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A controversial Batman twist may occur in Joker film

We're still a few months out from the release of Joker, the film from director Todd Phillips in which Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role of Batman's arch-enemy, but it's already sparking controversy among DC fans with a possible plot twist that would add a whole lot more than just a name to the Joker's origin story. Obviously, the rumor hasn't been officially confirmed, but if it's true, it would be a major spoiler for the events of the film, so keep that in mind before you read on.

Citing a "source close to the production," We Got This Covered reported earlier this week that Joker might be set to include a contentious curveball: the Clown Prince of Crime and his superhero nemesis Batman are actually related. 

The film will apparently establish this personal connection by revealing that Arthur Fleck — the real name given to the Joker in the upcoming movie — is actually the product of an affair that Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas Wayne, had with Arthur's mother, Penny Fleck. For those of you keeping score at home, that would mean that the Joker is Batman's half-brother.

This isn't the first time this rumor has cropped up, either. We saw it last year, along with other hearsay that has since proven to be true, including Robert De Niro being cast as talk show host Murray Franklin. If that's the case here, it seems like a pretty logical way for Joker to connect itself to some version of the larger Batman mythology. We've known for while that Thomas Wayne was going to be depicted as a more antagonistic character than most moviegoers might expect from Batman's dad, and the plot twist even makes sense from a casting standpoint. The part of young Bruce Wayne will be played in the film by Dante Pereira-Olson, a child actor who previously played the younger version of Phoenix's character in 2017's You Were Never Really Here. Hey, if one casting team thought they looked alike, the Joker gang might have, too. 

To say the least, it's an interesting twist, partly because it hasn't really been done before in the comics. There have been stories where the Joker was revealed to be Alfred, Robin, and even one alternate reality where Martha Wayne was the Joker — but a fraternal connection hasn't been a prominent part of any Batman comics. Of course, that might be because "the Joker is Batman's evil brother" is pretty much the first thing you'd think of if you wanted to add a shocking twist to the Joker, and it doesn't add much to the relationship between the two characters.

It would, however, add a significant amount to the nonexistent relationship between the Joker and Thomas Wayne, which would make it a lot easier to establish Thomas as the villain of his origin story. If the film is going to give the Joker an antagonist who can support a story in the absence of Batman, making him Thomas' ignored and presumably hated illegitimate son has plenty of potential for drama.

Though the Joker hasn't been revealed as the half-sibling of Bruce Wayne in the comics, the Dark Knight has been previously portrayed as having a villainous brother. Back in 1974, Thomas Wayne Jr. was introduced in the pages of World's Finest #223 as the older brother Batman never knew he had. As the comic explains, Thomas Jr. had been hit by a car as a baby, and the resulting brain damage led to him being raised in Willowood Asylum rather than Wayne Manor. The Waynes never got around to telling their other son about him before they were murdered in Crime Alley, so Thomas Jr.'s return came as quite a surprise to Batman, especially since Junior was being manipulated into murdering people with razor-sharp boomerangs. He then had his body taken over by a ghostly superhero Deadman, who used it to get a job at the circus.

A modern version of Thomas also exists, and while he keeps the name and some of the basics of the origin story, the direction of the character was very different. He used the name "Lincoln March" to run for mayor and operated as an assassin for a secretive Gotham City cult called the Court of Owls as the Talon. He told Batman that he was actually Thomas Wayne Jr., born prematurely as a result of a car accident, and proved that Martha Wayne had come to visit him when he was growing up at the Willowood Orphanage. A DNA test, however, proved to be inconclusive.

The "Thomas Wayne Jr." name was also used for Owlman, Batman's counterpart on an alternate Earth where the heroes are all villains. 

However, none of those characters have ever operated as the Joker. In fact, the Joker has never been given an official "real name" or origin story for who he was before he took a dip in a vat of acid and emerged as one of Gotham's greatest terrors. Even The Killing Joke was intended as a possible origin rather than a definitive one, and there have been several intentionally conflicting origins published since. 

Regardless of how well it ends up being received by fans, or whether it winds up being established as a part of the character rather than just a plot point for a standalone film, the "Batman and the Joker are brothers" plot twist would definitely give viewers something they hadn't seen before. But given the 30-plus-year age difference between Joker star Phoenix and young Bruce Wayne actor Pereira-Olsen, by the time the Dark Knight is, say, 32 — the age that Batman-elect Robert Pattinson is now — he'll be spending most of his time beating up a senior citizen in clown makeup… which seems less like superheroism and more like elder abuse. 

Joker will be released in theaters on October 4.