Welcome back to Geek 101: Introductions. The aim of this series is to introduce you to characters from a variety of comic books, and tell you the best place to read about their adventures. Please let me know if you have any requests. You should also check out fellow iggle blogger geeksandlattes’ series Geek 101: Women in Comics to read more general overviews of the awesome female characters and creators in comics. Her most recent one features amazing ensembles.
In keeping with the Science theme, and by request, this week’s character is Harley Quinn, who has one of the most ironic day jobs in comics – a psychiatrist.
Trigger Warning: Much of Harley’s history and many of her stories involve partner abuse. There are a few comics that treat it lightly or as nothing more than “cartoon violence.” You and I and anyone with a brain knows this isn’t acceptable in the real world at all, and depictions of partner abuse as a joke or something to be laughed at in comics isn’t appropriate either. I apologize if any of my suggestions are triggering to anyone, and encourage those who are affected to contact their local crisis line – if they can’t help you they will be able to direct you to the right resources.
Harley Quinn is an incredibly popular character, and part of that comes from women identifying with her. One of my favourite things about the new ongoing series is that Harley is no longer with the Joker and is written as a strong yet flawed character who is figuring out life on her own terms.
Full Name: Doctor Harleen Francis Quinzel
Home: Historically, Gotham. Now, Cooney Island.
Abilities: Harley is able to wield deadly weaponized props with killer accuracy; she has enhanced strength, healing, and agility (thanks to one of Ivy’s potions); she is a skilled fighter; and a master of disguise.
Debut: Interestingly enough, Harley was originally created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the television series Batman: The Animated Series, not for comics. Her first appearance was in an episode called “Jokers Favor” which originally aired in September of 1992. Harley appeared in a 1993 issue of The Batman Adventures, a comic tied to the animated series, not the main comics universe. She did eventually make her debut in the main universe in 1999’s No Man’s Land crossover- where she first met Poison Ivy.
Motivators: More often than not Harley’s basic motivation is her passion – once she is passionate about something almost nothing will stop her. She has been written as everything from pure evil to sympathetic villain to anti-hero. Harley is a complex character – much of her backstory is tied to her abusive past, and it depends on the writer as to whether she is depicted as being ill or evil (or a shade in between).
Some quick definitions:
- “DCAU” refers to the DC Animated Universe. This refers to the universe in which DC’s animated shows, such as Batman: The Animated Series belong. It isn’t connected to the main comic book universe, but does have its own history (or continuity).
- “Post-Crisis” means the history and backstories that were in place in the DC comics universe between 1986 and 2011.
- “New 52” refers to the comics universe after 2011.
Harley’s origins were detailed in a 1994 graphic novel called Mad Love by her creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, and which was later adapted as an episode of The New Batman Adventures. Harley began as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, an intern at Arkham Asylum. She was fascinated by the Joker and volunteered to treat him. In typical Joker fashion, he lied and manipulated her into helping him escape, and she fell in love with him along the way. Her later appearance in the Post-Crisis comics universe was less bubbly than in the DCAU and closer to psychotic. The Joker’s abusive treatment of her also intensified in the comics. In fact, she met Ivy after the Joker tried to kill her by firing her out of a canon.
When the DC universe was rebooted and the New 52 introduced, certain characters went through more dramatic changes than others. This is what Harley looked like in the Pre-Crisis/DCAU days:
This was Harley when the New 52 began:
This character design was heavily criticized when it was revealed for being over-sexualized and significantly different from her trademark jester attire. Thankfully, she’s been toned down a bit, and this is what Harley looks like now:
Her origins too have been tweaked to reflect the darker tone of the New 52. Now, rather than having been initially tricked by the Joker, she knew he was manipulating her the whole time and helped him regardless.
Good/Bad/Morals for Hire?
