Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was the breakout star of Suicide Squad.  Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

 

Monster T (Common, from left), The Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), as they appear in Suicide Squad.

 

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

 

Love or loathe Suicide Squad, there’s no debate that Harley Quinn – played by the talented Margot Robbie – is the breakout star.

And despite critics and Rotten Tomatoes savaging the film, it pulled in a lot of cabbage, according to Box Office Mojo. Suicide Squad took $135 million Aug. 4-7, the largest opening weekend in August on record. That beat a couple of ancillary records as well, such as “largest August opening day” and “largest Thursday preview.”

Whether that holds up or not remains to be seen, but for sure a whole lot of people wanted to see the movie on its opening weekend. Maybe they were all there to see Will Smith, the biggest name in the credits, but it seems just as likely that Harley Quinn, who was front and center in most of the trailers, was the biggest draw.

And it’s not just the movies. Harley Quinn has proven a surprise success for DC Comics, echoing the rise of Deadpool over at arch-rival Marvel Comics – and possibly for the same reasons. Both characters combine sexual innuendo, over-the-top violence, a hint of pathos and, weirdly, a tendency to break the fourth wall. (Why not? They break everything else.)

Actually, Harley shows more than a hint of pathos – there is genuine horror in her backstory. Her self-destructive relationship with The Joker is so awful and grotesque that it tears at your heart. That such emotionally and physically abusive relationships exist in the real world is what makes the pain cut so sharply.

And it may be one of the elements in Harley’s success. Her obsession with a man who treats her so badly is so ugly, and The Joker himself is so monstrous to her, that it’s as unforgettable as it squirm-inducing to read (or see on a movie screen). If so, we’ll see if the absence of that element makes a difference soon enough – because for Harley, the times are a-changing.

Which is not to say that Harley has ever been a static character. Unlike most super-types, she has worn a variety of costumes and sported several different looks (which is one of the reasons she’s popular in cosplay).

And this cartoon-like character started, naturally, in a cartoon.

Well, it wasn’t just any cartoon. It was Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), which was such a cool depiction of the Dark Knight and his world that it was a hit with adults as well as the kiddie crowd. That’s where Harley first appeared, as The Joker’s sidekick – and a throwaway character – in the episode “Joker’s Favor” (Sept. 11, 1992).

Famously, writer Paul Dini based the character on a dream sequence on Days of Our Lives, where actress Arleen Sorkin appeared as a harlequin. Dini had known the actress since high school, and Sorkin even did Harley’s voice for what was thought to be a one-off.

But Harley refused to fade away, and eventually made her way to comic books, which is the reverse of the normal process. Two years after “Joker’s Favor,” Dini and co-creator Bruce Timm wrote and drew Batman Adventures: Mad Love, a 64-page special set in the B:TAS continuity which recounted how psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel was driven mad, seduced and transformed into Harley Quinn by The Joker. Some of the details of the origin have changed over the years, but the horrifyingly dysfunctional relationship between the two has always been at the heart of it.

Mad Love won a bunch of awards, and deserved every bit of the acclaim. Maybe because of that, Harley had her excuse to invade the “regular” Batman comics, those not based on the animated show but set in the larger DC Universe. In Batman: Harley Quinn (1999), the character was launched (literally, as The Joker put her in a rocket to get rid of her) into her own adventures.

First, though, it should be noted that Harley’s rocket was found by Poison Ivy, who gave her super-powers of a sort. Ivy fed Harley a potion that increased her strength and agility, as well as making her invulnerable to all toxins, including Ivy’s poisonous touch, which would later prove significant. (The final detail of Harley’s origin wasn’t added until a 2011 revamp: Her skin became bleached white when The Joker shoved her into a vat of acid.)

With that, Harley was on her way to stardom. Her first ongoing series began in 2000, and ran until 2004. She had numerous specials, and multiple adventures with various gal pals, some of which eventually became series or miniseries, such as Power Girl and Harley Quinn, Gotham City Sirens (with Catwoman and Poison Ivy) and Harley Quinn and Her Gang of Harleys. And, of course, she spent a lot of time in the pages of Suicide Squad.

The Gang of Harleys arose from Harley’s second solo series (2013), where new writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti dreamed up a new status quo for the Maid in Motley that was largely untethered from The Joker and other Bat-characters. Conner and Palmiotti moved Harley to Brooklyn, where she became a landlord for a Coney Island freakshow, a genuine psychiatrist at a retirement home, a roller derby queen and the leader of a group of women (and one gay man) who dress like her to fight crime (the Gang of Harleys). All of these new vocations provided Harley with a large and more humorous cast of supporting characters, without a bat or clown among them, allowing her to move away from her villainous, lethal past and become more of comedic anti-hero.

