MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Mark Hamill, The Clown Prince of Voice Actors
Imagine the Joker has you tied up. You’re in a dimly lit warehouse right off the river. The air is thick, stale, and musky. The tide raps against the nearby docks punishingly. The rope that binds your hands behind your back is chokingly tight. Every twitch in your wrist scrapes twine against raw flesh. Footsteps on concrete floors echo louder and louder as they draw near.
That laugh. It starts out low and menacing. It crescendos a bit. A few “hee-hees” and “ho-hos” tossed in jovially. It crescendos. Cackling, lung emptying chortles screech on your ears. You wince and tense up. Your wrists chafe as skin breaks. You can feel blood reaching the surface of the rope.
“So fanboy, it wasn’t hard to lure you here. The promise of a preview copy of Catwoman 2 was all it took. Well. that and the promise of more side boob. And now? I bet you’re hoping… praying… that the Bat shows up and saves you. Well, pookie? The joke’s on you… he’s too busy reading Voodoo to show up here! HAAAAA HAAA HAA HAA HAAA!”
Question: The voice in your mind just there? The voice of the Joker? Well, if you’re anything like me… the man reading back my poorly written dialogue in your head was Mark Hamill.
Since 1992, Hamill has portrayed perhaps one of the single hardest roles for any actor, be it voice or otherwise, to play. The nemesis of the Dark Knight has been written many ways; from straight-up sadistic murderer to psychotic sycophant. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created perhaps the single greatest interpretation of the seminal superhero and tasked Andrea Romano with the worst possible task. The interpretations of role had been truly original to say the least. Both Cesar Romaro and Jack Nicholson had portrayed the Clown Prince of Crime and took liberty to imbue the character with their own charm. Romero painted over his mustache and played the campy cackler with scene chewing glee. Jack Nicholson exuded his … Jack Nichosoness. But here, with Batman: The Animated Series, we were getting a truer-to-comic presentation. The Joker in this case could not be so closely tied to the actor portraying him. And the less we say about Larry Storch’s voice acting during the Superfriends/Scooby Doo era the better.
Enter Luke Skywalker.
Mark Hamill had done a handful of voice acting roles prior his turn as the Joker (so says IMDB), but none with as much clout. Certainly any kids as crazy-obsessed as me hit the pause button while watching their tapes of recorded episodes to see the voice cast… and would be baffled to see their beloved Jedi master lending his baritone to The Joker.
Astonishment aside though, Hamill sunk into the role such that I strongly believe no one else will ever top it. His nuanced delivery, that carries everything from the silly to the psychotic, is pitch-perfect. Over the course of the series, the animated Joker was pulled in several directions. One episode he’s dressed as a sea captain, driving a barge of joker-gassed garbage down the Gotham River; the next, he’s holding Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya hostage on live TV. And whether he was back handing Harley Quinn, or flying away on a rocket powered Christmas tree, Hamill captured the character like no other.
In watching a little featurette about the characterization, Hamill put it best. The iconic laughter of The Joker had to be right. It’s a tool in and of itself. With every laugh he delivered behind closed doors, Hamill captured the essence. For all his nuance and outright amazing portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight, even Heath Ledger wasn’t able to really use it. Credit to Hamill’s fearless acting. As you’d learn in the clip, he performed it standing up. You can feel the manic energy in every line he spoke. And when the animated series ended, Hamill (and fan favorite Bat-voice Kevin Conroy) brought the role out one last time for the now-causing-mass-sleep-deprivation video game Batman: Arkham City videogame. Sadly, Hamill told the world it’d be his last foray into the fracas… and thus his reign as the ringmaster of insanity came to a close.
Other people have taken on the role, to less effect. The fantastic John DiMagio (of Futurama fame and much, much more), Kevin Michael Richardson, and even now Brent “Data” Spiner have all tried to take the mantle. But none capture that balance of the character. Some of it may come from the writing itself… but as we all know, the best actors can make lemonade from just a packet of Sweet-N-Low and a wedge of lemon. Mark Hamill’s been blessed with fantastic writers, but took the role to such heights that now I fear no one will ever replace him.
And just then, the window above shatters. Shards of glass rain down on the floor around you, reflecting the pale moonlight and streetlamp glow as they ping-ping-ping into pieces. A leathery flap darkens the area where you sit. You can’t see anything, but you hear a desperate plea.
“Wait, Batsy, no! We were just about to read O.M.A.C. #1 together! HAAA HAAA HAAA HEEE HEE HOO HOO HEEEE!”
SUNDAY: JOHN OSTRANDER