Reactions to Jared Leto’s take on the Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad were decidedly mixed, but what do the character’s various tattoos really mean? The Joker is arguably the most famous villain in comic book history and following his introduction in 1940, he’s morphed from comical prankster to one of Batman’s most lethal foes. Where Batman wants to bring order and justice to Gotham City, the Joker thrives on chaos and destruction.
The Joker has been memorably brought to life in a number of mediums. Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman is one of the most iconic, but Mark Hamill’s portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series to video games like Batman: Arkham Knight is also considered definitive. While fans were skeptical when Heath Ledger was cast in the role for The Dark Knight, the actor would soon prove them wrong with his mesmerizing portrayal. Ledger tragically passed away before the movie’s release and would earn a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his work.
Fans are excited to see what Joaquin Phoenix does with the role in the standalone Joker movie, which promises to be a dark, grounded take on the villain. Responses to Jared Leto’s interpretation in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was famously divided. From stories of his outlandish behavior during filming to his garish look, it’s fair to say Leto’s performance split opinions. That said, he definitely brought a new energy and look to the part, especially in regards to the many Joker tattoos.
Ayer would state the Joker tattoos all tell a story and contain a number of easter eggs. Even the character’s contentious grill has a backstory, with Ben Affleck’s Batman having smashed the Joker’s teeth after he murdered Robin. Ayer and Leto drew inspiration from real-life drug lords for the character’s look and fascination with tattoos, so here’s the meaning behind some of the Joker’s most prominent ink.
Probably the most controversial tattoo for fans, the “Damaged” stamped on the Joker’s forehead is intended to be a personal message to Batman, blaming him for ruining his good looks after knowing out his teeth. Ayer would later admit this particular tat was probably a mistake.
The HAHAHA’s found on Joker’s chest and left arm is a trademark of the character to indicate he’s always laughing about something. He also spraypainted Robin’s suit in the same way after his murder to taunt Batman.
The J Initial
Prior to the release of Suicide Squad, a popular fan theory stated Leto’s Joker was actually Jason Todd, and the “J” tat on his cheek was a nod to this. This has subsequently been proven false, however, and is likely just a vanity reference to his own name.
The Stabbed Bat Logo
Found on Joker’s left arm is a Batman logo stabbed by a knife. This could either be a reference to Joker’s desire to kill the Caped Crusader or another nod to the death of Robin.
A tattoo of a robin pierced with an arrow is found on the Joker’s right bicep, which is a pretty blunt taunt to Batman over killing Robin in the past.
Leto’s Joker has three tattoos of toothy smiles; one on his right forearm, his left hand, and his stomach. He uses the left-hand grin to hide his own smile during one scene, suggesting the tattoos are to hide his own insecurity over Batman smashing out his real teeth.
A pretty self-explanatory one, with this torso tattoo literally branding the character as the Joker. The villain possibly got this one to shed whoever he was in his former life.
“God’s Only Child”
This tattoo is found on Leto’s back and is either a not so subtle reference to the Joker seeing himself as special or a jab at the idea of religion.
One of the most distinctive Joker tattoos is of a deck of cards on his neck labeled “All In.” Cards are obviously a big part of the Joker’s history and “All In” is probably a reference to how the villain lives his life. He also has a tattoo of card suits on his knuckles.
The Jester tattoo on Joker’s chest in Suicide Squad could be a reference to his relationship with Harley Quinn. The fact the Jester is a skull suggests a darker meaning, however.
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