Ever since she emerged on Batman: The Animated Series 25 years ago, Harley Quinn has been a character that stirs up trouble, plays pranks, and ruins the day of those who get in her way. She likes to see just how much trouble she can cause, but just because she enjoys causing a little mayhem doesn’t mean she always escapes unscathed.
Harley Quinn hasn’t exactly had a charmed life, you see. From a dysfunctional family life as a kid to seeing her boyfriend decide to commit suicide in college, her formative years were fraught with plenty of horrors. Deciding to become the sidekick to the Joker, and then a villain in her own right, before turning over a new leaf as a hero of sorts, meant she wound up in plenty of sticky situations as well.
Many comic book fans might be ready to pin all the blame for the bad things that happened to Harley on the Joker (and he's responsible for a lot), but in fact, the Clown Princess of Crime managed to get herself into all kinds of mischief without his (un)helpful prodding. Whether a result of striking out on her own, trusting the wrong people, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Harley Quinn has had some pretty rotten luck.
We’ve collected some of the most despicable events in the antihero’s 25 years in comics, with 16 Worst Things That Ever Happened To Harley Quinn.
16 Betrayed By Catwoman
During the famed Gotham City Sirens run, it was Catwoman who had suggested Harley and Ivy move in with her. It was Catwoman who saved their lives on more than one occasion, and it was ultimately Catwoman who betrayed the two, leaving them behind in Arkham Asylum after aligning with Batman.
Harley had actually left her two roommates behind, ready to execute her own plan of killing the Joker to make him pay for the way he treated her. Instead, she found herself breaking him out of Arkham and helping lead a revolt. Catwoman helped Batman catch the two of them, but she also left Ivy to be caught by authorities, putting the friendship the three had built into a precarious position.
Since then, the three have worked together on occasion, but the level of trust isn’t the same.
15 Tortured By Amanda Waller
After finally being caught and sentenced for her laundry list of crimes, Harley found herself on death row in Belle Reve. As any comic book fan knows though, Belle Reve houses the secret Suicide Squad team, and getting on Amanda Waller’s Task Force X is no joke.
Harley, as well as several other villains, were captured in their prison cells before being restrained and tortured for information. In Harley’s case, she was repeatedly electrocuted thanks to some alligator clamps and a car battery.
Electricity Harley could handle, but Amanda Waller sent the group on a mock mission as well, which ended with them being captured and tortured for even more information to prove their loyalty to the team. Harley and five other villains were the only ones out of Amanda Waller’s 37 candidates to withstand the torture to create the new Suicide Squad.
14 Batman Drained Her Blood
In the alt. universe animated web series Justice League: Gods and Monsters, Harley Quinn went by the name that gave inspiration to the character: Harlequin. She was also taken down by Batman in a particularly brutal way.
When the Bat set out to stop Harlequin from her crimes, he was attacked at her hideout. He defeated her after she was injured by her own chainsaw, but rather than turn her in to the authorities, the Dark Knight did what any vampire would do (oh yeah, this take on Batman is an actual vampire) and drained her blood, leaving her for dead. What makes this so brutal is that after her initial injury, Harlequin surrendered and agreed to be put in jail.
Of course, in this animated universe, Harley was a serial killer who abducted people to try and create a perfect family for herself, so maybe she got what was coming to her?
13 Shot By Deadshot
Early in her tenure with the Suicide Squad, Harley discovered a particularly alarming piece of news: the Joker had been killed and his face was locked in Gotham Police Department’s evidence locker. She betrayed the Squad to see for herself, leading to one of her worst injuries ever.
Once she got her hands on the Joker’s face (yes, just his face), she lost touch with reality for a while and placed the skin of his face over Deadshot’s, whom she held captive. She treated the beleaguered expert marksman as if he were the Joker, railing against him for all the bad things he’d put her through. Deadshot played along long enough to lure her closer and get his hands on a gun, shooting her right through the abdomen.
The injury was one of the most severe Harley had seen, and it almost cost her a spot on the Squad.
12 Abandoned On The Eiffel Tower
During a story arc in Harley Quinn’s solo series, she met Power Girl, who had literally crash landed from another universe. Power Girl, suffering from amnesia, stayed with Harley, thinking the two were a superhero team.