Harley does not have a great track record at heroics. In the Post-Crisis universe, Harley tried numerous times to redeem herself, even working with notable “good guys” like Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Mary Marvel. These adventures in doing good never seemed to last long, with her stretches of peaceful(ish) behaviour often interrupted by the Joker. In the New 52, Harley was a member of the Suicide Squad for a time. The Suicide Squad is a team comprised entirely of imprisoned super-villains. In exchange for time off their sentences or other rewards, they take on incredibly dangerous missions. Prior to being recruited, Harley had gone on a killing spree, and while a member went through a psychotic break. The creators of her current ongoing series have done an amazing job of distancing Harley from the more evil actions of her past – making her a misguided anti-hero who is actively trying to do good. There is obviously a place in comics for purely evil villains, of all types, but Harley tends to be at her most fun to read when she is trying to get things right.
Harley has been allied with teams such as the Secret Six and the Suicide Squad, as well as characters like the Joker and Catwoman. Her biggest ally, both in comics and in the animated series, is Poison Ivy. The two have shared a close friendship for many years and just a few weeks ago DC confirmed that they are in a romantic relationship.
What About the Joker?
The Joker is Harley’s biggest foe. The two spent the entirety of their Post-Crisis/DCAU world involved in an exceptionally abusive relationship; one that didn’t get any healthier in the beginning of the New 52. It would appear that her time in the Suicide Squad helped her gain confidence and independence, and after a brutal fight she broke up with the Joker. The two have been apart since.
What to Read:
It’s pretty easy to find most of these recommendations online, but if your local comic book store is run by good people I encourage you to give them a shot before going online.
Mad Love and Other Stories (Post-Crisis/DCAU)
Written by Paul Dini and later adapted into an episode of The New Batman Adventures, “Mad Love” is Harley’s origin story. It’s drawn in the same style as the animated series, and at points is word-for-word the same as the episode. I recommend picking up the deluxe or “and Other Stories” edition for the extra few stories. They’re quick reads, but really good ones.
Ivy & Harley (Post-Crisis)
I recommended this last week along with other great Poison Ivy stories, and it is an equally as good Harley story. This three-issue miniseries is from the same team that was behind Mad Love. The story is fluffy, but exceptionally fun to read and does withstand re-reads. There’s also no backstory that is required in order to enjoy the book.
Countdown to Final Crisis (Post-Crisis)
Part of this year-long series features Harley and Holly Robinson (Catwoman’s successor while Selina temporarily retired), while they’re working at a women’s shelter. They team up with Mary Marvel in an attempt to rescue the Olympian gods. There is a ton of lore behind this series, and this story is only one of many told throughout the year-long event. If you are familiar with the DC universe, or feel up to a significant challenge, Harley’s story of trying to be on the more heroic side of things is a good one to read.
Gotham City Sirens (Post-Crisis)
The second of two duplicate recommendations on this list, Gotham City Sirens is a fantastic series featuring Harley, Ivy, and Catwoman. The three live together in Gotham and while the series often features other Gotham residents, it doesn’t hurt to go in without prior knowledge.
Harley Quinn: Hot in the City (New 52)
Volume 1 of Harley’s new ongoing series sees her move to Cooney Island after inheriting a rental complex. Proving that even in comics nothing is for free, the complex also comes with back taxes and ongoing expenses. To make ends meet, Harley takes a day job as a psychiatrist and a night job as a derby girl. Also, there’s a talking beaver, lots of assassins, and Poison Ivy. The entire series is a great read, with Harley emerging as DC’s answer to Deadpool – over-the-top but fun; sometimes carrying a message and other times carrying laughs.
See Her Now:
Harley has her own ongoing series, with issue #18 coming out July 15.
Harley Quinn and Power Girl #2 also comes out on July 15, and is a cute series spun off from Harley’s main title (issue #12 of the main title, to be exact). This series takes place in-between the panels of that issue, so I recommend reading up to issue #12 of Harley Quinn before starting Harley Quinn and Power Girl.
August 26 will see the release of Harley Quinn Road Trip Special #1. Harley, Ivy, and Catwoman go on a road trip across the states and chaos, I’m sure, will ensue.