Following Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning interpretation of the Joker on the big screen was never going to be easy, but could actor Jared Leto and directors Zack Snyder and David Ayer be holding a trump card?
(Beware, rampant speculation to follow).
What if Leto isn't playing quite the same character that Ledger did? What if he's playing a second-generation Joker? Or an all-new re-imagining? And what if his true identity is one very familiar to comic fans? Could, in DC's movie universe, Batman's onetime partner in crime-fighting have transformed into his arch nemesis? Does Robin become the Joker?
It's a theory that's gained some traction, and one Reddit fan-theorist may have unearthed the strongest evidence yet, connecting pieces from DC's two upcoming films. Take a look:
Between the first image of Joker released by "Suicide Squad" director David Ayer and the Comic-Con "Batman v Superman" trailer, Reddit user DeathbyRequest noticed something. Look closely at the highlighted image and decide for yourself -- do the Joker and the Robin memorial have matching shoulder injuries? Is that a coincidence, or a clue?
It's clear that the cinematic versions of Robin and the Joker share a history. In the "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" trailer, Ben Affleck's Batman has lost a partner, hinted via a statue of a Robin costume, covered in very Joker-y graffiti. This, it suggests, is why Batman is so dark. He waged a war on crime, and suffered casualties. But is it as simple as a fallen partner? After all, as Affleck's Bruce Wayne broods over the memorial in the trailer, he asks Jeremy Irons' Alfred, in voiceover, "20 years in Gotham, how many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?" A good guy going bad will have many Gotham observers thinking of Harvey Dent's turn to Two-Face, but the dialogue and imagery suggests the betrayal could be even closer to the Bat Cave.
What might it all mean?
Snyder knew what he was doing putting that Robin costume in his trailer. It strongly evoked Jason Todd, the second Robin, who was brutally murdered by the Joker during the seminal "A Death in the Family" storyline. In the comics, Jason Todd's death sent Batman down a path of darkness and isolation, which is where we understand the character to be in the upcoming hero-against-hero feature.
But Jason Todd isn't the only Robin to have suffered at the Joker's hands. In the acclaimed animated feature "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker," it is revealed that Tim Drake, the third Robin of the comics but the primary one of the DC Animated Universe, was tortured by the Joker in an (eventually successful) attempt to turn him into a criminal protegee. Could both of these stories be incorporated into the new connected-movie-universe's story?
If the injuries do match, it suggests that Jared Leto's character was once Robin, until something terrible happened. It's an alluring theory, as it combines many of the traits people have come to expect from architect Snyder's superhero adaptations, which are often defined by their somber grandiosity and commitment to fan-favorite storylines. Losing his partner to evil would be exactly the sort of in-story failure that haunted Batman, and would make for a creative side-step and solution to preserving (and not competing with) the legacy of Heath Ledger's Joker, who could remain an offscreen "original" Joker in the minds of moviegoers.
One thing is for sure. If Jared Leto's Joker is a former Robin -- Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or otherwise -- it would make for a heck of a punchline.