Harley contributed to the charade, trying to do good deeds while they were teamed up, until Power Girl got her memories back. Throughout the arc, Harley exhibited an obvious attraction to the other woman, and when the two were in France, she attempted to act on it. Unfortunately for her, it was after Power Girl’s amnesia was gone, and instead of talking things out with her temporary partner, the hero abandoned Harley on the top of the Eiffel Tower.
In the long line of horrible things that happened to Harley, this certainly isn’t the worst of the worst, but it does add to the pattern of fixating on people who ultimately don't want her.
11 Slit Her Own Wrists
Harley Quinn might have her own special brand of crazy, but she rarely wants to die. She’d prefer to be involved in the chaos rather than end it all, which is why slicing her wrists open wasn’t a suicide attempt, but an escape plan.
After facing off against the former love of her life, the Joker, in issue 15 of the Suicide Squad’s New 52 series, Harley was left in shackles, and abandoned by the man she had been so sure she loved. While all of the events leading up to that were pretty horrific on their own, in order to escape and return to the Suicide Squad - a group she wasn’t always sure she wanted to be a part of - she had to repeatedly scrape and cut her wrists to slip out of her bonds.
After having to endure all of that, she managed to make it back to Belle Reve on her own, despite her blood loss.
10 Family Gatherings
Comic book readers haven’t seen much of Harley’s family before she became involved with the Joker, but every so often, mentions of her parents (or even her parents themselves) pop up on the page. Most recently, her mother and father popped in for a surprise visit in her solo series, but the Gotham City Sirens run revealed a little more about them.
Harley decided to go home for the holidays to visit her family, but she cut the visit short, returning to spend time with roommates Catwoman and Poison Ivy instead, calling the time with her family “horrible.”
It’s revealed that her brother has been spending his time trying to become a rock star while her mother criticizes her choice of lifestyle - whether she’s acting as the villain or the hero. During the same run, it also turned out her father was spending time in jail because he was a con man.
Harley cited the family dysfunction as the trigger for her interest in psychology.
9 Two-Face And Riddler's Punishment
As a woman trying to make a name for herself apart from the Joker, Harley made a few bold choices that got her into trouble. One of those was stealing from fellow villains Riddler and Two-Face.
Not only was Harley caught trying to make off with their loot, but the villains decided to punish her for moving against them. They tied her up, gagged her, and locked her in a closet, which is where Poison Ivy found her some time later.
While not one of the physically worst moments in her life, it was certainly a blow to her ego. After all, Harley had run with (in her mind) the best villain in Gotham. The likes of the Riddler shouldn’t be able to get the better of her so easily.
8 Had A Bounty On Her Head
In the second volume of Harley Quinn’s solo series, she found her adventures constantly plagued by the same problem: assassins that were sent to kill her.
Harley was intent on striking out on her own and making a name for herself as something other than a villain. She was busy rescuing animals, looking for a job, and hanging out with Poison Ivy. Her attempt at going good was threatened on more than one occasion by a bounty placed on her head, and she found herself fending off numerous villains with the help of Ivy.
As it turned out, Harley only had herself to blame for this period of stressful living, though: she’d placed the bounty on her own head while talking in her sleep!
7 Turned Into A Mutant Hyena
When Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, things get interesting to say the least. One miniseries found the peculiar team-up in Gotham following Shredder (who had teamed up with Ra’s Al Ghul), and Harley is one of the villains caught in the crossfire.
Harley, along with several other villains confined to Arkham Asylum, found themselves used as pawns by Shredder, and he ended up mutating them all into different animals. Harley, thanks to her connection to clowning around, ended up as a hyena. That isn’t the worst of it, though, as she was also knocked out during the big fight - and readers never find out what happened to her!
To be fair, things could have gone even worse for Harley in this particular crossover. Poison Ivy found herself mutated into a giant praying mantis!
6 Subjected To The Joker Wave
Batman ‘66 takes comic book readers back to the campiness of the television series that aired in the 1960s - but with plenty of new additions. One of those is the psychologist Holly Quinn, this area of the universe’s Harley Quinn.
