Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a psychologist and a super-villain walk into Arkham Asylum—wait, no, I guess the super-villain doesn’t really walk in. Not willingly, at least. And the psychologist? She works there. She’s supposed to be treating him, but things don’t necessarily work out that way because life can be pretty funny sometimes. You might almost call it a joke. So anyway, the psychologist and the supervillain they end up hatching this scheme to break out of the asylum and…
Oh, you have heard this one?
Of course you have. C’mon, there’s no need to be shy about it. You already know who Harley Quinn is. Everybody knows who Harley Quinn is these days. From her trademark black-and-red costume to her iconic consonant-culling accent, Harley’s become one of the most widely recognized comic book characters in the world, so you definitely don’t need me to give you the basics all over again. Instead of a “101 Introduction,” how about we consider this something more like...Advanced Harley Studies. Sound good?
Great! Let’s get to work.
So, though you may have her origin down by heart by now, the thing you’ve got to understand is that when it comes to debuts, Harley is definitely a “less is more” kind of girl. She’s actually been quote-unquote introduced three separate times. First in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, a second time in the non-canonical BATMAN ADVENTURES comic book (issue #12, to be exact) in 1993 and then a third time in the main DC Universe in BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN #1 in 1999.
That’s right, it would take seven years and the earth shattering events of NO MAN’S LAND to bring Harley from screen to page, officially. Let it never be said she doesn’t spring for theatricality.
Of course, despite being objectively the best thing to ever happen to Gotham City care of The Animated Series (take THAT, police blimps!), it took some time before Harley gained the notoriety she’s got today. She was first able to strike out on her own in 2001 with a solo ongoing series where she ends up fleeing Gotham and the Joker for Metropolis with her best friend for life, Poison Ivy.
...It doesn’t turn out all that great, though, and pretty soon, Harley finds herself as a patient in Arkham herself. You know what they say about tables turning and all that.
Bleak as that may have been, this first ongoing series represented a pretty big shift in the narrative for Harley as a character. She’d proven that she could absolutely stand on her own, independent of the Joker, even in the considerably less cartoony world of the comics universe. And in return? The comics provided Harley with some much-needed leg room to grow and change. Here, in this new medium, there was time and space to really dive deep into her history and her motivations, especially pertaining to her relationship with the Joker and the rest of the super heroic community.
The early 2000s were a pretty experimental time for Harley where she spends some time gallivanting around Gotham, has several more less-than-pleasant run ins with Mistuh J and, eventually, winds up as a member of the Secret Six around the time of INFINITE CRISIS.
If the name Secret Six doesn’t ring any bells to you, don’t panic. Harley quit pretty much immediately. They just weren’t really her scene.
Harley spent the next several years experimenting with her place in the world. She spent some time doing the freelance villain thing before ending up kicking back with some Amazons in the weekly series COUNTDOWN. She even became an honorary Amazon herself for a while there, and made some great new friends who may or may not have been brainwashed by Granny Goodness into trying to kill her at one point. But that’s beside the point. The important thing to remember about this particular chunk of Harley history is that she can rock an Amazonian chiton (that means “toga,” c’mon, keep up) just as well as she can her old school jester get up.
So honestly, murderous Darkseid-based scheme aside, who’s the real winner here?
After that whole kerfuffle was smoothed over, things really started to pick up. Harley made her way back to Gotham and connected with her good friends Poison Ivy and Catwoman to form the best and most important crime “fighting” team the world had ever seen since the inception of the Justice League: the Gotham City Sirens.
This is where today's Harley really started to take root. With her friends (or, well, frenemies is probably a better way to put it...it’s a little complicated during this run) at her side, Harley’s particular brand of off-kilter morality began to really find its audience, prompting all kinds of reinventions and reinterpretations of both her look and her character. Her varied backstory and flexible origins, on top of her ability to be both a hero and a villain (sometimes totally simultaneously) fueled a fire that would eventually land us with the fourth-wall breaking, gum-cracking DC icon we know and love today.
After FLASHPOINT, Harley would go on (with a whole new costume and great new hair) to become part of the Suicide Squad which would then make way for her first ever live action theatrical interpretation for the Suicide Squad film, played by Margot Robbie. Her solo comic book series would come back and become more popular than ever as her voice got more and more distinct. She’d start teaming up with other heroes, outside of just the typical Gotham umbrella, start having her own social life, and eventually even became the leader of a whole gang of Harley-inspired friends to call her own. She’d reconnect with Ivy, become an entrepreneur, and even sort-of-kind-of smooth things over with Batman from time to time. (See the recent Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie for an example of that.)
But you know all of that already, right? You have been keeping up with Harley since Rebirth, haven’t you? Haven’t you?
Batman Day is this Saturday, September 23rd! Look for articles celebrating the Dark Knight and Harley Quinn all week on DCComics.com leading up to the big day. To learn more about Batman Day and to find a participating shop near you, click here.