Though it’s projected to end its worldwide run with over $700 million, Suicide Squad has faced a lot of scathing criticism, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of only 26%. When it comes to the comic devotees, a lot of fan criticism has revolved around the movie’s interpretation of the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. Many fans accuse the movie of making the dynamic between the two villains seem too romantic for the sake of marketing, meanwhile downplaying the abusive connection between the characters that usually defines their relationship. The combination of the megalomaniacal, homicidal lunatic that is the Joker with the emotionally vulnerable, demented Harley Quinn isn’t often a pleasant sight to watch, but it’s one that registers with real world implications. Though not every bad boyfriend hides sticks of dynamite in his girlfriend’s roses, there are too many real couples that follow the same twisted, back-and-forth dynamic as these two killer clowns.
Now, this may or may not be fixed by the extended cuts, as reports say that the deleted scenes involve sequences of Jared Leto’s Joker trying to kill Harley, and Harley then casting him aside for her new teammates. Either way, what’s significant about Suicide Squad is that it marks the first time that this infamous relationship has ever appeared in cinemas, and it’s likely that we’re going to be seeing a lot of them in future years. The Joker and Harley Quinn are a match made in Hell, and here are 15 Moments That Define Their Relationship.
15. Gaslighting: The First Therapies
“Gaslighting” is a psychological term used to describe a form of mental abuse wherein the abuser leads his/her partner to doubt their own sanity, orientation, identity, and/or memory, thereby allowing them to manipulate the victim into a state of dependence. This means that the victim will come to doubt their own perception of the world, and be more likely to accept whatever interpretation is offered to them by the abuser. Harley Quinn — who despite the violent actions and manipulations perpetrated on her by the Joker, has continually run back to him over and over again — is a person whose mind has been thoroughly warped up by the Joker’s games, and it all begins in Arkham Asylum.
When Dr. Harleen Quinzel first meets the purple-suited sociopath, she does so as his psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. Harley is motivated to become a psychiatrist because of her desire to understand her abusive criminal father, and she’s immediately fascinatied by the Joker. Harley delves deeper into his psychology, and the Joker manipulates her into falling in love with him, telling her stories (whether true or false, but likely the latter) about his own abusive father and gaining her sympathy. Harley falls under the criminal’s spell, and she goes so far as to help him escape Arkham. Suspicion of Harley’s involvement immediately causes her license to be revoked, but by this point, she’s moved far beyond her original career goals, and wants nothing more than to unite herself with the man she’s decided is the love of her life. To this end, Dr. Quinzel recreates herself as “Harley Quinn,” the Joker’s partner.
14. The Chemical Dump
In the original version of the story, as told by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm in Mad Love, the gaslighting in Arkham is the sum total of Harley’s origin. Though the Joker manipulates her from the beginning, Harley’s dive into villainy is completely of her own initiative. She chooses to break the Joker out of Arkham, and she chooses to become Harley Quinn.
The New 52 reboot, on the other hand, adds a new wrinkle to her backstory. Here, the Joker brings Harley to Ace Chemicals, the factory where his Red Hood heist went bad all those years ago, and he then dumps Harley into the same chemicals that bleached his skin. This event is portrayed as the moment that Harley “snaps,” marking a significant change from her original origin. This updated backstory caused a lot of controversy among the fan base, since it removes Harley’s agency, taking away much of her responsibility for what she turns into.
Suicide Squad, in its depiction of this scene, finds a middle ground. While it does adapt the chemical dump, the movie allows Harley to make the decision to throw herself into the chemicals, instead of having her be pushed.
13. “Rev Up Your Harley”
One of the most referenced moments that define the nature of the Joker and Harley’s relationship also occurs in Mad Love. At the beginning of the episode of the Dark Knight’s animated series (and the one-shot comic that it adapted) the Joker has retreated to his hideout after a foiled attempt to kill Commissioner Gordon and is drafting up plans for his next scheme against Batman. Harley attempts to seduce him, climbing onto his desk in her lingerie and saying “Aw, c’mon puddin’… don’t ya wanna rev up your Harley? Vroom, vroom!,” and Joker responds to this by pushing her off the desk. When she continues trying to elicit her affections, he kicks her out of the hideout.
