(RNS) — An image of comic book villain the Joker dressed as Jesus Christ is making waves on social media, prompting questions about its origins and meaning.
The black and white image, which features actor Jared Leto as the DC Comics villain the Joker adorned with a crown of thorns and draped in an alblike robe, first appeared in a Vanity Fair feature chronicling the launch of the so-called Snyder Cut of the DC Comics superhero team-up film “Justice League.”
The original “Justice League” — in which your favorite DC superheroes join together to fight evil and save the world — was released to middling reviews in November 2017, but rumors circulated of an alternate cut of the film fully created by Zack Snyder, who was initially tasked with directing the movie but stepped down in post-production after the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon took over and finished directing the film.
Snyder himself has confirmed the existence of the cut, eventually garnering enough support from fans and film executives — along with $70 million worth of reshoots and additional special effects — to release his version of the film on the HBO Max streaming platform in March 2021.
The Joker-as-Jesus image is credited to Snyder, suggesting the director snapped it himself. It was not immediately clear if the photograph is from the film or simply evocative of a broader theme: A trailer for the Snyder Cut suggests archenemies Batman and the Joker end up fighting for the same side, working together to save humanity.
“Justice League” takes place after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in “Batman v Superman.” The movie brings together superheroes such as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and others who team up to stop supervillain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of Parademons from destroying Earth.
Leto’s depiction of the Joker — which did not appear in the original version of “Justice League” — has long been controversial. When he first took on the role for “Suicide Squad,” another film that takes place in the DC Extended Universe, reports abounded of the actor deeply committing himself to the character, so much so that co-stars reported he sent disturbing “gifts” to cast members such as rats and a dead pig.
Leto also later told “Entertainment Weekly” he believes the Joker “lives in between reality and another plane,” adding the character is “kind of a shaman in a way.”