NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Suicide Squad #4
The grass has never been greener for Harley Quinn, the DC Comics superstar who was once - believe it or not - limited to the role of 'the Joker's girlfriend.' It didn't take long for her to amass just as many passionate fans, culminating in the character's leap to the big screen in David Ayer's Suicide Squad. The film didn't please everyone, nor did Margot Robbie's take on Harley Quinn (we would expect nothing less). But one question seems as relevant as ever. She's crazy, sure - but is Harley Quinn a villain, or a misunderstood hero?
Her solo comic book series makes a lengthy case for the former, as Harley is guaranteed to protect her friends and family. After playing a supporting role in the pages of "Suicide Squad: Rebirth" Harley finally gets the chance to go on a mission of her own. After a surprise appearance from The Joker, her "Rebirth" team-up title also doubles down on the goodness of the gangster: Harley Quinn is no villain, but a hero... in a supremely unorthodox way.
That reveal comes in the latest back-up story in Issue #4, shedding light on Harley's official addition to the new Suicide Squad operated under Rick Flag. Previous issues had gone even farther back in time, detailing Boomerang's career as a super-spy, and Katana's origin story prior to their joining the Squad. Now it's Harley's turn, with Flag taking her on a mission to test her loyalties in a story by writer Rob Williams and artist Gary Frank titled "Full Mental Jacket".
The real problem with Harley, in the eyes of consummate military man Flag, is that her predilection for absolute chaos means she's even less predictable, reliable, or trustworthy than the likes of Deadpool, Killer Croc, or even Boomerang. Take her on a mission that hits close to her heart, and see if she flips on Flag and his men. If she doesn't, then perhaps a career with the Squad is possible. If she does, well... it will be the last anyone sees of her for a long time.
The answer, then, is fairly obvious: put her in the path of the Joker. Or, his products, at least. On the surface the mission is a simple one, sending Flag, Harley, and a handful of soldiers in search of a stockpile of Joker's infamous Joker Toxin (the gas that sends anyone subjected to it into fits of laughter and homicidal rage - anyone but Harley, that is). As proof that audiences are now willing to accept that The Joker's levels of insanity can turn absolutely any scenario into a grotesque, Saw-like game of torture, Flag and Harley stumble upon a truly disturbing set-up.
They find the toxin, but it's not alone: it's placed inside a circle of chainsaws, just waiting to be handled. You can do the math on this one.
The words of warning (Harley? Warning?) are barely out of her mouth before Harley and the squad are smothered in Joker Toxin, leading to the exact kind of insanity you would expect. The added twist, though, is the arrival of Joker himself - in the form of a hallucination Harley is completely aware is a figment of her own mind. Unsurprisingly, Joker plays the part of Harley's villainous temptations, advising her not to fight the affected but command them to do her bidding. But that's what the OLD Harley would have done.
The new Harley puts the men down, avoiding their chainsaws and, wherever possible, delivering unnecessary harm (citing the fact that they were turned into these monsters against their will - a charitable, heroic note that makes Joker sick to his stomach). But the true moment of truth comes when a gunman gets the drop on Quinn, and Rick Flag leaps in to take the bullet in her place. He may be writhing in transformation into a hysterical mess, but she's still "part of my squad." Knowing that the mind-warped men will keep trying to kill her, Flag gives Harley a direct order: run.
We won't spoil what she does do, but hightailing it out of danger is most definitely not it. Joker's temptations fall on deaf ears, and Harley guarantees that she and Flag make it out alive (obvious, since they're both alive and kicking in the current series). Flag may be none the wiser, but the readers know the truth: when faced with playing the hero or thinking only of herself, Harley Quinn made the hero's choice. Who knows what heights she may reach in this "Rebirth" era?
Suicide Squad #4 is available now.