Harley Over The YearsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Iconic Batman Villianness
Harley Quinn is perhaps the most unique of all the villains in the Batman universe. And let me tell you why. As you can see, it's not because of her costume which is aligned with the Joker theme as perpetuated by Joker and his henchmen. Nor is it her distinctive Queens accent, as provided by Arleen Sorkin. In fact the thing which makes Harley Quinn uniquely distinctive amongst "Batman" characters is that she is the only character who was created for "Batman: The Animated Series" in the mid-90s that became so popular that she was integrated into Batman canon. She was first integrated in the comic books that have been grouped together as the "D.C. Animated Universe", having their basis taken from the D.C. animated cartoons and then remained so popular that she has moved beyond that into Bat-canon.
Harley Quinn, the creation, was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for an episode of "Batman: The Animated Series" in 1992 as a cameo role. However the episode was well received and Harley was brought back for a backstory graphic novel in 1994 called "Mad Love" which fleshed the character of Harley Quinn or Dr. Harleen Quinzel. "Mad Love" was a huge turning point for the Harley character as it won the much coveted Eisner award for "Single Best Issue Comic of the Year ", a huge achievement and propelling Harley further into the hearts of the fans.
From there, the character of Harley went from strength from strength! She was a solid fan-favourite, thanks strongly to the fantastic voice acting of Arleen Sorkin. As a young Bat-fan (press-ganged into my love by my father who has also been a Bat-fan since he was a child), I loved the "Batman: Animated Series." Kevin Conroy's gravelly voice provided us with a brooding, imposing Batman figure, perfect in my mind. Arleen Sorkin's Harley Quinn was perky, bright and perfectly sing-songy for the maniacal ex-psychiatrist-turned-villain. And Mark Hamill. What can I say about his performance in the series? He simultaneously injected a real maniacal insanity and a cruel sanity in the Joker, truly animating the character. His performance in "Arkham Asylum" is also fabulous but I'll speak about that later.
Becoming Part of Bat-canon in the Comics With 100% Extra Backstory
With the exceptional response to the TV Harley, she was brought into the comic canon. Firstly in the "D.C. Animated Universe", during which time the iconic "Mad Love" issue was written and drawn by her "Batman: Animated Series" creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. The success of this run lead to her getting her own comic run.
During the "D.C Animated Universe", a massively critical relationship was also introduced by Dini and Timm - a friendship between Harley Quinn and Dr. Pamela Isley A.K.A Poison Ivy. In a very adorable issue, Harley explains how she and Ivy became friends as they were cell mates in Arkham. It fundamentally consists of her wearing Ivy down, but it did the trick as her relationship with Ivy is perhaps the healthiest one she has and continues to the modern era.
It is also the "Mad Love" issue that presents a back story for Harley and her transformation from Dr. Harleen Quinzel. One of the images in the above slide show is taken from the story, demonstrating the obsession Harleen develops with the Joker. Dr. Harleen Quinzel is an intern at Arkham Asylum who volunteers to lead interviews with the Joker to ascertain his reasoning's behind his actions. However, as the interviews progress, the readers are highlighted that Dr. Harleen perhaps has ulterior motives; she tells Joker that he can call her "Harley Quinn - like the jester 'Harlequin' perhaps? "
Yet "Mad Love" highlights a move towards a darker Harley - more in keeping with the feel of the characters within the comic canon. Despite the cartoonish, childish artwork, it highlights a kind of schizophrenic split within Quinzel and finishes with the hints of a return to an abusive relationship. Over the course of the "Mad Love", Quinzel is:
- choked by the Joker during an interview
- loses her psychiatrist license for helping Joker escape
- becomes his accomplice in crime
- is regularly abused by him (kicked off tables, verbally abused and kicked out by him)
- tries to please Joker by killing Batman for him
- ...for which she is rewarded by being shot in the shoulder by Joker and kicked off a rooftop.
When Harley is taken back to Arkham (as an inmate instead of a doctor), she swears off Joker. A psychiatrist asked her, covered in bandages and with a blackened eye; "how did it feel to be so dependent on a man that you'd gave up everything for him, gaining nothing in return?" Harley looks miserable and looks to the side - "...it felt like..." until she sees a note and rose from Joker and smiles; "...it felt like a kiss!" Chilling stuff when you think about it.
