This is a research paper I wrote for one of my classes about Harley Quinn and the Jokers relationship. I hope you enjoy it!
It was a warm September afternoon in 1992 when the world was fi rst introduced to the Maiden of Mischief, the Cupid of Crime, or as most know her as, Harley Quinn. First appearing in Batman: The Animated Series, the episode “Joker’s Favor” opens to Harley Quinn, dressed in her red and black jester suit, cheering on the narcissistic Joker as he parades around and shares his latest crime scheme. Harley Quinn was created by DC Comics and adapted into the show by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. These early years of Harley Quinn’s character development had her by the Jokers side, encouraging, supporting, and standing by the Clown Prince of Crime, which had fans calling her, “the Jokers girlfriend.” In the years to come, Harley Quinn would develop into her own and become the main character to her own story. Unlike popular opinions created early on, Harley Quinn and the Jokers love story is not a romantic comedy, but instead, a dark, tormented story of abuse.
When Paul Dini created Harley Quinn for Batman: The Animates Series in 1992, he had the intention that she and the Joker would not have a traditional relationship, but what he did not know is how far their relationship would stray from his original intent. Harley Quinn was introduced to the Joker as Dr. Harleen Quinnzel, an asylum psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, after the Joker was captured by the masked vigilante, Batman. Dr. Harleen started having sessions with the Joker in an attempt to help him and to understand the crime mind of a lunatic, “…Harley in her earlier incarnation really felt like she was the one for the Joker, that she could catch him and cure him and bring him back to humanity. But actually, in the process, she lost hers” (Holub). Harley Quinn met with the Joker on several occasions, and each time the Joker would share one tragic story after another. These tragic stories were all created within the Jokers mind, to manipulate Harley Quinn’s emotions, and have her believe she was taking positive steps forward with the Clown Prince of Crime.
Through speaking with the Joker, Dr. Harleen started to slowly but surely, fall head over heels in love with him, meanwhile. the Joker continued to use manipulation tactics to get closer to Dr. Harleen,“The Joker, charmed by the fact that her name sounds like “harlequin,” sends her flowers and offers to tell her secrets about his childhood…” (Dockterman). Not only did the Joker lead Dr. Harleen to believe she was special and unique by giving her a nickname, but he also played to the fact he was sharing special and personal information about himself to make her more comfortable and enticed to know more. The Joker had seen Dr. Harleen as an asset, something he could use to his advantage and help him escape from Arkham Asylum. The Joker fed Dr. Harleen multiple romantic ideas and she turned on the life she had always known. Taking the alias Harley Quinn, Dr. Harleen was gone from her old life, and had a new start as a henchwoman for the Clown Prince of Crime. This new life lead Harley Quinn down a long path of heartbreak, turmoil, and abuse.
Harley Quinn’s comic series not only reflects the life she had before meeting the Joker, but they also take the reader down the long spiral of abuse the Joker inflicted upon her. Harley Quinn was a side character in the Batman comics and as well as the show, from when she made her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, until 2000 when Karl Kesel published Harley Quinn Vol. 1. In Harley Quinn Vol 1, the scene is set at an amusement park, and Harley Quinn took over that night’s crime gig because the Joker said he was injured. While Harley Quinn is setting up for the roller coaster to go off the tracks, the Joker shows up, “Harley! I thought you were across town…but I have a surprise for you…Yes, my little hell’s bell. It’s time to show you how I truly feel” (Kesel). The “surprise” the Joker had for Harley was a hidden gun in his flowers, which he pulled out and shot her with, before fleeing to complete his rollercoaster plan. Harley Quinn reappears later, and shocks the Joker that she is still living, and he proceeds to try and kill her once more. In Harley Quinn volume 2, after the abuse she experienced by the Joker, Harley Quinn is out on her own for the first time, making a name for herself as a strong and independent woman.
It was not until years later that Harley Quinn took a stand and tried to get back at the Joker for years of torment. In 2011, Harley Quinn appears in the comic series Suicide Squad, where the Joker throws her into a vat of chemicals that forcibly turns her into the Harley Quinn that she becomes; “Dr. Harleen Quinzel is pushed into the vat of acid by the Joker, turning her into Harley Quinn involuntarily, quite literally stripping her of her own consent and voluntary action to become something she never really asked for…”(Kain). As explained by Kain, Dr. Harleen’s transformation into Harley Quinn was not something she chose, or necessarily wanted. Once the Joker had turned Harley Quinn into a villain, he felt like he owned her, and she was his creation. Harley Quinn had no choice in any life matters due to the Joker portraying their relationship like he owned her and taking away any rights she had.
Harley Quinn spent years in turmoil from the chemical changes she was forced to go through and plans to exact revenge. Harley Quinn hunts down the Joker, and once she has him in her clutches, she exclaims, “I'm going to kill you. For everything you've done to me. All the times you've made me feel useless and small. For all the times I will never forget. For all the things I can never forgive. All the memories… (Calloway.)" Calloway expresses Harley Quinn’s true emotions and uses strong images to portray how Harley Quinn feels after all these years of abuse. The scene is set in Arkham Asylum and Harley Quinn is sneaking through with a gun held out in front of her, as she approaches the joker. Harley Quinn’s eye are big with shock as well as full of tears, as she finally sees the Joker. Her mind not only flashes back to all the times the Joker has tried to kill her, abandon her, and use her, but also the times he hugged her and kissed her. From here, Harley Quinn spirals down a confusing hole of traumatic experiences full of love.
