The Leto Theory: The Joke's on Us

We dissect the new Joker

We didn't want to cash in on the hot topic of Leto's controversial Joker reveal until we gave it some honest thought. I genuinely didn't know how to feel about it, but I also didn't want to jump to knee-jerk keyboard hate either. I wanted to let this sink in for a while, take what I know of the Joker, this new cinematic universe, see the reactions, and formulate a more educated theory on what exactly it is we could be looking at.

In this article, I'm going to break down potential reasons for the look of Leto's recent Joker photo, and back it up with theories reflecting the graphic novel we know for a fact the new Snyder-produced films are based on. I'm not going to explain again why Jared Leto is more than a great choice for the role. If you want to read that, do it here. This is an analysis on the why and not the who with cross-references to the previously established fiction.

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 1. Why so frank?

We know two things for certain: Batman V Superman is based loosely on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. We also know for certain that David Ayer's Suicide Squad takes place in that same universe. With these facts in place, there is a lot we can surmise from these images and the flow of recent information, including why the recent Leto Joker photo doesn't seem congruent with leaked set photos we've seen before this. Granted, from here on out, this is just an educated fan theory at best, but it makes the most sense to me.

The highly polarizing Leto Joker we see is the "before" image. Suicide Squad is essentially, an introduction story for the Joker without breaking the golden rule of telling a Joker origin. This is not the Joker we're ultimately getting. He will evolve from this into the crown prince of crime we all know and love. I will attempt to back this up. It's a win-win for fans, casual movie goers, and the producers. The true Joker origin is kept in the dark, while we get a newly minted reinjection of the character back into the cinematic universe. If you haven't read Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, and if any part of my theory is sound, you'll want to check yourself out of this article right now, because there are major spoilers ahead.

You have been warned. Here is why I think this is going to work.

2. Why so serious?

The most likely case is that Joker is or has been imprisoned in the Suicide Squad film. This is fairly well assumed by now. Let's face it, the only thing that was ever capable of imprisoning the Joker is Batman. No one else could catch him or stop him except Batman. Alright, deep breath. I'm going to assume the reason Joker, wherever he is, be it locked up in Arkham or in solitary in Blackgate Penitentiary, has been put there by Batman after the result of a final brutal beating avenging the death of Jason Todd who we also know is killed by the Joker, leaving Carrie Kelley, Returns' version of Robin to take up the mantle. Big exhale. This further corroborates a strong inspiration from Dark Knight Returns as Carrie Kelley is likely to be played by Jena Malone. This also sets up future Batman films to tackle The Red Hood and further develop the Joker and the evolution of his look across several films. And you know how much film studios like money.

3. Why so metal?
My insurance won't cover this operation!

Where I think the metal teeth may come in is the result of Batman hunting the Joker down, beating the living hell out of his face, and finally putting the Joker away for good. Or so Batman thinks. The metal teeth could very possibly be metal caps applied during extensive dental surgery upon his admittance to Blackgate (or wherever Joker is). Either that or he filed down his teeth for crazy Joker reasons and either way still requires dental surgery.
"If a large piece of tooth breaks off or the tooth has a lot of decay, the dentist may grind or file away part of the remaining tooth and cover it with a crown, or tooth-shaped cap, made to protect the tooth and improve its appearance. Permanent crowns can be made from metal, porcelain fused to metal, all resin, or all ceramic."

4. Why so punk?
Catatonic in The Dark Knight Returns animated film

Many fans have cried foul regarding the choice of tattoos on Leto's body. While personally, I'm puzzled as well, there are several likely reasons why this shouldn't matter. One is the idea that the photo is merely a loose 75th anniversary tribute to comic-book Joker over the years, with obvious Killing Joke references, including a simple photo op for this film's Joker, and doesn't fully reflect maybe anything we'll see in the film. However, if I'm sticking with the Dark Knight Returns theory, we know that in Miller's work, Joker is in a state of catatonia from having to live a confined, mundane existence without Batman... I promise this leads back to tattoos.

Unfortunately, a catatonic Joker might be cinematically boring. Might. So, here's what I think. Joker fans know that the character is absolutely nothing without Batman. He is rendered hopelessly crushed after finally being put away. His life no longer has meaning without Batman. What I have are two theories that are kind of one in the same, the Joker has given up: or this universe's spin on the catatonia thing. He doesn't care anymore. The joke's now on him, literally, as he gets the tats, blending into prison life, becoming a parody of himself, accepting where he's been put. Would Joker ever do this? No. But a Joker without Batman just might, because a Joker without Batman is not Joker at all. He is not in his uh... usual mind set, shall we say.
Flip to the other side of this "theory coin" and maybe they do pull the catatonia card. Or maybe Joker is just feigning catatonia (or something like it), waiting to reemerge. Again, he decides to blend into the prison crowd, gets the tats anyway for show, and everyone thinks he's accepted his fate as a lifer until his chance to escape amidst the chaos of a Suicide Squad operation. After all, Joker always has a plan. This is what he's been waiting for.

White suit leak, left, Miller's Joker, right

But, that can't be it, right? The tattoos are still stupid regardless of this theory. You're right. They are. If we are to take the leaked set photos seriously, though, we also know, like Dark Knight Returns, the Joker also does not sport his classic purple duds. He is wearing white as seen in a few leaks. In Dark Knight Returns, after a supposed rehabilitation, the Joker reinvents himself as a born again good person. He appears to the media as a beautiful butterfly free from his insanity cocoon. In another leaked image, Leto appears to not have the metal caps on his teeth, does not appear to have the "damaged" tattoo on his forehead, and is wearing a white suit iconic to Frank Miller's Returns
Leaked photo. No metal teeth? Click to enlarge.
I don't think the recent Joker image is the Joker that will go on to infect the Batman cinematic universe. I believe the recent photo shows the remnants of an earlier, incarcerated Joker at best, or means nothing at all. Upon his reentry to the real world, he gets the tattoos removed (or hides them), his teeth have been restored from the surgery, and he transforms into the character we want to see and the character the Joker has always wanted to be: bigger, grander, smarter, deadlier, and the most unpredictable he's ever been. So unpredictable that even the fans and common movie watchers were duped. Perhaps all of this is truly just a ruse, a big joke, by not only the character, but by the film maker's themselves. Just maybe, like a sleight of hand card trick, it is classic misdirection at its best? And we all know that Joker likes his misdirection.

5. Why so certain?

Because The Dark Knight Returns. If it weren't for Zack Snyder's vocal efforts in bringing Miller's story to the silver screen, this theory would all be hot air. If we are to deeply consider what this means for the new Batman cinematic universe—the facts we know—being the leaked set photos telling a different story than the official photo, Joker's assumed (or known) imprisonment, likely from the murder of Jason Todd and Batman's resulting vengeance, Jena Malone's high likelihood of being cast as Todd's replacement, and the white suit, there is a lot we can safely assume is going down in this story. This also leads me to only one rational conclusion; I don't think we can judge this Joker by his cover.

With Zack Snyder being an openly huge DC fan and producer of Suicide Squad, David Ayer, being a proven awesome writer/director, an Oscar-winning, transformative actor bringing the character back to life, and if my comic book/Joker knowledge serves me, I have only one choice to remain optimistic.

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- J.G. Barnes

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Why Leto and the Squad works.

How to make the DC Cinematic Universe better.