Although there are many DC heroines worth looking up to, the one that often manages to outsell them all is Harleen Francis Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn. This seems counterintuitive, but consider this: Wonder Woman may be the pinnacle of truth, justice and feminism, but relatable she is not. Harley Quinn, on the other hand, a former mental health professional turned psych ward patient is just that. Is she homicidal? Yes. Amoral? Check. Mentally unstable? Most definitely. She also found her way into an abusive relationship that she was powerless to free herself from. But her imperfections are what make her so beloved.
As strange as it seems, one of the most well-known and beloved DC characters was initially meant to have nothing more than a walk on role in Batman: The Animated Series. Paul Dini created Harley Quinn, after college friend and soap star Arleen Sorkin’s performance on Days of Our Lives inadvertently inspired him – she would later voice the character. Bruce Timm designed her iconic look. She was never meant to last past that initial appearance. However, once Dini and Timm saw their creation animated, they knew this was a character worth developing further.
To say that in the twenty-five years since her inception, Harley Quinn has gone through some changes would be a massive understatement. She has grown and even developed her own identity beyond her relationship with Joker.
Here is Every Adaptation Of Harley Quinn, Ranked Worst To Best.
19 Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011)
Voiced by Megan Strange, this interpretation of the character didn’t have much opportunity for growth, considering she appeared in only a single episode. Her look was certainly different from the Harley Quinn we’re all familiar with.
Theatrical as always, the Joker’s henchmen paid homage to the roaring ‘20s during their robbery of the Museum of Comedy. The Clown Prince of Crime acquired the powers of Bat-Mite and attempted to console the imp by creating a Joker-Mite to antagonize him. Harley, who was dressed as a flapper, teamed up with Bat-Mite to defeat Joker-Mite, who wound up turning against his creator.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold took an interesting approach by keeping Harley out of any version of her original costume. Although she looked different, her personality was consistent with the Harley that we all know and love. It’s a shame that one appearance is all we got.
18 Birds of Prey (2002-2003)
While some remember Birds of Prey fondly, many recall this very loose adaptation as being little more than a mess. The premise was this: Batman had abandoned Gotham City and the daughter that he had with Catwoman, aka Huntress, fought in his stead. At her side were Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, and Dinah Redmond, a nearly unrecognizable version of Black Canary. Rounding out the cast were Detective Reese, Alfred Pennyworth, and Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Mia Sara, a beloved ‘80s actress who starred in films such as Legend and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, played this incarnation of Harley. By day, Dr. Quinzel was a respected psychiatrist who happened to be treating Helena. However, her true agenda was seeking vengeance on behalf of Mr. J. as Harley Quinn.
The series was a bit of a train wreck, deviating so far from the source material that it was basically its own entity. However, it was refreshing to see a series not only centering on female heroes, but also showcasing a female villain.
17 The Batman (2004-2008)
The Batman was always a divisive show. From the beginning, the series did its best to differentiate itself from the incomparable Batman: The Animated Series, with varying results. The show was more cartoonish and its characters lacked much of the depth of those in its predecessor. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two, but comparisons are unavoidable. In large part, The Batman was guilty of trying too hard: to be cool, to be different, to be The Animated Series for a new generation.
Voiced by Hynden Walch, this iteration of Harley was actually the host of a psychology TV show . Losing that job due to her unpredictable behavior was what led her into the Joker’s waiting arms. There are few versions of the Joker that don’t paint him as a sort of predator, so as usual, he preyed on Harleen’s insecurities. He convinced her that the best outlet for her rage was to rain destruction down upon Gotham.
16 Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles (2015)
This web series consisted of three shorts that ran the month before Justice League: Gods and Monsters was released. Each focused on one of the main heroes of the film, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The first episode followed the Caped Crusader and the villain of the piece was Harlequin, voiced by Tara Strong.
Harlequin was a serial killer who did more than just murder her victims. She liked to taxidermy them, creating her own makeshift family. Of course, Batman could not let this stand. He walked in on a truly horrifying scene, full of dismembered corpses. Initially, it seemed as though Harlequin had the upper hand. However, not even a chainsaw was enough to keep Bats at bay.