In 2013, Amanda Connor took over the Harley Quinn comic series, where Harley Quinn is living a strong, independent life for herself and even has her own henchmen and henchwomen; but the Joker does not hesitate to make an appearance in this series either. Harley Quinn is walking through Arkham Asylum, and the Joker is sneering out of his locked door, “…why don’t you make us both happy and come over here…I know how to make you feel like you again…You even owe your shiny white complexion to me. C’mon. You can’t help but fall for me over and over…open this door now, you red and black bimbo!...you and I both know we’re meant to be together” (Connor) to which Harley Quinn responds after the joker tricks her into opening the door and attacking her, “I may have a lotta problems, but you… Every single word outta yer cacklin’ yap, you create chaos…yer never gonna mess with me or my mind again, ya hear me? You disgust me…I’m not yer toy anymore. Understand” (Connor)? The Joker feeds off Harley Quinn’s insecurities, and continues to feed her the lies that he will change, he will be better, and he will love her more. That is why Harley Quinn continued to go back to the Joker time and time again, despite the physical, emotional, and mental abuse he put her through.
Harley Quinn and the Jokers relationship came to the big screen for the first time on August 5th, 2016 when Suicide Squad took over the movie world. Suicide Squad normalized the abuse of Harley Quinn, playing it off as the Joker, playing a joke. This film is different from Harley Quinn’s long line of comics in multiple ways, and one of the biggest reasons is because it fails to show the true nature and abuse that Harley Quinn goes through. Throughout the movie, Harley Quinn is madly in love with the Joker, much like the early stages of her character development with Batman: The Animated Series. In Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn willfully jumps into the chemicals that change Harleen into Harley Quinn; “Her choosing to fall into the chemicals is definitely preferable to being pushed in…Even though she seemed open to whatever Joker had planned in the beginning, the movie makes it look like that damage to her brain is the only reason she's joined him. She makes no attempt to exact revenge or try to understand what makes him tick” (Holmes). Changing the story from Harley Quinn being pushed into the chemicals, into her choosing to jump into the chemicals takes away her need, and desire for vengeance against the Joker. This, in-turn, changes the perspective of Harley Quinn in the movie, and leads her toward the direction of making a conscious choice to stay with the Joker, instead of being afraid to leave the Joker.
On February 7th, 2020, Harley Quinn got her first standalone movie: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (later changed to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey). Birds of Prey starts off with Harley Quinn and the Joker being broken up, and how Harley Quinn takes her life back and makes a name for herself, “Joker has got to be out of the picture. I really wanted to see Harley in a girl gang, and I felt there was a huge gap in the market for a girl gang ensemble action film” (El-Mahmound). Throughout Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn really comes into her own, and takes back a life that was stolen by the Joker. Birds of Prey is R-rated, but despite an adult rating, it has a strong arch for Harley Quinn’s character development and changes the angle for younger girls to see that it is okay to be alone and make your own way.
Since September 11th, 1992 Harley Quinn has been a slave to the Joker and his abusive relationship. The Jokers abuse can not only be traced back to Harley Quinn’s origins in Batman: The Animates Series, but the horror that followed her through years of multiple comic series, as well as globally renowned films. Harley Quinn has been mistaken for the Jokers girlfriend, and the public has been tricked into believing they are in a loving relationship. DC Comics have developed Harley Quinn into a strong female character who is inspiring to anyone who follows her story. Harley Quinn may appear to many as a sidekick or a henchwoman, but what Harley Quinn really is, is a sign of hope for woman; showing that even at her lowest she still has her strength, a sign that life can, and will get better, and a sign that there is a way out of toxic and abusive relationships.
Calloway, Peter. “Gotham City Sirens #21.” Gotham City Sirens: Hell Hath No Fury: Part 2, Vol. 1, Issue no. 21, DC Comics, May 2011, pg 13.
Connor, Amanda. “Harley Quinn #25.” Harley Quinn, Issue no. 25, DC Comics, April 2016, pg 14-21.
Dockterman, Eliana. “From Mad Love to Suicide Squad: The Evolution of Harley Quinn.” Time.com, 05 Aug. 2016, https://time.com/4438824/harley-quinn-evolution-joker-suicide-squad/. Accessed on 23 Jun. 2020.
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Holub, Christian. “Paul Dini reflects on 25 years of Harley Quinn.” Entertainment Weekly, 05 Sept. 2017, https://ew.com/books/2017/09/05/paul-dini-25-years-of-harley-quinn/. Accessed on 23 Jun. 2020.
Kain, Spencer. “’Birds of Prey’ could lead to the proper characterization of Harley Quinn that fans deserve.” North Texas Daily, 01 Oct. 2019, https://www.ntdaily.com/birds-of-prey-could-lead-to-the-proper-characterization-of-harley-quinn-that-fans-deserve/#:~:text=However%2C%20in%20the%20New%2052,she%20never%20really%20asked%20for. Accessed on 23 Jun. 2020.
Kesel, Karl. “An Harley Quinn Romance.” Harley Quinn, Vol 1, Issue no. 1. DC Comics, 11 Oct. 2000, p. 31.