WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman: White Knight #4
The mental illness at the heart of Harley Quinn and Joker's romance is finally taking the spotlight. The most infamous of DC Comics' villainous duos, the tale of Joker and Harley Quinn has gotten an update in Batman: White Knight. Told as a self-contained story where The Joker got cured as Jack Napier, his sidekick has quickly become the most hotly discussed character. Well, we should say sidekicks, since White Knight's biggest change to idea of Batman mythology is that Harley Quinn is actually two different women.
One of them brought rounds of applause with her return, the original Dr. Harleen Quinzel introduced in Batman: The Animated Series. But as she and Jack rekindle their relationship with newfound sanity and affection, things aren't going so well for the 'Suicide' Harley, the more modern version adapted to the Suicide Squad movie. She's reinvented herself as the Neo Joker of Gotham City, but now her origin story has been revealed.
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Her name is Marian Drews, and her story begins by shedding any romance around her mental illness and codependency on The Joker.
On the surface, Sean Murphy's White Knight is the story of what happens when Joker gets cured, and uses the law to bring down Batman (in this case, an arguable menace to Gotham's peace and prosperity). But as soon as the modern Harley saw the Joker she knew replaced by the sane Jack Napier, her own narrative has unfolded alongside Jack and Harley's plan. Her mission is to draw the "real" Joker back into the light, and to do it, she's taken the new identity of Neo Joker, blending her own signature style with that of the man she loves.
And anyone who said the sex-crazed, full-blown psychotic Harley of today's comics couldn't form an actual plan has been silenced. Harley-- rather, Marian Drews gets one step ahead of her lover's plan, and takes mental control of all of Gotham's criminals. Yet it isn't the carnage unleashed on the GCPD that seems most important, but what she confides in Mad Hatter, her only ally.
Simply put: how does a normal young woman end up in love with a homicidal maniac? And as promised by Murphy in the lead-up to her backstory, his intention in dividing the TWO Harleys is to give credit and respect to each. For Marian Drews, the mental imbalances and obsession shared between the two icons isn't romanticized one bit.
As Marian reveals, the second Harley Quinn was created when Joker robbed the same bank she was working in, highlighting her tendency of self-injury - cutting into her arm, and contemplating suicide. It was in this state that Joker put a gun to her head during the robbery, triggering her instinct to survive above all else. When Joker began calling her "Harley" as she helped him empty the bank of its wealth, she went along out of the same instincts (the "real" Harley having abandoned Joker by then due to his erratic behavior).
From the sound of Marian's account, it doesn't seem liker resemblance to the original Harley was even a factor in Joker's delusion. He was broken without her, and gave Marian her name and outfit to keep up his fantasy. Marian's suicidal thoughts and reliance on self-harm to cope, or feel.. something made Joker's unpredictability attractive. And when he showed her the kindness she clearly was not receiving elsewhere, the two were hooked. And unlike the other versions of this relationship seen in comics, TV, or movies, Marian knows she's a walking case of Stockholm Syndrome.
The first step in Harley Quinn finally getting help is admitting she has a problem, but... this version doesn't seem interested in kicking her addiction. How Murphy will build on this twist will be seen in the coming issues. But working self-injury, suicidal thoughts, Stockholm Syndrome, and Joker's own delusions into the story is a strong start.
Hopefully, Batman: White Knight will bring the story of these two Harleys to a satisfying conclusion (or one of them, at least).
Batman: White Knight #4 is available now.