He who laughs last…Gotham is in its fifth and final season and with just two episodes left the Fox series is bringing out the big guns. In a first-look image and teaser promo for the two-part series finale, Gotham introduces a seriously creepy new iteration of the most iconic super-villain in comic book history. Meet the Joker, a DC Comics character returning to live-action primetime television after a 51-year absence.
Gotham returns with its swan-song story on April 18 and April 25. As a prequel series focused on Batman’s hometown in the years before the caped crusader arrives on the scene, there’s always been an unavoidable finish line waiting for the series: Gotham ends when Batman begins. (That finish line will also be the show’s 100th episode, the magic threshold for small-screen franchises.) The show’s producers released a poster last week showing that Gotham’s long-awaited payoff moment — the first masked-man appearance by Batman in his familiar costume — is on deck. Today’s teaser and poster (below) shows that an appearance by Bruce Wayne’s chalk-faced arch-nemesis will also be in the cards.
The show’s creative team was reluctant early on to include the Joker in their prequel saga but they relented before the end of the first season when they brought in a new character, Jeremiah Valeska (portrayed by guest star Cameron Monaghan), the demented son of circus performers whose background and persona veer from the familiar Joker mythology (although that mythology changes so often and so dramatically that its a joke to consider anything as canon). Producers described Jeremiah as part of a generational lineage of madmen who embrace the evil clown persona that is somehow rooted in Gotham City’s haunted past. Essentially, like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the bloodthirsty tradition of madness in Gotham is part of a localized cycle.
The approach left some reasonable doubt about whether the Joker would show up in the series at all. Was Jeremiah truly a separate individual or was it all a red herring leading up to a Joker transformation? The answer is staring out of the image below as Monaghan goes “full clown” for the finale episodes. It’s a fresh, potent take on the visage of the Joker, who looks more supernatural than usual. It’s a strong addition to the character’s screen history of attention-grabbing makeovers, too.
In live-action films, the Joker has been portrayed on the big screen by a campy Cesar Romero, a jowly Jack Nicholson, a scabby Heath Ledger and a pervy Jared Leto. It all started with Romero, the first actor to portray the giggling villain on TV or in film. Romero was opposite of Adam West in Batman for both the live-action television series (1966-68) and its tie-in film (1966).
Two well known names have given voice to the cackling villain in animated feature films, too, with Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame handling the role in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and Zach Galifianakis of the Hangover franchise stepping in for The LEGO Batman Movie (2017). (Hamill parlayed the popularity of his voice work as the Joker to land the part of Chucky in the new Child’s Play reboot.)
It’s Batman’s 80th anniversary this year but his nemesis is getting a spotlight just as bright or brighter. The Joker’s first stand-alone feature film opens in theaters on Oct. 4. From writer-director Todd Phillips (The Hangover), the movie reportedly channels Mean Streets and The King of Comedy and explores the backstory of the enigmatic killer clown with three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Also this year: a Harley Quinn animated series, a Batwoman pilot on The CW and Pennyworth (a series about Batman’s loyal butler) on Epix. Pennyworth and Gotham are unconnected in their story continuity but both are from the tandem of executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist,) and executive producer/director Danny Cannon (CSI series).