When the first photo of Jared Leto as The Joker in Suicide Squad was released in 2015, it was divisive, to say the least. Some loved it, but most hated it, from his snow white skin to his Home Alone pose. Mostly, however, they hated his tattoos. The Joker has had tattoos in comics past, but not quite to this extent. Leto's Joker is positively covered in creepy body art, and he even sports a few face tattoos, including a highly debated "Damaged" tattoo on his forehead. But what meaning, if any, do his tattoos have? The Joker's tattoos in Suicide Squad could reveal the Joker's real identity, or they could just represent the Joker's crazy mind.
Once fans realized the Joker tattoos were here to stay, the question wasn't why the Joker had a new look, it was what do the tattoos mean? In an interview with Yahoo, Suicide Squad director David Ayer explained that he and Jared Leto had crafted an extensive backstory for the Joker, that included very specific reasons for his style choices. "The tattoos tell a very specific story. ...There's very specific stories and easter eggs in those tattoos. And even in his teeth, there's an entire story behind that which is absolutely canon," Ayer said, adding that he took inspiration "from drug lords on Instagram." It's no surprise, then, that some of the Joker's more controversial tattoos — the "Damaged" on his forehead, the "J" on his cheek — evoke comparisons to gang tattoos.
Once Ayer confirmed that the Joker's tattoos in Suicide Squad have meaning, fans quickly went around trying to determine what, exactly, those meanings are. Some, like the "HAHAHA"s that cover his left shoulder and forearm, are easy to identify as Joker canon — the HAHAHA appears frequently in the history of the Joker, and is also seen in clips from the film as decorating the Joker's apartment. The toothy smile tattoos on his left hand and right forearm are also pretty explicitly in keeping with the Joker's mythology, and appear to be used in the plot of the film as seen in a few trailers. Other tattoos, like the jester on his right shoulder, are also pretty self-explanatory.
The tattoos that have been the subject of the most discussion are the "Damaged" on his forehead, the "J" on his cheek, and the robin on his bicep. Many fans, like JasonZod on Reddit, have theorized that the robin is meant as a taunt to Batman. We all know that the Joker was responsible for Robin's death, as established in Batman v. Superman, and this tattoo could be his way of sticking Robin's death in Batman's face whenever they meet. According to JasonZod, the Joker also has a tattoo of a bat with a knife in it, which would further the theory that many, if not all, of the Joker's tattoos are specifically meant to harm Batman. The bat tattoo is also a subtle reference to The Dark Knight Returns storyline, in which the Joker stabs Batman.
Another Redditer, Jason-G169, used those three tattoos to hypothesize that the Joker as seen in Suicide Squad is actually onetime Robin, Jason Todd. According to ShortList.com, Jason-G169 thought that the original Joker could have kidnapped Jason Todd and tortured him, eventually turning him into another version of himself. It is this original Joker who also would have given Leto's Joker the "Damaged" tattoo, as a way to permanently brand him. This theory would also explain the "J" tattoo. According to WhatCulture.com, in Arkham Knight, the Joker brands Jason Todd with a J on his cheek and manipulates him into thinking Batman was responsible, thus corrupting him.
No doubt some of the tattoos' meanings will come to light in Suicide Squad, but it's likely that some will simply remain a mystery. After all, what fun would it be if the Joker revealed all his secrets?
Images: Warner Bros. (2)