Unfortunately for Harlequin, this incarnation of Batman had no interest in carting her off to prison. The last thing she saw before she died was his vampire fangs sinking into her throat.
15 DC Superhero Girls (2015-)
In this series, all of our favorite heroes are in high school together, facing perhaps the most terrifying foe of all: adolescence. Voiced once again by Tara Strong, this is certainly a version of Harley Quinn unlike any other. She’s a fun-loving teenager hanging out with her pals, who happen to be young superheroes. Harley is the class clown, sometimes going too far to get laughs. She’s also roomies with Wonder Woman.
Is this series incredibly toy driven? Absolutely, but so was Jem and the Holograms, and that show not only had a strong feminist message, but also some pretty awesome songs. No doubt, Harley – usually a villain – was added to this roster due to her immense popularity, but it works. It gives insight into the person Harley could’ve become had she made different choices and never taken up with a certain green-haired lunatic.
14 DC Universe Online (2011)
One of the best things about this version of Harley Quinn is that Arleen Sorkin reprised her role from Batman: The Animated Series. There have been plenty of great actors who lent their vocal talents to the character in her various incarnations, but no one will ever embody Harley quite like the very woman who inspired her. Fans get excited every time Sorkin is onboard.
DC Universe Online players were able to create an original character and had the ability to choose whether they wanted to be a hero or a villain. Harley was, of course, playing for the bad guys - as loyal to her puddin’ as ever. The character looked great; although she has sported several costume changes over the years, her original look is classic.
13 Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
This is the Suicide Squad movie that most fans were hoping for. It was technically a Batman film, but focused much more heavily on the rogues. Set in the same universe as the Batman: Arkham game series, this direct-to-video feature sees Amanda Waller tasking the Suicide Squad with breaking into the asylum in order to retrieve top-secret information. Not much thought really went into the plot, as most of the draw here was the over the top action sequences and the dynamics between characters.
Hynden Walch reprised her role as Harley, although this one was very different from the one she voiced on The Batman. This version of the character was gleefully violent, and seemingly ready to cut ties with her precious Mr. J for good. She even attempted to shoot him, but the very walls that imprisoned the Joker also served as his protection from Harley’s gunfire.
12 Lego Batman Series/Batman Lego Movie (2008-2014/2017)
Before Harley appeared in the delightful LEGO Batman Movie, she had already made her LEGO debut nearly a decade earlier in the video game series. Her origin is basically the same and several different people have voiced her: Grey DeLisle, Laura Bailey, and Tara Strong in LEGO Batman 1, 2, and 3, respectively. In the 2017 film, it was actress Jenny Slate who brought the character to life.
Harley’s LEGO incarnation has gone through more than one costume change. The movie version looks to be a combination of her outfits from the DCAU, the DCEU, and the New 52. This is a nice touch, as it pays homage to the character’s outfits through the years. As always, Harley is forever loyal to her puddin’ and as usual, Joker takes this blind devotion completely for granted. Unfortunately for her, the guy only has eyes for Batman.
11 Elseworlds (1998-)
Elseworlds is a DC imprint which publishes stories that are not canon. It was here that Harley Quinn made her comic debut. Appearing in Thrillkiller ’62, this version of the character went by Hayley Fitzpatrick. While her look could’ve used some more work, one aspect of the story that was interesting was her relationship with Joker. In this continuity, Joker was a woman named Bianca Steeplechase. Although Harley’s bisexuality has since been explored further, the idea was introduced into comics in 1998.
That’s not the only cool alternate version of Harley, though. In Elseworlds: 80 Page Giant, “Rocumentary” told a story about a record producer named Lex Luthor. Although they appeared for but a single glorious panel, one of his acts was an “alternative lifestyle” folk duo who were quite obviously Harley and Ivy. Unfortunately, this comic was withdrawn and pulped after a mere 2000 copies were distributed in the UK.
