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Jokers at Every Turn at Comic Con, but They’re on Their Best Behavior


At Comic Con, where attendees show off meticulously prepared costumes inspired by their favorite fictional characters, one generally does not dress up as the Joker without knowing which Joker they are.

Are they Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight?” Are they Mark Hamill’s cartoon villain? Or Jared Leto’s, or Jack Nicholson’s? Or have they harkened all the way back to the 1960s to portray Cesar Romero’s merry prankster version?

At this weekend’s convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan, there was a new Joker character to consider. The “Joker” movie opened in theaters this weekend, and this rendition of the comic book character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, has drawn scrutiny for exhibiting psychological traits of real-life mass shooters.

The chilling twist to the Joker’s past has been criticized for having the potential to inspire young men with similar inclinations. At Comic Con, some costumed Jokers clung instead to the characters of the past, while others embraced Phoenix’s tortured portrayal.

The New York Times spoke with several Jokers at Friday’s convention about their costumes and how they feel about Hollywood’s latest interpretation of the Joker.

Occupation: Manager at American Airlines
Hometown: New York City

Santos hasn’t gotten a chance to watch the “Joker” movie yet, but all he needed to see was the trailer to decide that he was going to dress like Phoenix’s Joker at Comic Con. He loves the DC Comics version of the character, but Phoenix’s performance looked like it was going to be special.

“The movie is going to be something dark that you shouldn’t take children to,” Santos said. “But I like movies where you see it from the other side, the villain’s side. You don’t necessarily sympathize with them, but it’s a different view.”

He said he considers the definitive origin story of the Joker to be his falling into a vat of chemicals that turns his hair green, his skin a chalky white and his mouth blood red. But he appreciates the filmmaker’s attempt to add depth to the character’s background — even if it’s a disturbing narrative.

Occupation: Medical assistant
Hometown: High Point, N.C.

Velasco describes her costume as Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” — but “girl-ified.” (Her husband dressed up at Harley Quinn, the Joker’s frequent accomplice and love interest who fell for him while treating him at a psychiatric hospital.)

She said the costume was easy to throw together: She found the jacket at Target, the neon green wig on sale and for the makeup, she found an online tutorial for Joker-style face paint.

Velasco said she considers the true-to-life angle of the “Joker” film to be potentially instructive to audiences rather than harmful.

“I feel like what he’s trying to say is that our society looks like it’s going toward that way, so this is like a warning,” she said, “It’s like, ‘Hello, everybody, wake up!’”

Occupation: Employed at a tile distribution business
Hometown: Marlboro, N.J.

Rancy didn’t want to choose just one Joker to portray, so he took pieces of several versions of the character to incorporate into his outfit.

He kept his mustache as a homage to Cesar Romero, who left his own facial hair for the television adaptation of the Batman comic book. The green dreadlocks were inspired by the Joker’s hair in the Batman cartoon. And the royal purple coat came from Ledger’s Joker.

Rancy said he was impressed by the new movie but he could see the possibility for some viewers to interpret Phoenix’s character as a figure worth emulating, something that relatives and friends of those killed in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting expressed concern about in a letter to Warner Bros.

“It does delve deep into mental illness and how, in some areas of society, not a lot of people understand or know how to handle it,” Rancy said.

“You can’t really predict these things,” he continued, “But I can see some people taking it too far.”

Occupation: Wrestler and fitness center employee
Hometown: Rahway, N.J.

Cruz was so set on playing Phoenix’s version of the Joker that he bought the movie-specific costume on Amazon just for the occasion.

“I was the ‘Dark Knight’ Joker previously,” Cruz said. “I’m just a Joker-head. This is one I wanted to take on.”

He committed to getting the makeup right, too. When the first set of face paint he purchased didn’t look right, he went to the store at 1 a.m. to find the right stuff. He decided to apply the makeup the night before the convention, which meant that he had to make himself fall asleep on his back in order to not mess it up.

Cruz said he planned to see the movie on Friday night in his costume. He said he considered it important that the film takes on issues of mental illness. Cruz doesn’t think filmmakers should shy away from that subject.

“It’s art,” he said. “The way you perceive it is how you perceive it.”

Occupation: Phone technician
Hometown: New York City

Valle doesn’t just know which Joker character she’s dressed up as. She knows the exact movie scene she’s portraying: In “The Dark Knight,” Ledger’s Joker dresses up in a white nurse’s outfit as part of a scheme to blow up Gotham General Hospital.

“I’ve already done Harley. Harley had her time,” Valle said. “I wanted to do nurse Joker.”

It’s a particularly evil version of the Joker character. But Valle said it’s ultimately just a character in a movie, and that if a person does something violent, they should be blamed — not the movie.

“It’s just like the whole ‘video games are causing violence’ thing,” she said. “It all depends on who the person is.”

Occupation: Student at Stony Brook University
Hometown: New York City

Giacalone’s Joker cosplay is a bit more relaxed than his Comic Con counterparts. He said it was just the easiest option after he procrastinated on his costume. Giacalone already had the velvet jacket and vest lying around, and he could buy inexpensive white gloves online.

He didn’t really know which particular Joker he was playing, though someone had suggested to him that he looked like a steampunk Joker. He plans to see the film — but not in costume. While riding the train on Friday morning in his get-up, Giacalone said he sensed some of that concern. He was carrying an overnight duffel bag, and some other passengers looked worried.

“I felt like I was getting looks from people,” he said, “so I tried to do normal things like take out my granola bar and have a snack.”


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