This moment shows a dynamic that’s really central to the Harley/Joker relationship: while Harley is very much in love with the Joker, the Joker is truly in love with Batman. Harley using cutesy humor in an effort to get the Joker to show her attention is a clear sign of the disparity in their affections — Joker would clearly rather think about Batman than have sex — and him pushing Harley off the desk is very much an act of domestic violence. It’s this painful, albeit sadly realistic, dynamic between the two of them that cuts to the core problems of their relationship.
12. The Joker Traps Harley in a Rocket
Of course, the Joker’s abuse of Harley Quinn extends far beyond pushing her off of desks, and he’s legitimately attempted to murder her on multiple occasions. On at least one occasion, he actually went so far as to trap her in a rocket and launch her away… but only because he cared so much. Really.
This event occurs when the Joker leaves Harley a note, telling her to meet her on the old rocket ride in an amusement park. When Harley boards the rocket, the door shuts behind her, and Joker pops up on a video screen. Harley is at first excited to see her boyfriend, particularly when he tells her through the screen that he’s recently noticed changes coming over him, remembering what it’s like to be in a couple, and how strange it is to have feelings for another person who also shares feelings for him. Unfortunately, Joker then follows this by remarking that he hates those feelings, as they distract him from his chaotic ambitions, so he’s decided to rid himself of Harley once and for all.
At this point, the rocket launches off into the sky. Luckily, Harley is able to figure out a way to control the rocket’s direction, and she crash lands in Robinson Park. She is found there by Poison Ivy, the plant-based villain who goes on to become Harley’s second most significant relationship.
11. Harley Joins Up with Poison Ivy
After hearing about the grim details of Harley’s relationship with the Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley become fast friends. Conducting their criminal operations together, trading stories, and forming a genuine human connection, the two of them form a tight friendship that has lasted to this day. Poison Ivy even injects Harley with a serum that grants her immunity to toxins, as well as enhanced speed and strength, hoping to give her friend an advantage against the Joker. Though Harley and Ivy have never officially been in a relationship, a romantic element to their friendship has been visible from the start.
Though Harley does return to the Joker, despite Ivy’s aggressive protests, what makes the relationship between her and Ivy significant is that it marks the first time Harley actively rebels from Joker, moving outside his shroud of influence. Ivy makes several attempts to get Harley to spurn the Joker, and while the poisonous supervillain has never quite replaced Mr. J in Harley’s heart, she’s nonetheless become Harley’s rock, and probably her strongest friendship.
10. Putting Joker’s Face on Deadshot
But Poison Ivy’s not the only one who’s stolen a bit of Harley’s affections from the Joker. There’s also Deadshot, the world’s deadliest marksman, played by Will Smith in Suicide Squad. Though both Deadshot and Harley have violently wounded each other on multiple occasions, there’s a clear attraction shared between the two of them, and their time together on Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad only cements that. They eventually end up having sex, though Deadshot claims that the attraction between them is only physical.
It’s hard to say what potential the romance between Harley and Deadshot has, since while Deadshot is more straightforward than the Joker, he’s pretty far away from being winning boyfriend material. Nonetheless, Harley’s demented obsession with the clown-faced murderer gets in the way of anything serious launching… particularly on that one occasion where she actually takes the Joker’s face, peeled skin and all, and puts it on Deadshot’s.
To understand this, it’s important to first explain that at this time, the Joker (well, this Joker anyway)has actually gone crazy enough to have the skin of his face removed, and is wearing the skin stapled to his head. When the Joker is presumed dead, his face is held at the Gotham City Police Department. Harley breaks in, and after kidnapping Deadshot, she ties him to a chair and puts the Joker’s face on him. She then begins talking to him as if he is the Joker, so consumed with her grief that she seems to actually believe that he is her seemingly-dead lover. As Harley talks to “the Joker,” trying to understand her grief over his seeming death, Deadshot plays along, until Harley climbs on top of him… at which point he shoots her in the gut and escapes.