10 Batman: The Telltale Series (2016-)
The second season of this episodic game began earlier in 2017, with its third installment out this month. Laura Post portrays this version of Harley. As always, she is a former psychiatrist from Arkham, but her backstory is quite different. It wasn’t falling in love with the Joker that turned her to a life of crime. This Harley makes decisions for her own reasons - not that they are necessarily good ones.
Aside from the change to Harley’s history, the dynamic between her and the man soon to become the Joker is completely reversed. She treats him like a stooge, talking down to him and basically treating him the way that he treats Harley in every other iteration of their relationship. She doesn’t even take orders from Bane. What she does do is take control of her own destiny in a way that Harley rarely has.
9 Batman: Arkham Series (2009-2016)
This series not only turned Harley Quinn into more of a household name than before, but also changed her look forever. The only other outfit Harley had been seen sporting over the years was the red nightie from “Mad Love.” For better or worse, the Arkham games changed all of that and DC has been consistently ramping up the character’s sexuality ever since. Still, the games altered more than her look - painting an even darker picture of both Harley and her relationship with Joker.
The first game took its cues from BTAS, with Paul Dini as the story’s architect and Arleen Sorkin returning to voice Harley, though she was replaced by Tara Strong in subsequent games . However, while Harley’s redesign undoubtedly made her more popular with a certain demographic, it also triggered an outcry from long-term fans of the character.
Although many felt that it was not true to her origins, this redesign has obviously inspired Harley’s modern look more than her classic black and red ensemble.
8 Harley Quinn Ongoing (2000-2004)
Although this run was a mixed bag, it was Harley’s first solo series and it featured gorgeous art by Terry Dodson. Unfortunately, although it ran for thirty-eight issues before its cancelation, the book was kind of a bomb. The issue was most likely a combination of things.
First of all, a huge aspect of Harley’s character was obviously her relationship with Joker. There is a world of difference between the comic Joker and his BTAS counterpart. While they are both undeniably bad guys, comic book Joker is a far scarier, far darker, far more murderous animal. Having him remain Harley’s love interest while trying to keep the essence of her character intact wasn’t easy. Unfortunately, he was also kind of a large part of Harley’s identity, so doing away with him altogether was basically out of the question.
7 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Most of the Harley Quinn that we see in this film is the classic Batman: The Animated Series version of the character and as such, wouldn’t really warrant a separate entry on this list. However, that flashback sequence isn’t the only appearance that she makes in the movie. Harley also has a cameo at the end.
You probably wouldn’t recognize the woman who bails Dee Dee out of jail had they not called her Nana Harley. The coolest thing about this brief glimpse into Harleen’s future is that she finally left Joker behind – sure, he had to die first, but still. Not only has Nana Harley long since moved on, but she also attempted to raise her granddaughters to learn from her mistakes. Unfortunately, that effort seems to have been in vain.
6 DC New 52/Rebirth (2011-)
This version of Harley might be higher on the list if not for the fact that she was portrayed so differently from one book to another – probably because it was an intentional shift in direction after fans were less than receptive her initial relaunch. The violent psychopath in Suicide Squad is difficult to reconcile with the lovable maniac in Harley Quinn who joined a roller derby team and rescues stray animals.
The New 52 also changed Harleen’s origin and in doing so, took away some of the character’s agency in the creation of her alter ego. Yes, Harley has always made every effort to please her puddin’, but her initial choice to become a villain wasn’t decided for her when she was dumped into a vat of chemicals. It was a decision that she made because she fell in love. Toxic though it may have been, the choice was still hers.
Still, Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti did an excellent job of giving Harleen her own life in Harley Quinn, with a slick redesign by Chad Hardin. For the first time in a long time, her actions were not all contingent on the whims of the Joker.
5 Suicide Squad (2016)
We all know that Suicide Squad was a disappointment in just about every imaginable way, save one: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. While the movie around her fizzled into a predictable mess, she crackled with an unrivalled intensity. The way Robbie brought Harley to life was far more impressive than what most fans had anticipated.
