Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Jessica Jones... NAH, give us The Clown Princess, Puddin, Harley Quinn, any day of the week!
In an ever expanding world of superheroes, and with the Marvel slate full until 2020, it is really time that DC upped their game. The recent release of the brand new Suicide Squad trailer (set to Bohemian Rhapsody) focuses on 'the bad guys', but highlights one very special lady indeed. Isn't it time The Joker's other half got her own moment in the limelight?
From a humble start and originating in the acclaimed cartoon Batman The Animated Series, Quinn appeared in the episode "Joker's Favor" as a bit part. Voiced with a heavy New York accent and wearing Harley's classic black/red outfit, the character was played by former Days of Our Lives actress Arleen Sorkin for the duration of the show. Proving popular amongst fans, she first appeared in comics during The Batman Adventures #12 (1993) before sporadically turning up during various other runs. Her own series titled Harley Quinn, had 38 issues from 2001-2003 and saw Harley start her own gang, leave Gotham, return, dye and eventually get resurrected. It's a busy schedule being The Joker's other half. A revamped Harley made a début amongst various other reincarnations when DC relaunched its titles as The New 52 in 2011. More revealing, with dyed red/black hair and bleached skin, this Harley had been kicked into a vat of acid by Mr. J.
Behind the Clown
But what is it about Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. that makes her so interesting? Morally complex and highly intelligent, Harley runs in the vein of villains who are good guy gone bad. Comic book Harley did away with her cartoon series counterpart and was much like the comic book Joker. She relied less on the campy humour that had dogged the 1960 Adam West show and focussed on violent mayhem. Quinn's transition can be compared to that of Harvey Dent, Gotham's proposed White Knight who was horrifically disfigured by the mob. The 1994 graphic novel Mad Love portrayed Dr. Quinzel as a hard-working psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who is seduced by The Joker. The novel went on to win great praise and even the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best Single Issue, then was adapted by The New Batman Adventures as a cartoon episode of the same name. However, in her own comic book run it is revealed that the suicide of college friend Guy Kopski was what sparked her obsession with The Joker. With such a long backdrop of literature to pull from and varying motives, a film version of Harley Quinn has a catalogue of history to show that she isn't just The Joker's blonde sidekick. She is arguably one of the most diverse characters in Batman canon and acts the levelling agent to The Joker, showing compassion and menace at the same time. Sure Batman needs Selina Kyle, but The Joker needs Harley.
A 'Realistic' Harley
For the inspiration of Margot Robbie's current incarnation of Harley Quinn we must turn to the Rocksteady Arkham version. For three games and seven years we have seen a much 'sexier' version of the character. Sporting skimpy nurses outfits, stockings, and crop tops; Harley went back to her New Jersey roots when voiced by Tara Strong. Ironically in the unofficial spin-off Arkham Origins, Quinn was once again voiced by Arleen Sorkin. A much bustier Harley picks up her now signature baseball bat and causes havoc for Batman across three separate nights as a secondary antagonist of the Arkham games. It is easy to spot the similarities between the game and Suicide Squad versions of 'Puddin', with a portrayal that isn't just for your stereotypical nerd. You only have to re-watch Heath Ledger's legendary Joker performance to highlight that more realistic versions are easier to relate to the masses and that the Christopher Nolan 'Batmanverse' is testament to this. It worked for the X-Men, who ditched their yellow spandex in favour of a more S&M black leather - although many of us still hope for the return of Wolverine's iconic costume. Robbie's current version of Harley, without the jester outfit, sporting a beaten up school girl look is one that lures the viewer into a false sense of sympathy.
Haven't we been here before?
It is true, Suicide Squad isn't Harley's first foray into live action. She was a primary antagonist for short-lived 2002 series Birds of Prey, hinting at her past life and "sweet Mr. J". Suicide Squad isn't even the first suggestion of Harley on the Silver Screen. The mooted sequel to Batman & Robin (1997), entitled Batman Triumphant, would had starred Quinn as ally to main villain Scarecrow (played by Nicholas Cage). This Harley would cast her as The Joker's daughter, out to revenge her father's death and played by (of all people) Madonna. Quite what Joel Schumacher was thinking, and where in any sort of comic canon this would fit remains a mystery. You only have to see Madonna's 'interesting' performance in Die Another Day (2002) to realise that would be a mistake. Thankfully Schimacher never got his grubby hands on a sequel and Nolan took the reigns. More recently, Quinn made a (very) brief appearance in the Arrow Season 2 episode "Suicide Squad" as an Easter Egg to fans. Once again voiced by Tara Strong, she recorded a deleted scene for the finale, before it was confirmed Harley won't be reappearing any time soon due to the Suicide Squad film.The life of Harley on screen remained lost...Until now!
Life after Suicide Squad.
As for Suicide Squad, it all depends on the reviews and of course timing is crucial. Batman history has plenty to say on the issue! At the time of Batman Returns (1992), Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman stole the show and sprung the rumour mill into production. Warner Bros announced a Catwoman spin-off in 1993, with a script handed in on the release day for Batman Forever in 1995. Writer Daniel Walters has since joked:
Turning it in the day Batman Forever opened may not have been my best logistical move, in that it's the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman.
Tim Burton left, Pfeiffer was recast by Ashley Judd; the whole mess eventually became the Halle Berry car crash we know as Catwoman (2004). So the idea of opening a Harley Quinn solo film on the same day as a Batman vs. Superman sequel probably isn't a good idea. However, all this depends on Robbie's performance, but who even says it has to be her playing Harley... Only the critics will say. Marvel carefully plotted out cameo appearances from the likes of Hulk, Thor and Iron Man across their entire movie slate, combining them in The Avengers and then once again branching off into their solo films. This method, whilst long winded, is one that clearly works and allows each character to gain their own footing. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) pulled in the seventh largest opening ever, something unlikely to have been done if people simply said "Who is this Thor guy?"
From cosplay staple and one time guest star, Harley Quinn has the ability to pop up at any time and quickly steal the show. Whilst the new Suicide Squad is clearly an ensemble piece, there is no denying that all trailers seem to be pointing at two people in particular - Harley and The Joker. With fingers crossed and baseball bats swinging, Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. will finally get the film recognition she deserved.
N.B. Whilst we are at it. Over the years Quinn developed a strong bond with Poison Ivy, God knows we need a new one of them in the film universe to follow on from Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin (1997). Whilst we are looking to the Arkham games for inspiration, their portrayal of Ivy is a great place to start. Ivy became (alongside Harley) one of the stand out performances, with her dead eyes and dark blue veins. Perhaps a female Expendables with the likes of Harley, Ivy and Catwoman could be on the cards? I mean If Birds of Prey got their own awful spin-off, why can't these girls get a real life version of Gotham City Sirens?