9. A Bushel of Roses… Filled with TNT
Clearly, taking your old boyfriend’s skinned face and placing it over another man’s is the sign of an unhealthy obsession. However, despite Harley’s everlasting affections for him (or maybe because of it), the Joker has never ceased to prove Harley wrong time and again, routinely taunting her with murder attempts.
On one occasion, the Joker seems to reward Harley’s love by offering her a bushel of roses, a pretty normal romantic gesture that Harley is excited about. It’s only when she takes the roses that she quickly realizes that nestled inside them is a bundle of lit TNT, just moments away from going off. Harley is able to escape before the explosion kills her. She then rationalizes to herself that her boyfriend just has “commitment issues.”
8. The Joker Skins Monty Alive
Even though the Joker has attempted to kill Harley on numerous occasions, as well as having caused her both physical and psychological harm, it’d be a falsehood to say that he doesn’t care about her. The reality is far more complex. As the Joker himself says when he shoots her off in a rocket, he does care, and that’s exactly what bothers him. While it’s hard to say if he actually feels “love” for her, or if he’s merely protective of her in the way that one guards a favorite possession, what has been proven is that the clown-branded serial killer does not take well to seeing her used by others.
One of the more gruesome occasions wherein this behavior is displayed happens in Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s 2008 graphic novel Joker. Monty, the sleazy owner of a Gotham strip club, makes the mistake of hiring Harley Quinn as a stripper, and then looks a bit too fondly at her in front of the Joker. In response, the crazed maniac rips off all of Monty’s skin, and then throws his skinless body onto his own stage in front of the audience. While there are a lot of ways to get on the Joker’s bad side, looking too long at Harley Quinn may be the most dangerous one.
7. Joker Crying in Harley’s Lap
Though the Joker graphic novel does have a somewhat unconventional portrayal of Harley Quinn, it does contain one other moment which shows a part of their relationship that we don’t often see: the Joker’s softer side. While we all know that Harley is fiercely dependent on the Joker, for better or worse, what we don’t often see is that the Joker is, at times, just as dependent on Harley. As stated by Arleen Sorkin, the actress who provided Harley Quinn’s voice in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley is the only person who ever sees him cry.
In Joker, there is a brief but unique glimpse of this, when another character accidentally sees the Joker fallen on his knees before Harley, his head buried in her lap, his cheeks running with tears. Harley, meanwhile, stands before him calmly, a glass of wine in her hand. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability from the Clown Prince of Crime, revealing a side of him normally only exposed to Harley. The Joker may be a remorseless serial killer and a horrendous, abusive boyfriend, but he’s also a human being. Not that any of this is a good reason for Harley to have been so obsessed with him, but it does add another layer of complexity to their relationship.
6. Joker Transforms Harley Into a Constellation of Stars. Really.
Emperor Joker, a storyline that ran for nine issues in 2000, depicts what happens when the Joker becomes God. After stealing the reality-shaping abilities of Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk, Joker proceeds to reshape the entire universe in his image. This is obviously a horrifying prospect, and it leads to horrifying results. Between eating the entire country of China, and then killing and resurrecting Batman over and over again, the Joker’s world is not a world anyone wants to be in. Finally, Emperor Joker decides to go ahead and destroy the entire universe, murdering every being in existence.
Harley is hurt by this, in disbelief that he would actually kill her after everything she’s ever done for him. Joker kisses her, and then transforms her into a literal constellation of stars, giving her what he thinks of as “the best seat in the house” as he prepares to destroy everything. In the Joker’s mind, this is Harley’s grand reward, and he sees it as a sign of affection.
Thankfully, Superman saves the day, Joker’s god-like powers are taken away, and the universe is reversed back to what it was before the Joker took over, with no one but Superman having any memory of the events that transpired.
5. Joker Shows Harley the “Other Harleys”
One of the Joker’s most twisted moments of all is when he drags Harley into a cellar, chains her to the wall, and claims that he’s going to “lock her down here with the others.” After she’s locked in, and asks what “others” he’s talking about, he tells her that he means the other Harleys and lights a torch, revealing that the entire cellar is filled with dozens of skeletal corpses, many of them clad in Harley’s red and black colors. The Joker then claims that there’s been many Harleys before her, that there’ll be more Harleys after, and that she — like the others — will die down there, chained up, with no one ever knowing what happened to her.
