between comic camp and realism (which, again, Nolan did so well in rationalizing the more absurd comic tropes about Batman and making them feel completely plausible, like ninjitsu and flying Batmobiles and, you know, the basic CONCEPT of Batman) it’s important to bring into focus those aspects of the design that seem normal in the context of a comic, and make them more believable in the ‘real world’ of pseudo-realism. In Naifeh’s design, the details that did so for me were the slick hair, which allowed it to be colored and wild, but at the same time evoke a greasy, crazy-kempt vibe, and the design of the suit, which is both outlandish in color and plausible in cut. You believe he’d have that made, just to mess with you.
I mentioned in my post that I loved his second only to my own design. This was kind of an inside gag, because we’d been talking about design concepts for the Bat films on R3 forever, and before TDK came out, once we knew Joker was in it, we had gone back to the casting/ design well and had been riffing on what we’d like to see. I had said, some years ago now, that my vision for a Joker in a Nolan-Batman film was a completely humorless, maudlin man. I envisioned it as being Crispin Glover, much like he looked in the first Charlie’s Angels, but less campy. Meticulous suit, menacing eyes, no laughter at all. The conceit would be that he, as a rising crime boss, would have directed his minions to dispatch a rival in some ridiculously absurd, gruesome way, and that one or more of them would laugh and say something like ‘you’re joking, right boss?’ and that he would have their faces permanently mutilated as a message to others. Just a face full of acid, burning away the tissue of their entire lower jaw, leaving them basically grim-skull faced from the nose down, but still alive. He’d eventually, as he descended further into madness, force this on all of his minions, which i envisioned as a pretty short list as a crew, right? He’d be called The Joker the way Batman became The Batman… press sensationalism.
Anyway, the film came out and it was 10,000 times better. The associates, while still alive anyway, wore those awesome vintage clown masks. He was crazy but serious but not. He wore elaborately custom made threads filled with concealed knives. He smeared clown paint on himself and murdered people. It was wonderful.
So I went back to the drawing board, and re-conceived my redesign.
I went with the second type of redesign effort: take the concept of the Joker in a basic sense: criminal with a clown motif that isn’t funny.
I was inspired by vintage clowns, but further back, into the realm of Jesters. Not the harlequin imagery of which we are generally inundated, but a more muted, gothic look. It took me a long time to find the painting I was thinking of, but it’s Stańczyk, by the 19th c. artist Jan Matejko.
In this piece, the Jester is sitting solemnly, the only man in the room who understands the brutal reality of the dichotomy between the royal court and the outside world. 1518, Smolensk has fallen, and with it, the death knell of Poland as they knew it.
My Joker wears the ill-fitting garb of a 1500’s court jester, as if pulled from the rack of a theater production. It’s smeared with blood and grease. He’s covered in bruised, swollen, lacerated skin. The concept is that this is a common criminal who performed a heinous crime, then tried to kill himself, and discovered he couldn’t die. He didn’t HEAL, but he didn’t succumb to the wounds. He feels the pain, and he suffers physiologically from the injuries, but just…doesn’t… die. It’s my favorite take on immortality, one I’ve used in the TRDL Universe before. So, I see him as the ultimate nihilist, just mentally fractured over the guilt of his terrible crime, now doomed to remember it forever, doomed to live, despite being captured, hung, and buried. So, the jester motif represents the irony of his existence to him. The battered Kevlar vest was stolen from a cop at some point. He uses it, much the way they sometimes rationalize Batman and Superman’s lame use of chest symbols, as something to focus the attention of ranged weapons, ie. in this case, he knows that he’s going to be screwed if his leg is shot off, because it isn’t growing back, so now he encourages torso shots. The shovel is a reference to the fact that he clawed his way out of the grave, and beat the gravedigger to death with their own tool, as is his dirty, bandaged hands (which themselves are a bit of a Bladerunner reference, as I imagined him wrapping them WITH broken fingers)…
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