Conner and Palmiotti also developed Harley’s character and storyline in two specific ways whose consequences have yet to be explored:

1) There had always been rumors (or perhaps wishful thinking) among fans that Harley’s close relationship with Pamela “Poison Ivy” Isley was more than just friendship. Conner and Palmiotti’s series established without much ado that they are, indeed, in a non-monogamous romantic relationship.

2) So where does that leave The Joker? Conner and Palmiotti have addressed that too, in an equally non-equivocal way. In one of the final issues of the second ongoing series, Harley announced her emancipation from the Clown Prince of Crime and his abuse by beating the bells off him. (She even bites off his lower lip.)

“I’m not yer toy anymore. Unnerstand?” she told him. “You did mean somethin’ ta me at one time, but that time is over. If I ever hear you or see you again … if ya ever mess with my family or friends … I’m not gonna be so nice as I was today, an I’ll finish yer alabaster (rear end) fer good!”

Which changes the character in a fundamental way, but not in a bad one. Frankly, the domestic abuse angle was sickening, plus Harley’s Joker obsession undercut her strength as a unique, admirable, standalone character. Even more important, from a storytelling standpoint, it had become stale. Harley would run away from The Joker, and then run back to him, again and again. A change was needed, and Conner and Palmiotti provided it.

Which doesn’t seem to have hurt the character’s popularity at all. A new ongoing series launched Aug. 3, along with four other titles starring Harley, including a new Suicide Squad series and an adult coloring book. Early word (from the Bleeding Cool website) is that the latest Harley Quinn #1 sold more than 400,000 copies, beating not only the latest issue of Batman that week, but all of Marvel’s titles.

Bats to the left of us, Jokers to the right, and here we are – stuck in the middle with Harley Quinn.

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Love or loathe Suicide Squad, there’s no debate that Harley Quinn – played by the talented Margot Robbie – is the breakout star.

Margot Robbie is the real deal. I've seen her interviewed and she has a great personality in addition to being gorgeous. I just saw her in the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She steals every scene she's in an delivers (deadpan) the freshest, most amusing and filthiest line I've heard in years.

  I always think of Harley as the Joker without any of the malice.  Lowest point of Harley with the Joker and the Batman animated series was in Batman Beyond when we learned how the Joker died.  Haven't seen the film yet.

Mark S. Ogilvie said: 

I always think of Harley as the Joker without any of the malice.  Lowest point of Harley with the Joker and the Batman animated series was in Batman Beyond when we learned how the Joker died.  Haven't seen the film yet.

After a while I gave up watching Batman Beyond. I don't remember how the Joker died or Batgirl's romance with Batman. I do remember how poorly they treated Dick Grayson in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

I'd love to see a Harley Quinn movie if for no other reason than to see a "superhero" movie with a female protagonist (*cough* Why no Black Widow movie? *cough*). However, I have zero faith that the current PTB at DC/Warner could do any sort of decent job with it.

My favorite Harley Quinn on screen was the one portrayed in the Arkham games.

Margarot Robbie was nothing like that...she was fairly normal...nothing crazy or anything like how Harley usually is. 

Maybe that can change in later movies...but I don't have much faith in WB. 


Oh, and making jokes every 5 minutes doesn't equate to being crazy. 



TheBastard said:

Oh, and making jokes every 5 minutes doesn't equate to being crazy. 

If it did, I'd bet most of us on this site would be locked up.

,,,Briefly search/scan-ing , I could not find a discussion thread for " SS " - the movie .

I think this is where most of the comments are for the Suicide Squad movie:

http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/captain-comics-asks-and-...

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

,,,Briefly search/scan-ing , I could not find a discussion thread for " SS " - the movie .



Randy Jackson said:

I'd love to see a Harley Quinn movie if for no other reason than to see a "superhero" movie with a female protagonist (*cough* Why no Black Widow movie? *cough*). However, I have zero faith that the current PTB at DC/Warner could do any sort of decent job with it.

I just came across this note from 2016 while I was searching for something else. So, Randy, you've got your wish, three times over: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Black Widow, and plans for a Birds of Prey spinoff starring Black Canary!

What do you think?
 

I think it's good that there's some representation. I have not seen any of the movies in question, however, so I can't comment on the quality. 

ClarkKent_DC said:



Randy Jackson said:

I'd love to see a Harley Quinn movie if for no other reason than to see a "superhero" movie with a female protagonist (*cough* Why no Black Widow movie? *cough*). However, I have zero faith that the current PTB at DC/Warner could do any sort of decent job with it.

I just came across this note from 2016 while I was searching for something else. So, Randy, you've got your wish, three times over: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Black Widow, and plans for a Birds of Prey spinoff starring Black Canary!

What do you think?
 

How about a comparison/rating to her portrayal in the second  Suicide Squad movie?

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