Robbie kept Harley’s essence intact, imbuing her with all the sexuality, mania, and even pathos that we’ve come to expect from the character. She also put her own spin on it, understanding the changes necessitated by a live-action adaptation.
If she was able to bring that much to such a terrible film, it’s almost heartbreaking to imagine what she could’ve done with a great or even mediocre one. Hopefully, we’ll find out when she dons the fishnets once again.
4 Injustice Series (2013-)
Most of the best post-BTAS Harley Quinn stories have a more redemptive arc for the character, but none of the games have done this as eloquently as the Injustice series. It has often been established that in the Joker’s absence, Harley doesn’t necessarily make bad choices. She has become a sort of antihero. However, Injustice: Gods Among Us and Injustice 2 take this idea one step further and just make Harley Quinn a straight-up hero.
The Joker’s death set her free. It was the realization that he never truly loved her back that enabled her to move forward. She teamed up with Batman, Black Canary, and Green Arrow in an effort to defeat Superman. Harley eventually even found a spot on the Justice League!
This story makes Harley Quinn an icon for trauma survivors, no longer simply painting her as a victim, and proving that she had the strength within her all along. She just needed to find it.
3 DC Bombshells (2015)
Next to her classic design, Bombshells is by far the best costume that Harley Quinn has ever had. As for her story? In this alternate universe, the titular bombshells team up to fight Nazis during WWII. As if that wasn’t already awesome enough, Harleen and Pamela Isley, aka Poison Ivy, are actually together. That’s right, the romantic relationship only hinted at for years is finally a real thing.
The saddest part of Harley’s on-again/off-again affair with Joker is how many people have come to view their toxic relationship as romantic. However, the romance Ivy and Harley is actually worthy of admiration. Ivy has always been there for Harley, supporting herand attempting to help her see that she deserves better than Joker.
One of the reasons that Harley Quinn resonates so much with fans is her complexity. She may be fictional, but she's found herself in a situation that countless real women have also been trapped in. Harley and Ivy not only add more LGBT representation to DC Comics, but also symbolize that there is hope after surviving an abusive relationship.
2 Gotham City Sirens (2009-2011)
While many excellent writers have tackled Harley Quinn over the years, there is still no one capable of writing her as well as the man responsible for her creation. Paul Dini wrote the twenty-six-issue run and although several wonderful artists drew it, it was Guillem March who co-created the series. The premise is this: Catwoman nearly dies at the hands of the villainous Hush and after Zatanna heals her, she steals his money and redistributes it amongst Gotham’s female criminals.
This team-up of Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy is different than the Harley comics that preceded it. Harley certainly isn’t a hero, but she isn’t Joker’s punching bag either. The entire series was excellent, right up until its cancelation – to make way for the launch of DC's New 52. It’s probably Harley’s best comic run in regular continuity. We’ll just have to wait and see if the upcoming film does it justice.
1 Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Of course, no iteration of Harley Quinn is ever going to top the original. Aside from Elseworlds, all of her early comic adventures were basically a continuation of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s original concept of the character. She may have come a long way over the years, but for pretty much all Harley fans, Batman: The Animated Series is the definitive version. It also yielded one of the best comic stories to ever feature her, “Mad Love”.
Despite her many costume changes, Timm’s original jester design remains the most iconic. Her dialogue never sounds contrived when Dini is behind it; Harley’s creators best understand her. They built her into a favorite among Batman’s entire cast of characters – which is saying something, considering she was such a late addition to the party. Her popularity was also, in no small part, due to Arleen Sorkin's voice acting.
Ever since her introduction in “Joker’s Favor”, viewers fell for the madcap, gleefully off-kilter, but undeniably lovable Harley Quinn. This adoration has only grown over time, but no matter what incarnation of her appears next, it’s safe to say that the first Harley will always be the best.
What's your favorite version of Harley Quinn? Let us know in the comments!
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