The mainstream comic crowd may finally be realizing just how much franchise potential Harley Quinn really carries, but comic readers have known for years. Not only due to her unforgettable origins on Batman: The Animated Series, or the Arkham video game series, but her positively nonsensical, fever dream fantasies in her very own comic. With Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti firmly attached to the steering wheel for years now, Harley Quinn has been forged into a one of a kind, whimsical (but never the less homicidal) variety book... but a new twist has arrived.
Harley Quinn has been able to survive assassination attempts, a zombie outbreak, a gigantic squid/blob monster, and a superhero-themed swingers' club - and that's just in the dozen issues since her "Rebirth." But just as she seemed most invulnerable, a dark chapter has returned in the form of Joker. If her former boyfriend/abuser had arrived to attack, she could handle herself easily. But with Joker now claiming to have taken her words (and fists) to heart, Harley can't help but wonder if her happy ending is once again possible...
Joker & Harley's Last Goodbye
Every fan of the crazed couple know that, since the very beginning, their relationship has walked the line between cartoon violence and actual physical and emotional abuse. That isn't to say that individual stories or writers haven't stepped over the line intentionally, characterizing Harley Quinn as a victim of abuse, as just one more facet of Joker's twisted tendencies. But in the pages of her own comic book series, the New 52 saw Harley not just part ways with 'Mistah J' for good, but leave him with a clear message written all over his face (and chest, and stomach, and limbs).
In Harley Quinn #25, Harley broke into Joker's jail cell looking to set the record straight between them for good. In her mind, their 'on again, off again' affair was going to remain off for the foreseeable future, now that she was seeing their time together with a clear head. Not one to let go of a plaything easily, Joker resisted, kicking off one of the most brutal fights they've been shown to have, swinging fists, feet, and even teeth in what was clearly their final bout. Harley got the last laugh - not surprising, considering she just knocked out Superman - and Joker was left, as usual, alone, bloodied, and chuckling to himself.
That was, until Joker came strolling back into Harley's life - her bedroom, more specifically - claiming to be a changed man. Respecting her boundaries and leaving for a more neutral reunion, Joker left her more stunned than a seltzer bottle or rude word ever could have. And almost immediately, the idea that Harley was 'completely over' Joker started to get a bit... hazy.
Harley Dreams of The Past... and Future
Although Harley ended her time as 'Joker's Girlfriend' by force, it wasn't necessarily tied to some greater epiphany or clutch at sanity (Harley did become sane recently, but it wasn't in this comic series). More than anything else, she was simply tired of following his lead, and had, in the pages of her book, carved out a life with friends every bit as strange and loyal as she was. So when Joker appears to claim things could be different, she kicks him out based on anger and indignation alone. But as she sleeps the night before her meeting with Joker is scheduled to take place, her years at Joker's side can't help but rise back to the surface...
Readers are treated to a kaleidoscope of memories and musings, stretching all the way back to the slapstick abuse of Batman: The Animated Series, Joker tossing her to keep Batman one step behind him, and the many punches and punishment doled out in the years since. Nevertheless, the brighter, happier, or simply more... satisfying memories the two share are given their time in Harley's mind, as well. The romance between the two was always as manic as every other aspect of their love affair, and as the slideshow of happy memories slides past, a few choice words and phrases Joker posed in his return filter through.
None is more enticing than Joker's hope of "discussing their future," which conjures up images of Joker and Harley's suburban happiness: joyful matrimony, summer days by a backyard pool, and even starting a family of similarly-shaded children. It's a familiar image, given the same idea driven at in the recent Suicide Squad film, but it's clear in the comic: Harley may have broken things off with Mistah J, but their past stretches far behind them... and she has an idea of what a future could look like.
Joker Has Changed - But Harley's Mind Hasn't
The skeptics out there may have serious doubts about any reformation of Joker, be it willing, medicinal... heck, even supernatural. But the previous issue showed Joker waiting at their public meeting spot, flowers in hand, patiently waiting to get the mysterious something 'off his chest' in discussing just where the two go from here. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't Harley, but her ally and wannabe lover Red Tool (a copy of Palmiotti's Deadpool) who shows up to press him for information. And by 'press him,' we mean beat him senseless across the Coney Island boardwalk.
But Joker takes the beating without resisting, having sworn to Red Tool that he has come to talk to Harley, and has no desire for anything else. Of course, it doesn't take long for Joker to realize that Red Tool is as head over heels for Harley as he once was, and his chuckling only encourages Red Tool to put his promise of non-violence to the test. There's no stopping the tool once he gets started, which means Harley shows up late to see Joker beaten almost unconscious. Sending Red Tool away, and putting their friendship on hold for a month as punishment, Harley helps Joker to his feet.
Don't mistake her actions for a sign she's softening, however: she tells Joker that he'll need to get back up so she can put him down her own way. And when Harley has questions, she ties you to a chair in her kitchen until she thinks she's getting straight answers.
It may seem hard to believe, but Joker actually does seem to be genuine in wanting to change. That's a bit easier to swallow since the last meeting between the two was a bit more... extreme than most fans of Joker and Harley would be used to. Typically, there's a playful teamwork in their insanity, but their break-up showed Joker at his cruelest and most vindictive, demanding Harley admit that deep down, she wants to be treated badly. Whether he's a changed man or not, Harley isn't ready to give an inch on her command to steer clear.
Instead of beating him herself, Harley lets Brooklyn do it for her, dropping Joker in the middle of the street to let the borough's motorists give him a thrashing. After being struck by multiple vehicles, Joker is left an unconscious, badly wounded mess - at which point Harley decides to take him back home to finish the job. Will she go through on her threat and end Joker once and for all? Or were her dreams a sign that she actually is ready to give Joker a second shot? It's apparently one he's determined not to squander, so fans will need to stay tuned.
Harley Quinn #12 is available now.