Hi there, folks. I’ve got another one for you, and this one is all of the fanboys. That’s right; I’m calling on all DC comic, movie, and television fans, because I’m about to gush about the DC comics breakout star, Harley Quinn. Whether you’re familiar or not, Harley Quinn was famously known for her debut in Batman: the Animated Series, where she started off as the psychiatrist-turned-villain who teamed up with Joker who commit crime in Gotham, yada yada yada. Since then, the character has evolved beyond that, by standing out as own character outside of that shadow, and became one of the most fun and bad ass characters since Deadpool (a shout-out for any Marvel fans).
The character has been sweeping her way across all DC content this past year. She debuted in mainstream media and theaters this year with Margot Robbie as the titular character in Cathy Yan’s film Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (don’t worry about the really long name they gave it at first). Harley Quinn also stars in the self-titled animated series that launched on the DC Universe streaming service. Both of which were so successful, that Warner Bros. already green lit a sequel for the film, and the animated series received a second season only a month or two after the first season aired. Harley Quinn’s animated series is already being brought to the Syfy network, and the film has already been released for video on demand, and both were highly praised by critics and fans. If we’re being quite honest, the only people who didn’t enjoy either iterations are the fans who view Harley Quinn’s character arc as SJW propaganda. That being said, I am not here to discuss that flawed logic, because even from an objective standpoint, Harley Quinn, film or television iteration, is a character that kicks ass in every aspect.
In the 2020 film Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, we see Harley Quinn at a very interesting point in her character’s development. Margot Robbie plays the character in a point in her life in which she has left her psychology practice, became a part of Batman’s rogue gallery alongside Joker, was placed in a government sanctioned task force for expendable criminals, and finally gained her freedom in all sense of the word. As she descended into a downward spiral of insanity, the Joker took advantage of her devotion and love for him (granted, a delusional love, maybe even a distortion of Stockholm syndrome) and abused her physically, emotionally, and mentally, all for the sake of having another clown-themed lackey by his side. Even in the animated series that ran during the 90’s, we see examples of that abuse, despite the context shifted towards a younger audience; the abuse is apparent. The 2020 film shows the long-term effects of that abuse, after she finally breaks up with the Joker and embarks on her own solo journey.
In this live action iteration, she begins to learn what it’s like to step out of one’s shadow, and discover her own potential, from picking up roller-derby, getting her own cozy apartment in Chinatown, and exorcising her inner demons and tackling her trauma head-first by blowing up Ace Chemicals, where her ex bathed her in the acid that made them the way they are today. You know, typical post-breakup stuff. Of course, the film follows some other story threads, introduces the characters that would soon form the female-heroine group known as the Birds of Prey, and pits Harley against the infamous Black Mask (played by Ewan McGregor, for any Star Wars prequel trilogy fans). This film showcases exactly why Harley deserves to stand out on her own, way beyond being Joker’s sidekick, and way beyond being a part of the Suicide Squad. Hell, she received her own comic book series at DC more than a handful of times. She not only single handedly unites a cop, an assassin, a meta-human enforcer, and a thief together as a team in the film, but she also takes down the most terrifying and unhinged crime boss. Harley Quinn is a character whose origin was never based on the acid bath, or even her meeting, treating, and falling in love with Joker; her origin was always her earning her freedom. From Joker, from the law, from the crime world, and from the rest of the misogynist men who claim to own her.
A true queen in every right. Margot Robbie reminded me why a character as chaotic and daring as Harley Quinn always deserved more exposure. Thankfully, after the success of her role in the movie industry, DC decided to push forward with an animated iteration of Harley Quinn in her own series on the DC Universe streaming service. With the humor and fourth wall breaks that make any Rick and Morty fan cackle in laughter, this version of the character not only highlights the character’s best traits, but justifies why she should’ve had her own series long ago.
This animated series takes a vastly similar approach when it comes to developing Harley’s character. It starts her off as Joker’s “partner” (I use that term lightly, seeing as they were never equals), committing crimes and fighting Batman in the name of love for Joker, only to find herself locked up in prison for a year, awaiting her clown prince’s rescue, which never happens. Instead, her best friend and one of Gotham City’s Sirens, Poison Ivy, breaks Harley out of jail. However, with any person in any toxic relationship, Harley goes right back to joker, to find herself making the same mistake she’s made over and over. After all, isn’t insanity just repeating the same thing, expecting a different end result each time? I’m sure Harley could tell you, since she’s got a degree in psychology anyway.
Despite all of that, she eventually learns the same lesson that Margot Robbie’s Harley learns, in that with self-actualization of her own self-worth and potential, she can become her own top-tier villain in the DC Universe (for evidence, check out Sam Humphries Harley Quinn #45 from 2018, where she takes on Darkseid, the literal DC version of Marvel’s Thanos). She decides to break up with the Joker in an appropriate slaughtering of his clown goons, and teams up with her closest ally Poison Ivy, alongside Clayface, King Shark, and other goofball DC rogues. She grows, she evolves, and she continuously kicks ass in the show, embarks on the craziest set of journeys (more than was possible in the realistically grounded Birds of Prey film), and manages to earn her own freedom and respect as her own villain, or even anti-hero, the same way Robbie’s portrayal did. With the same support that the live action iteration found strength in allies and friends, the animated series shows Harley at her strongest when she has people she loves, and who love her too, backing her up.
So for anyone who believes Harley Quinn is just a character pushing some sort of feminist agenda, or can’t stand the sight of a Harley Quinn that isn’t sexualized by James Gunn or something, they are wildly misguided, and quite frankly, missing out on a hell of a fun time. Cathy Yan’s Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey shows the character’s independence from the Joker, and from outdated source material, to bring a fierce and gratuitously violent heroine to the big screens and mainstream media, for fans of action movies, comic films, or maybe just really tough and strong women. In the same way, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn series shows us a similar development of her character’s arc, while also providing genuine laughter and humor, proving that raunchy and adult humor is just as good, if not better, than other adult animated shows. Both at least deserve to be on your radar. I said 2020 would be an artistic renaissance, and this is just one of many examples of that truth.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk, folks. Hope y’all enjoyed this piece. If anyone would like to spread some love to other artists and creators, I encourage y’all to check out a good from of mine who is making her own clothing, done entirely with crochet! Check out @beas_artesania on Instagram. Products are being hand-crafted as we speak, so if you’re interested, place your orders soon! If you’re in the Texas area, and you’re having your seasonal withdrawals from not seeing the Gypsy Dance Theater girls belly dance over at the Texas Renaissance Festival, then feel free to follow those lovely ladies on Instagram as well, over at @gypsydancetheatre. And, lastly, if you’d like to support your fellow freelance writer, and are unsure how to go about that, then I’d like to humbly welcome donations over at PayPal, which aren’t required whatsoever, but would drastically help improve the quality of the content I’m working to start up and create, from digital comics to an animated series, and of course, help keep this blog alive. Thanks again, readers. Much love comin’ your way. ✨🙏🏽💫