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A History of Crazy: Harley Quinn

With her upcoming first live-action appearance, let's take a look at Harley Quinn's evolving story within the whole of DC Comics and Animation.

There is a lot of division among fans when it comes to the upcoming portrayal of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Some are all aboard the Margot train (myself included) and others aren't all that excited for what we're going to see and were hoping for something different altogether. Regardless of your opinion on what you think about Margot Robbie or her upcoming portrayal of the clown princess, it's coming and it's going to be a spectacle. With her upcoming first live-action appearance I thought it would be useful to take a look at Harley Quinn's evolving story within the whole of DC Comics and Animation.

First Appearances

Initially Harley wasn't even a character in DC Comics when she first appeared in Batman: Animated Series in the episode called "Joker's Favor" in 1992, and was never intended to be a recurring character, but her overwhelming popularity caused the DC executives to quickly add her story to the canon surrounding Batman and Gotham City. She became the sidekick and love interest of the proverbially twisted Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker.

Thanks to Batman: The Animates Series, and specifically two of the producers: Bruce Timm and Paul Dini we fell in love with the character for many reasons, but part of the big draw was that her character grappled with the cycle of domestic violence (albeit in an over-the-top cartoon fashion). She brought an emotional depth to the series that may have gone over some of the younger audience, but others saw the cyclical tragic comedy that Harley was caught in, not sure whether to laugh of cry.

Mad Love

After her explosion in popularity, it was up to Timm and Dini to craft her a legitimate backstory. She was given the name Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. and before donning the harlequin costume and joining Joker on his psychotic rampage she was an interning psychiatrist for Arkham Asylum. It was here where she became fascinated by The Joker and volunteered to analyze him. During their solo sessions, the good doctor fell in love with him and helped The Joker escape from Arkham (multiple times actually). She is imprisoned for her efforts and during an earthquake, she escapes to join The Joker as she has finally lost her sanity and fully adopts the identity of Harley Quinn.

After her induction into the main continuity of DC comics, Harley enjoys mild success through The Batman Adventures, which was a comic series set in the universe of The Animated Series where she was created. The single issue created explaining her origins was a massive hit, winning an Eisner Award (the comic book equivalent to the Academy Awards). She was so well received through this iteration of the character, and everyone was looking forward to her future in DC's canon.

*Leaving The Clown Via A Rocket

At some point in their tumultuous relationship, The Joker began to realize that he had deep feelings for his beautiful clown princess. So what does he do with this knowledge? - Yup, he sends her off in a rocket and she crash lands in Robinson Park in the center of Gotham only to be found by Poison Ivy. Ivy plans to kill her, but has a change of heart believing that the two women share some form of kinship. Ivy nurses her back to health and offers to help her exact revenge against both Batman and The Joker. It's at this point that Ivy injects Harley with a serum that grants her immunity to various toxins and poisons as well as augments her strength and speed dramatically. After going back and forth between loving and hating Mr. J., Harley joins forces with Catwoman and Poison Ivy. The trio shares several adventures before she betrays the women by breaking into Arkham intent on finally killing The Joker for all the abuse he had put her through over the years. But instead she actually helps him escape through a violent takeover of the facility.

It's at this point that Harley's popularity wains in terms of comics because the atmosphere is much darker than the animation where she was born. In the comics, The Joker is a sadistic madman with no qualms about murder as he has killed millions. Whereas the animated version is more publicly acceptable as simply a psychotic villain who uses gags and toys. It's hard to sympathize with Harley when it's the sadistic version that she loves. Her popularity was slowly fading into oblivion until the next iteration was born in the way of a new medium: video games.

Exploring Arkham

Harley returned to the glory of massive success after appearing in 2009's smash hit, Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game developed by Rocksteady Studios introduced yet another iteration to the Harley Quinn character: a gritty, violent and love-scorned one. Harley Quinn's appearance changed as much as her once almost-juvenile personality, gone was the red-and-black jumpsuit instead replaced by a red-and-purple corset with thigh-high boots. Harley stepped into a major role as one of the primary characters in the entire series of games produced over the last several years. Harley, in the Arkham games, is truly psychotic and seems to truly have been destroyed mentally and emotionally by The Joker.

Joining The Suicide Squad

Two years later, DC re-launches all their properties and we are given another new iteration of the clown princess, this time as a super criminal hired (read forced) into serving the government on a variety of high-risk black-ops missions. Harley is taken in a new direction in this iteration as she is still in love with The Joker, but believes him to be dead. She is a much more dangerous, and psychotic character through her time in the Suicide Squad evidenced by grinning while executing someone and giggling when even the other teammates are terrified. 

This is where we believe that we find Margot Robbie's performance, and from what we've seen in the trailers so far, she's definitely got something a little missing upstairs. She also doesn't seem to have any issue with violence or give a crap about what others think of her. And ultimately, that's the Harley that I love: the one who knows exactly where she stand and who she is. She's deadly, and unpredictable but in no way is she dumb; she's working through everything in her head.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see Harley take center stage when Suicide Squad hits theaters in August.