Comic Character Harley Quinn (aka Dr. Harleen Quinzel) has appeared in over 900 comics since her comic book debut in 1993 (The Batman Adventures #12). Quinn’s character’s debut was actually in September of 1992 in Batman: The Animated Series, in an episode called “Joker’s Favor.” Quinn, who in the series is a psychiatrist (or is sometimes represented as holding a doctorate in psychology), falls in love with the Joker and becomes his witty sidekick. But in the comic world, the character’s life often ventures and changes in origin and characteristics.
Quinn’s abilities are intelligence, and a potion from Poison Ivy that gave her enhanced strength, agility, speed, and immunity to most toxins, as well as her gymnastic abilities (which she received a scholarship for) and stamina, and abilities with weapons. Of all these abilities, the most underrepresented in the comics is her intelligence.
Instead of looking at Quinn’s role as a sidekick, let’s look at her role when she became a leading lady: For such a smart woman, she sure doesn’t show it—either because of being driven mad or because her intelligence isn’t as important to the writers. In the first cartoon episode she appeared in, she played the ditzy, blond sidekick of the Joker, and he abandons her at first chance of being caught. This repeatedly happens in the comics, and she repeatedly goes back to him.
At first, Quinn only appears in other series, mainly Batman as the Joker’s love interest. But her popularity grew so quickly, she was given her own series Harley Quinn in 2000 with the line “AT LAST, her own monthly comic.” This lasted four years and 38 issues. This story line focuses on her on-again-off-again relationship with the Joker and her partnership with BFF Poison Ivy. She hatches some crazy plans, and finds some evil partners to pair up with like Bizzaro when she travels to Metropolis and takes other road trips, even to supernatural locations.
Then, in 2011, we see Harley in a team setting in the New 52 release of Suicide Squad, where she is forced to work with a team of villains to “do good.” Though in typical Harley fashion (the one thing she has repeated learned from the Joker), she betrays the team, has another love tryst with the Joker, and wreaks havoc. She also dons a new hairdo: pigtails, half with red hair and half with black, that match her new outfit, which shows off much more skin than her previous attire. The new wardrobe may be in part to make her sexier and more mischievous, and less playful, or foolish—”fool” being the operative word.
With the New 52, we get a new Harley Quinn reboot series, where she starts her life leaving the Joker and Gotham city behind, and moving to Coney Island, where she rents an apartment, and does wacky things like get a job and start a gang of Harleys. Of course, the series does still bring the Joker and Batman in a little, but this is really about Harley trying to start over. But the thing about Harley starting over is that she is more wacky and crazy in a fun way, and less of a maniacal way. This series began in 2013 and is on issue 30 and still going. She also changes up her wardrobe throughout the series, but sticks to the red and black. But we still don’t see the high intelligence she is supposed to be gifted with in this series. We see crazy plans, but not intelligent plans. So, can they coincide?
The newest Harley Quinn comics are only three issues in. Harley Quinn’s Gang of Harleys, which pulls from the Harley Quinn New 52 series, and Harley’s Little Black Book. Both series focus on Harley being good, or trying to be good in the best way she knows how. However, her version of good often leads to bad—or at the very least, interesting—situations with some top heroes, including starting the Harley’s Little Black Book #1 with a ‘pair-up’ with Wonder Woman. Green Lantern and Zatana are next up in her little book. With best-laid plans to save the day, Harley just doesn’t seem to have the tactics to pull it off, though she still kicks ass while she tries. These series seem to focus more on the funny side of Harley, and make her appear more like the harlequin doll she stole her costume and name from. Though, they are both just getting started.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for Harley Quinn in the world of comics. She has been bad, she has been played by the Joker over and over again, she has found a best friend and sometimes love interest in Poison Ivy, she has been captured by Batman and escaped, and she has had two origin stories (the second was that she faked her way into college to get to meet the Joker and never attained a degree, which would go well with some of her crazy plans that don’t seem to show her intelligent side at all). Now, she is making her way to the big screen in Suicide Squad. Which Harley will she be? Good, Bad, Anti-hero? The only thing for sure about Quinn is her level of crazy—which is always present. But what about her intelligence? Is it lost in her crazy schemes? Is it still buried down in there waiting to pop out? Will we see it in any of the comic book series in which she’s featured? The new movie Suicide Squad may answer some of these questions and while the comics often play a part in how the movie characters are portrayed, the same is true of the movie and television characters as they are later portrayed in comics. Chances are good that the comics will continue to alternate the various sides of Quinn from from villain to wanna be hero, but villain will most likely win out again. Depending on the success of the new movie, which is discussed in part three, her characters arcs in the remaining series may change to go with what the audience likes or dislikes about the big screen Harley Quinn.
Don’t forget to check out part one of this series and keep an eye out for part three!