Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is DC Comics. And that’s mostly because of my undying affection for the comic book characters and stories that I grew up reading in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. So stay tuned all month to (maybe) learn a little something about 26 corners of the DC Multiverse.
Is it H day already? This month is just flying by. I guess…
There are a few other characters across the DC Universe whose names begin with the H. There’s Hawkman… Hawkgirl… Hawk & Dove…
But, let’s be honest, the most popular character with the H at the start of their name is undoubtedly Harley Quinn. She’s appeared in three movies (Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and the upcoming The Suicide Squad) and had her own animated series on HBO Max. That’s not to mention all her many appearances in DC Comics titles and specials that have been published in the last decade or so.
And to think it all began with an intended one-time appearance on Batman: The Animated Series. Harley showed up early on in an episode titled “Joker’s Favor,” in which the Joker encounters an average nobody having a fit of road rage and, instead of killing him, decides to let him live under the condition that someday, the Joker would call on him for a favor. That favor happens several years later when Joker plans to take out the Gotham City Police during a celebration for Commissioner Gordon. Harley is the one that brings in the exploding cake.
From there, Harley Quinn’s popularity exploded with fans of the animated series. She served as the Joker’s love interest and flunky. And that relationship was tumultuous to say the least. It’s always been an on-again, off-again kind of thing for the clowns. But that’s also led to Harley developing a friendship and sometimes romantic relationship with Poison Ivy.
It took a few years, but Harley eventually made the transition from television to the comics. And I don’t just mean comics related to the cartoon. She was brought into DC’s main continuity in a one-shot graphic novel giving her a somewhat darker origin based on the tone of the Batman titles and characters at the time.
Harley’s relationship with the Joker is a fascinating one and, when handled by the right writers, is an incredible case study in both physical and psychological abuse.
Harley started out as Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum. Dr. Quinzel initially went into psychiatry as a means of understanding and coping with her own dysfunctional family life. While at Arkham, she is assigned to the Joker’s case and soon falls in love with him after he feeds her the lies and manipulations that she is willing to believe in order to become an accomplice and help him escape the asylum. Again.
I know I’m not 100% familiar with all of Harley’s published history, so it’s possible that there have been moments throughout the history of the DC Universe where the Joker genuinely felt something similar to love for Harley. But I have a hard time thinking of the Joker caring about anyone except Batman, the one person he’s willing to actually focus on and devote time to.
No, my thought is that, for the Joker, Harley is merely a means to an end. And he knows he can use her because no matter how badly he treats her, she will always come back to him. Like a yo-yo. But I have no doubt that Joker would kill Harley Quinn as soon as he decided she was no longer of use to him.
And that’s the sad part of Harley’s story. No matter how he abuses her, she’s convinced he loves her. She’s convinced she doesn’t deserve anything better than the psychopath.
In live action, Harley has been portrayed spectacularly by Margot Robbie… definitely the bright spot in an otherwise unspectacular Suicide Squad. Don’t get me wrong… Suicide Squad was entertaining enough… but it felt more like a video game than a movie. The main characters moved from point A to point B, had a cutscene, moved to point C, had a cutscene, then got to the big boss fight.
A couple years ago, the DC Universe streaming service premiered Harley Quinn as an animated series starring Kaley Cuoco as the voice of Harley. The show’s pretty good and two seasons can now be found on HBO Max, with a third season coming at some point. Though, to be honest, if I’m reading a comic book with Harley in it, the voice I hear in my head is Harley’s original voice actor, Arleen Sorkin, who brought the character to life in that original episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
I’d be surprised if you had not heard of Harley Quinn at this point. Have I left out anything important? Let me know what you think down in the comments!