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The Killing Joke: Have I Heard This One Before?

How does a designer make something that has existed for over 75 years feel fresh and exciting? A character as iconic as the joker has remained at that status not because his signature green hair and purple coat have been unchanged, but because his character design has evolved over the course of his fictional existence and has seen countless variations. Mr. J’s live action portrayals in recent years have produced some of the most iconic and, in some cases, most divisive incarnations of the comic book villain, due in no small part to a dramatic increase in film and television appearances. From a designer’s viewpoint, the challenge lies in designing a version of the joker that is instantly recognizable as the titular villain yet simultaneously unexpected. A design which evokes enough aspects of the character without being contrived but doesn’t stray too far from the joker’s mainstays.

Film and television have seen several actors portray the joker, and their respective versions are recognizable without having to see or hear them in action. Because each of their designs are considerably different from each other, viewers and fans can differentiate the multiple versions based on appearance alone, which is a testament to their designers (regardless of the quality or popularity of the actors’ portrayal).

These designs have already generated excitement among fans.

None of this would have been possible if the character designers responsible for each of these incarnations of the joker had not taken risks. In a field where having your own voice in your designs is integral to standing out, taking risks is a must. It’s easy to settle into a comfort zone and produce work which becomes tiresome. Subverting expectations, keeping designs fresh, making things exciting: all of these require risk taking. Two new live action incarnations of the joker are looming on the horizon for fans to soak in, and no fan would be excited if both of them consisted of the same design. Even if their ultimate portrayals fail to live up to expectations, they will be remembered for breaking the mold and trying a few new tricks. Isn’t that exciting?

For an in-depth look at the joker’s visual history and the risks taken over the decades, head over to this article by IGN.