In the early 1990s, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were instrumental in the creation of Batman: The Animated Series, one of DC’s highest profile animated series of all time. The show aired for three years, turning out 85 episodes and earning four Emmy Awards during that time. It even spawned a theatrical animated feature titled Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Not only did it generate one of the greatest animated superhero films of all time, but Batman: The Animated Series is also responsible for the creation of one of DC’s most popular characters: Harley Quinn. The character was created by Dini, inspired by actress Arleen Sorkin (who would go on to voice the character in a number of projects) in an episode of Days of Our Lives. He worked with Timm to develop the character, originally planning to only feature her in a single episode. However, the character resonated and proved her staying power, appearing in several episodes of the series and being incorporated into the DC’s comics continuity.
Harley Quinn’s look has gone through a number of changes over the years, evolving from a distinctive black and red harlequin costume to the completely overhauled leather-clad appearance in Batman: Arkham City. The most recent take on the costume will be seen in the upcoming Suicide Squad film, a punk rock-inspired look that has proven a bit divisive among fans, but impressed co-creator Bruce Timm.
Speaking on the podcast Shanlian on Batman, Paul Dini shared his own thoughts on the characters’ updated appearance. He starts by describing the Suicide Squad movie as having “a real-world look,” juxtaposing the designs with Burton’s hyperreality take on Gotham City. He then goes on to describe The Joker and Harley Quinn and how they fit in that world.
“Jared Leto’s version of [The Joker] is almost like a decadent rockstar… There’s a little bit of Sid and Nancy to the Joker and Harley, which I always felt would not be a bad look if they were in a live-action movie. If you made the movie all fantasy, yes the animated look works well. But, if you put it in that realistic world, I feel like they would look like down-and out-rockers. They would look dangerous.”
Dini goes on to address fans who hoped to see Harley’s classic costume in the film.
“I know it’s jarring to a lot of the people who love the classic Bruce Timm suit. I love it myself. But in that world, I just don’t see it happening. It’s a rougher, more street look. I think it works fine.”
Finally, he shares his opinion on Margot Robbie being cast in the role of Harley, admitting that though he created the character, he has no stake in her portrayal on screen.
“I think Margot is very nice. She’s a wonderful actress, certainly very attractive and very talented. I’m very excited to see that interpretation of Harley. That’s the thing about the character. Yeah I created her, but on the other hand I know that she’s other people’s toys and I can’t get too possessive over that.”
It seems that Dini and Timm are in agreement about Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad, with both legendary creators behind the interpretation at least in terms of her new look. However, the most important aspect of the character will be her personality and how she plays off of the surrounding cast, as Timm has stated in the past that Harley has to be funny for the character to work. The first Suicide Squad trailer featured Harley being as strange and energetic as one might hope for; how much comedy will play into the role, though, is another matter.
With a little under a year until Suicide Squad premieres, though, there’s still plenty to learn about Robbie’s Harley Quinn and her role in the greater DC Extended Universe. With a rich history to draw on in comics and animation, Harley Quinn has the potential to steal the show once again as she did 23 years ago in Batman: The Animated Series.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman – June 23rd, 2017; Justice League – November 17th, 2017; The Flash – March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman – July 27th, 2018; Shazam – April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 – June 14th, 2019; Cyborg – April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern – June 19th, 2020.