Make no mistake, DC Comics fans: the shared movie universe launching with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice won’t be a place for only the most reliable comic characters. After DC’s ‘Big Three’ grace the screen, it’s director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad which will carry the baton forward, introducing villains that could exist in the DCMU for years to come.
Now that the stars of the film have been revealed, fans of both well-known and more underrated villains look to be pleased. We’ve made the case that such a varied ensemble adventure is just what DC’s movie universe needs, but some members of the cast seem more likely to stick around than others.
We’ve already given a crash course in Jai Courtey’s Boomerang and Will Smith’s Deadshot, but next up is a beloved Bat-villain with a history and mystery that even fans may not be aware of: the ‘Joker’s Girlfriend,’ Harley Quinn.
5. The Origin
Artwork courtesy of Inanimate Objects
Unlike most of the villains in Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Harley Quinn was created specifically for Batman: The Animated Series as a right-hand woman for the Joker. Sporting the black and red outfit of a harlequin jester – and a thick Brooklyn accent – Harley was an immediate hit with fans, as was her cartoonish personality, unflappable sense of humor, and devoted affection to her beloved “Mistah J.”
But the character’s future was cemented when creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm offered a glimpse into Harley’s history in the 1994 comic titled “Mad Love”: Harley was more than just a fan or recruit of Joker’s, having overseen his treatment at Arkham Asylum as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, M.D. (proof that no one with even a slight taste for insanity could resist Joker’s manic charms).
Dr. Quinzel’s professional curiosity turned to infatuation and obsession, and through Joker’s manipulation she offered him freedom – and a sidekick – throughout the animated DC universe.
4. The Update
The most significant (or at least longest-lasting) change to Harley didn’t come in the comics, but as part of Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum video game. Casting off the bodysuit and jester’s cap, the grittier, more adult-oriented Harley was given a boost to both sex appeal and violent tendencies, again acting as the humorous hammer to Joker’s crazed mastermind.
Both Arkham Asylum and its sequel Arkham City proved that fans of the animated series still held a special place for the Joker’s girlfriend, and DC Comics took notice. When the company’s ‘New 52’ reboot brought the entire comic universe back to square one, Harley wasn’t just made a star of the new “Suicide Squad” comic series, but given a standalone title all her own – and with it, a brand new origin.
No longer fooled by the Joker’s lies (that he, too, came from a broken home), Dr. Quinzel is only swayed when Joker smuggles in a special gift: a severed thumb. Specifically, the thumb of the wealthy drunk driver who killed her father (without any punishment). With the thumb came Joker’s promise to show Harley how to wield the same power.
After murdering a professional rival, Joker takes Dr. Quinzel to Ace Chemical (where he was doused in chemicals that resulted in his own ‘rebirth’) and puts his new love through the same process. Harley Quinn emerges, every bit as transformed as her dear “puddin.”
Surprisingly, the two eventually parted ways; Harley apparently able to survive the separation, and in some ways, treat it as an opportunity. The previous incarnation of Harley was a literal punching bag for Joker, being treated as a nuisance, with signs of genuine affection few and far between. The new Harley showed she was no lovesick puppy, pursuing a sexual relationship with Deadshot – another brash, homicidal leader – upon first joining Amanda Waller’s ‘Suicide Squad.’
In the years since, the Harley/Joker dynamic has been modified to more closely resemble an unhealthy dependency, with Harley able to lose herself in her own heightened reality, but the maniacal devotion to the Joker simmering below the surface.
With updated canon came brand new alternate visions of Harley; one of the best coming in the form of “Injustice: Gods Among Us”, a limited series based on the video game of the same name. Writer Tom Taylor’s parallel universe has become one of DC’s best-selling titles, and has given Harley fans some of her best moments in recent years (we would go so far as saying that a live-action version of the character would be wise to take its lead from her “Injustice” incarnation).
In “Injustice”, Harley is introduced as a woman whose distance from an abusive relationship has granted some… perspective. Even in the canon series, Harley is portrayed in a lighter tone and madness, never as homicidal or deranged as the Joker. That means that a film version in which she is more than just an amusing lunatic sidekick is still keeping to the established fiction.
Could these be clues as to the direction taken with Margot Robbie’s Harley in live-action, or is the classic version (seen in Batman: Assault on Arkham) a more likely plan? Only time will tell. But as straightforward as the Joker may have become over the years, Harley remains (potentially) a much more complicated figure.
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