A Few Excellent Harley Quinn Collector Items
Arkham Asylum is a critically acclaimed game and with good reason. Provided hours of fun for both my partner and I and filled with tons of references for Bat-fans
The pivotal relationship for Harley and her transformation. A relationship that is consistently on-again, off-again - currently on the off-again side of things. Harley's relationship with Joker is a difficult one to discuss as readers cannot ignore that the relationship is a seriously abusive one and one that perpetuates Harley's low self-esteem. Throughout the course of the comics and TV series, we have seen Joker hit, humiliate, shoot and try to kill Harley multiple times. Yet whenever the couple are together, there are moments where it seems as though Harley and Joker are happy as they can be together.
Also, when we consider the Harley from Azzarello's "Joker", readers are presented with an alternative view of the Joker/Harley relationship. The Harley in this comic does not speak, but provides a solid companion who supports Joker and works as his second-in-command. Whilst we are presented that this Harley is a drug-taking stripper, she also holds the Joker as he has a breakdown and backs him up with knives and guns during a meeting with the Riddler. An interesting re imagining of their relationship post "The Dark Knight."
Harley's relationship with Dr. Pamela Isley is perhaps the most emotionally balanced relationship in her life. After becoming cellmates in Arkham Asylum, Harley tells Ivy about the Joker and how he treats her. Ivy, having suffered a similar fate at the hands of another man (Dr. Jason Woodroe), becomes attached to Harley and plots with her to gain revenge. Although the plan fails, Ivy and Harley become constant companions. Ivy's hate for the Joker benefits Harley when she swears she's done with him and Ivy constantly battles Harley's low-self esteem.
Ivy has also made Harley immune to all poisons and venom's, during one storyline. From this, Harley also seems to have a faster healing metabolism.
There has been a lot of speculation, within the fanbase and the Bat-canon, of the actual nature of the relationship between Ivy and Harley. Whether this is purely conjecture or has some actual basis, their relationship has lasted longer than most others in the Bat-verse. Currently Ivy and Harley live with Catwoman in the "Gotham City Sirens" and currently are not perpetuating crimes...
Within the "Arkham Asylum" game, there are "reels" to be collected over the course of the game which feature interviews with the inmates. In the Harley Quinn reels, unlike the other villains, her interviews are from her preliminary interviews discussing with a supervisor why she wants to interview the Joker. Interestingly, most of this dialogue is taken from the "Mad Love" comic from Harleen's job interviews.
These interviews with Harley discuss the appeal of "super-villains" and the attractiveness of their actions, much like movie-stars.
Harley in the game is the one who, much like in Azzarello's "Joker", seems to perpetrate most of Joker's plan within the game to a certain point. She also released Ivy, who was not part of Joker's master plan, due to a hints at a friendship.
So What Is The Appeal of Harley?
I adore Harley and always have done since I was introduced to her in the "Batman: Animated Series." She provokes such a strong reaction to me because she appears to be a ditzy Queens criminal on the surface but she's so much more.
She's flighty in her affections to Batman (both hating and kissing him within episodes of the T.V series) but is fiercely loyal to both Poison Ivy and Joker. She even has a strong loyalty towards Catwoman, now that she's living with him and the original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker (who showed a kindness to her in Arhkam)
She's an intelligent and skilled woman, no matter how you look at her character; a trained psychiatrist and an exceptionally talented gymnast who gives up a promising career for a super-criminal. Constantly seeming to hover on the borders of split personality, sometimes she is concerned by her actions and other times she shrugs all these off. In the comics, she is a much darker and malicious character, killing off henchmen under Joker's orders, but she shows mercy in moving movements.
However, the thing that constantly brings me back to Harley is her esteem issues and the moments where she admits her own weaknesses when it comes to Joker. In one heartbreaking moment in the animated series, Harley stands up and sings an impromptu melody, "Say We're Sweethearts Again" . The song, which is from the musical "Meet The People", is about a lover who acknowledges the abuse of her by her lover but her love is stronger than that:
"It wouldn't have been so bad if you had told me
That someone had taken my place
But no, no you didn't even scold me
You just tried to disfigure my face
You'll never know how this heart of mine is breaking
It looks so hopeless but then
Life used to be so placid
Won't you please put down that acid
And say that we're sweethearts again?"
Who couldn't love a girl like that?