In this particular series, she isn’t a criminal sidekick, but instead one of the doctors treating the Joker, though she’s manipulated by Catwoman into helping her patient with a device that turns all of Gotham insane. Rather than seek outside help to fix the problem, Dr. Quinn saves the rest of Gotham by subjecting herself to the “Joker Wave.”
The Joker Wave causes her to lose her own sanity, and she becomes a supervillain in her own right, going up against Batman and Robin and auditioning her own henchmen. Eventually, the two catch her and she becomes a patient at the Arkham Institute for the Criminally Insane.
5 Witnessed Her Boyfriend’s Suicide
The '90s version of Harley Quinn was a psychology student at Gotham University, and issue #8 of her solo series revealed that she planned to perform a psychological experiment on her own boyfriend at the time. Her professor, seeing the kind of strain it would place on her relationship, decided to provide a countermeasure.
The countermeasure was spiking his drink with Joker Venom. It backfired, causing her boyfriend to lose touch with reality, and during the course of the experiment - which involved Harley leading him to believe she’d killed their teacher - he decided to kill himself, leaving a mark on Harley and causing her to “do anything” for an Arkham Asylum internship.
What’s not made clear is whether it was really her boyfriend or Harley that pulled the trigger, since on-panel, he asked her to do it, but the death occurred off-panel.
4 Killed By Owlman
The Earth-3 version of Harley Quinn wasn’t the same villain that fans have come to know and love. Instead, she was a talent manager, but her one and only comic book appearance in this universe saw her meet a messy end.
This version of Harley didn’t have any gymnastic abilities and wasn’t particularly fond of mallets. Instead, she wore a business suit, and her biggest client was a comedian named Jackie AKA Jokester. Jokester focused much of his routine on Owlman, whom he witnessed murdering the owner of the club where he performed.
The villain didn’t exactly take kindly to that, and Harley was murdered in an act of revenge as she got into her car, not allowing readers to get to know her very well.
3 Dropped From The Arrowverse
Other than the oft-forgotten Birds of Prey Series that ran for a single season on the WB, Harley Quinn hadn’t been a featured player in live action until 2016’s Suicide Squad made it to the big screen. That doesn’t mean there weren’t plans for her before that, however.
Arrow introduced its own version of the Suicide Squad before the movie’s development began making waves, and Harley even had a cameo, though she was unnamed, in a prison cell. Rumor has it that she was set to be a big player in future storylines, but according to actress Willa Holland, the big screen version of Suicide Squad getting the greenlight meant the show was no longer allowed to use the character.
The same might have been true for Gotham. Prior to the series' third season, both producers and stars said that Harley would be coming by the end of season three, but she never appeared. Now, there are no plans to include the character at all.
2 DC’s 2013 Art Contest
In 2013, DC Comics launched a contest they thought would draw new interest to Harley Quinn. They asked fans and artists alike to compete for covers of a comic book series by submitting their artwork. The catch? The artwork had to involve Harley committing suicide.
The contest, though it did get plenty of submissions, also drew a lot of ire from the comic book community. It prompted journalists to criticize the publisher thanks to a scenario that asked for Harley Quinn in a bathtub, resigned to her own death.
It wasn’t just the idea of Harley being naked and vulnerable on a comic book cover that made people angry though, it was also the timing of the contest. It ran just ahead of National Suicide Prevention Week, making DC seem particularly tone deaf.
1 Working At Arkham
Though Harleen Quinzel had a tumultuous go of things before working at Arkham Asylum, it was there that her life really started to go downhill. Her job triggered the chain of events that would lead to most of her other worst moments.
It was at Arkham that she met the Joker, though just how much she knew about him varies depending on the version of her origin story used. In some, she was simply a doctor who fell in love after being manipulated by him. In others, she went undercover as a patient and found a kindred spirit. In still other storylines, she was fascinated by the Joker before she ever made it to Arkham, even faking credentials to get inside.
Regardless, it’s her being swept up by the insanity that turns Harleen Quinzel into Harley Quinn. That path eventually leads her to fun moments like forming her gang of Harleys, or love with Poison Ivy, but it also opens the door to a relationship with a man who continually abused her and turned her into a supervillain, ruining any chance she ever had at a normal life.
Did we hit the worst of the worst in Harley Quinn's life? Or did we leave out a few big moments? Let us know in the comments!