The Problem of Harley Quinn

Warner Brothers is pinning a lot of hopes on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.  They have already started talk of her next film.  If it happens, they better bring along Poison Ivy.

Harley  Quinn was created by Paul Dini for Batman the Animated Series.  She was a part of Jokers gang and soon filled the role of “Joker’s Girlfriend”.  Her history was that she was a psychologist who fell in love with her patient…the Joker.  She walked away  from her career to a life of crime with her Puddin’.  In the cartoons?  This worked.  The Batman Rogues Gallery were not running around murdering people.  So, even the Joker was a bit lighter.   People loved Harley Quinn (Kevin Smith named his Daughter Harley Quinn Smith) and she grew in popularity. Harley Quinn looked like this:

Art by Paul Dini

Initially, her introduction to comics was through Paul Dini created Batman the Animated Series comics.  But eventually she was brought into the DC Universe proper.  With art by Terry and Rachel Dodson, Harley still captured a lot of what people loved.  She was kind of adorably sweet, though dangerous. And she kept her costume.

Art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

They also started moving her away from her close ties to the Joker.  In the comics?  Joker has pretty always been a maniacal murderer. He is a pretty horrifying character.  This led to an attempt to make her into an anti-hero…one who succeeds-while trying to commit crimes.  But it makes the character more of a trauma survivor-who survived by becoming more fractured emotionally…but whether this was handled well is up for debate.

DC reinvented their Universe in a line wide reboot dubbed the New 52.  This brought about some changes to Harley and the most noticeable was this:

Art by Ryan Benjamin

Her costume was now highly sexualized, which seemed counter intuitive to the character.  All too often, comic books use “sexy” as code for “bad”.  Characters who have upped the anti a bit. The sexier they dress, the more deviant they must be.  In the New 52 Harley killed children, along with dressing a bit kinkier.  In fairness, Amanda Conner has adjusted her Costume a bit:

Art by Amanda Conner

Conner is part of a select group of artists who create “Good Girl Art” and receives more praise than criticism for their cheesecake.  But I digress…The New 52 Joker was even creepier and homicidal in some ways…which forced an updating to Harley being more vicious.  Any innocence to her character was removed.

Suicide Squad hits theaters with Margot Robbie in the role of Harley Quinn.


She clearly has a lot in common with the newer incarnations and the film made sure to heavily tie her to the Joker (even if he is not a prominent presence in the film).  And the previews made appear that her personality was a bit more like a teenager lashing out at strict parent.  I will say, Robbie does a solid job with the character in the film.  She has expressed discomfort with the clothes in the movie.  The iconography of her costume is not the corset and short shorts, and the fact that the filmmakers don’t get that…well…

The film struggles with her in the same way the comics often have.  How to make her sympathetic when she is in love with a homicidal criminal?  The film gives us a Harley who is a victim, yet can be unsympathetic in a way that is frustrating.  It makes Quinn seem weak and trapped, in spite of the film’s portraying her as stronger without the Joker.  It may have been better to leave the Joker out of it outside of a flashback or two.

Harley will always be a somewhat divisive character, but it really depends on if they cut her loose from the shadow of the Joker or not.



(Featured Image is by Alex Ross)

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