Now obviously, this is a lie. We’ve seen enough of the Joker’s story to know that there’s only been one Harley Quinn. Regardless, the fact that the Joker is not only twisted enough to make her believe this, but also went to the effort of dragging in dozens of skeletons and dressing them in Harley costumes, speaks volumes about how depraved he really is.
4. Harley Compares She and Joker’s dynamic to Batman and Catwoman
Batman and Catwoman’s long running romance is one of the most famous in comics. Overall, she’s probably Batman’s most celebrated love interest to date, even more so than Talia. The epic Dark Knight trilogy even ends with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle running off together. But while this vigilante pairing might be a popular one, it’s not without its issues.
The series Gotham City Sirens depicts a conversation between Harley and Catwoman, wherein the parallels between these two emotionally distant men become more clear than Batman might like to admit. Catwoman describes her relationship with Batman, describing how even during the good times, even when he was there, he wasn’t really there: he was always planning his next move, always thinking about something else, never truly savoring the moment. As she says this, Harley becomes quiet, drawing the comparison to her relationship with the Joker. In some ways, Batman and the Joker have a closer relationship than either man has to his significant other.
3. The Joker and Harley Start a Family – By Brainwashing Robin
Though she came from non-villainous beginnings, Harley Quinn is no longer an innocent. She’s killed, maimed, and hurt many others in her attempts to gain the Joker’s affections. But while the two of them have never actually had in-continuity children together (though Harley’s certainly fantasized about it), the animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker shows both of them working together on one of the sickest plots they’ve ever concocted: kidnapping Tim Drake, AKA Robin, and transforming him into a mini-Joker.
After three weeks of torture and brainwashing from both the Joker and Harley, Tim is turned into the Joker, Jr., called J.J., for short, while Batman searches far and wide to find his missing partner. When he finally does, the Joker tries to get J.J. to shoot Batman. Instead, Tim shoots the Joker, impaling him on his own “BANG!” stick. Harley is seemingly killed during the battle, but she later turns up alive.
2. The Joker Gets Mad at Harley For Trying to Kill Batman
Despite the Joker’s affections for Harley, twisted as they may be, the madman truly has only one soul he is deeply in love with: Batman. Harley will never hold the same place in the Joker’s heart that Batman does, and there’s no one else he will ever have the same obsession for. Just as Harley desperately loves the Joker, the Joker desperately loves Batman, though just how sexual this love is really depends on the writer.
This disturbing dynamic is best defined, once again, in Mad Love. After being spurned yet again by her lover, Harley decides that the only way to get him to love her is if she manages to kill Batman. Harley succeeds in kidnapping the Dark Knight, and she’s getting ready to feed him to piranhas when she makes the mistake of calling Joker so that he can see her success — and thus see how much she loves him. Instead of being happy, the Joker is absolutely livid that Harley would try to kill Batman herself, interfering in his relationship with the Caped Crusader. He promptly throws her out the window.
Harley is found by the police and put away in Arkham. Though she claims that she’s finished with the Joker, she then receives a bundle of flowers with a “Get well soon” card, and her love is quickly resurrected.
1. Harley Beats Up the Joker
But while Mad Love may be the defining Harley/Joker story of all time, we’re going to close this list out with a moment so significant that it has to be mentioned: the time when Harley finally gives the Joker a taste of his own medicine.
In recent years, Harley has made a huge effort to cut her ties with the clown-faced sociopath. In Harley Quinn #25, she breaks into Arkham to free her new boyfriend Mason, and comes across the Joker’s cell. The Joker taunts her, dismissing Mason and claiming that they’re both meant to be together. Harley tries to tell the Joker that she’s moved on from him, and when he tries to kiss her, she bites off part of his lip. Their argument eventually turns into a brawl, and Harley proceeds to wipe the floor with him. After the Joker is left laying on the floor bleeding, he continues antagonizing Harley, and she points a gun at his face — only to realize, for the first time, that the reason Batman never killed him is because it would give the lunatic exactly what he wants. The Joker cackles at this, and Harley walks away.
What do you believe is the defining moment in Harley and the Joker’s relationship? Let us know in the comments.