Unsurprisingly there has been a huge spike in popularity with this character of late. She’s a leading character in DC’s recent blockbuster music video compilation/movie Suicide Squad. She’s been a fan favourite character in comics and games, merchandising and all manner of collectables ever since her creation by Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series in the early 90s.
Now the reason we need to talk about Harley is because there’s something very wrong with her, that in turn has revealed something very wrong with people all around the world. As her popularity rises and rises, her fan base are becoming more and more troublesome. They’re missing a few key points that I really feel should be kept in focus when talking Harley Quinn.
Before I delve into what’s wrong, I want to take a moment to explore what it is that made her such a great, layered and appealing character to begin with, so excuse me for a paragraph or so while I talk about the most boring part of any comic book character: The origins.
Queue the harp/fade out to white.
Harleen Quinzel had just graduated from college as a wide eyed psychiatrist, ready to make her mark on the world. She was timid. She was awkward. She was naive, but quite intelligent. Throughout the years she’d won several awards for gymnastics and was quite a physically gifted woman, but her true talent lay in her analytical mind. She was a brilliant analyst and able to hone in on an individuals source of trauma. But what brought her to the Arkham Asylum that fateful day was ambition. She always had an attraction to extreme personalities, and it was that attraction that prompted her to tackle the dark insanity dwelling within some of Gotham’s most severe cases – why? Because she wanted to write a tell all book and sell it for millions. So you can see, even before turning, she had a few cracks. She was no saint. Some origin stories depict her making her way through college by seducing male professors and blackmailing them into giving her high marks. Fan favourite Harley Quinn every body… So she’s working at Gotham’s sordid nut house and she comes across the man who would forever change her life. The one armed security guard Aaron Cash!
No, I’m kidding. She met the Joker.
Now, the Joker is on another level. Some have claimed his intelligence can’t be measured on a normal human scale, because he’s so off the charts. He takes Harleen as his doctor, and plays her like a Stradivarius. He appeals to all her weaknesses, exploits all her strengths. When she wants, he seems the broken victim, when it suits, he’s the romantic poet. He is everything Harley has ever wanted. Why? Because she feels like this is the first man who understands HER. She feels like for the first time, someone appreciates her and listens to her. She’s feeling something. Devotion? Obsession? The Joker had found a crack in her psyche and rent it asunder. This wasn’t a quick process, it took months. Every time Joker escaped, only to return to Arkham with his face bloodied by Bat-Knuckles, she would tear up that the world could be so cruel to such a misunderstood man. But this was all part of the plan. Joker is a monster. He was trying to break her down to his level. Because The Dark Knight had his Boy Wonder traipsing around in a costume, fighting for his beliefs and values, Mister J here wanted to prove that he was Batsy’s true nemesis – and that meant adopting a sidekick of his own. It meant proving that just like Batman, Joker could corrupt a young impressionable mind, put her in a suit and parade around with his own little mini-me. And it worked. See, Harley Quinn was never anything more than the punchline to a joke. She was never the Joker’s love interest. In fact, once she was in that classic red and black harlequin’s outfit, he grew weary of the joke and became more and more abusive over time. Striking her. Wailing on her whenever he felt anger at his schemes failing. Psychologically torturing her for years. Harley goes from being the punch line, to being the punching bag.
In short, this character is everything we as an audience should despise.
Sure she’s a murderer, accomplice to innumerable crimes, a liar, a psychopath and everything else under the sun…but that’s not why we should despise her. We should pity her. We should feel sorry for her because she is not just a victim, she is THE victim. She’s the poster child for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the very picture of Stockholm Syndrome. She’s gone from brilliant doctor with dreams of success to costumed sidekick to battered housewife. From her origins, She has lost everything, including her self.
And yes, the character has evolved since her original release. There have been multiple takes on her and she’s been everything from a redeemed victim to a hero in her own right. But at her core, Harley’s story and her character really comes down to all that I’ve mentioned above. She will never stray far from that.
So it really brings me discomfort when I see Facebook posts (I really should stay away from Facebook) in which young women are sharing pictures of Harley and Joker with captions like “I don’t want Romeo and Juliet, I want a relationship like Harley and her Mister J.”…Seriously. And I’m all for knocking off Romeo and Juliet, frankly it was an absurd story about two deluded horny teenagers that lead to mass suicide. Hardly a love story. But to say you want a relationship like Harley and The Joker? What’s next? I want a father like Hannibal Lecter? I want an uncle like Joseph Stalin? I want a brother like Justin Bieber -He’s still an ass hat, sure his last album was insanely popular, but people should remember he’s an ass hat – I’m genuinely at a loss.
#RelationshipGoals, am I right?
Now, to be fair, it’s not entirely the fault of the frankly retarded fan base. Harley’s recent iteration by Margot Robbie… I’ll just let you have a moment to think about that… Okay, done? Good. Her recent portrayal has been a bit watered down. She’s less insane psychopath as she is just a weird 5 year old trapped in the body of a supermodel. And what’s worse, The Joker played by the corpse of post-drug overdose Heath Ledger, I mean Jarred Leto, does seem to LOVE her. He says things like “That’s my girl.” and “She’s the fire of my loins!” which, to be fair, Margot Robbie. But still. The Joker should NEVER have any sort of romantic or sexual feelings towards Harley. For several reasons.
For starters it misses the point of Harley all together.
If She’s madly in love with someone who kinda loves her back, then she’s not all that insane is she? She’s kinda able to justify all the fucked up things she does because her relationship is real. She has a validating connection to make it worth while, when traditionally she does it all in HOPES of validation she never gets. She’s relentlessly persuing unrequited love from a man incapable of it, because he – at most – views her like property. Which, to be fair…Margot Robbie. Kidding. I think. I don’t even know.
Not to mention the fact it takes The Joker off his mantle of being “Insane To The Point Of Being Completely Fucking Inhuman”, because it gives him a layer of feeling. It gives him desire. Want. It gives him something to be bargained with. A weakness. Batman can put a Baterang to Margot Quinn’s neck and say “Put down the detonator or Harley Robbie gets it!” and THIS Joker probably would! You want a villain that feels? There’s plenty of them. Joker can’t.
But I digress.
I just want to remind people that idolising a girl who’s L0l sO RanDum LieK mE!!1! Is all well and good. Like who you want to like. Love what you want to love. But when you love a character who’s entire role is to be beat up on, physically and mentally tortured by a man who will never love her back, all while she commits heinous crimes to impress him? And you tell your friends and family you want that kind of relationship?
Well, at that point I’m going to start thinking things about you, because THAT’S FUCKED UP.