For years Harley Quinn was known as “the Joker’s girlfriend,” but she’s proven that she’s much more. Introduced in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor,” viewers instantly took to Harley, snatching up comics and clothing featuring her and showing off their Harley Quinn cosplay at cons worldwide. As time went on, it became clear that Harley had the potential to leave her puddin’s shadow and show the world that she wasn’t going to be defined by Mistah Jay any longer. Now Harley is one of DC’s most popular characters with her own ongoing comic and self-titled animated series…something the Joker has never had. As we prepare for DC FanDome, let’s take a look across the multiverse at all the different ways Harley has broken free from the Joker and made a new life for herself.
DC Animated Universe
Although this incarnation of Harley didn’t have a traditional break from the Joker, it’s worth mentioning since this is the continuity that introduced her to the world. Harley spent years as a victim of the Joker’s antics, holding out hope that one day he would want to settle down and start a family.
Harley’s wish came true, but in a twisted way. Joker kidnapped Robin and scrambled his brain, making him into “their son.” Harley began to realize that her puddin’ had gone too far. During an ensuing struggle with Batgirl, Harley fell down a chasm and disappeared. Unbeknownst to the Bat-Family, she survived and gave up her life of crime. Harley was seen at the end of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker as an elderly woman berating her grandchildren for associating with the resurrected Joker.
Mainstream DC Universe
Like most breakups, this one didn’t happen overnight. During the “Death of the Family” storyline, Harley grew alarmed at just how much the Joker had changed and how nothing was fun anymore. The final straw for her was when he infected her precious hyenas with rabies in 2012’s Suicide Squad #15. Harley attacked the Joker and told him that loving him was not the same as belonging to him.
Later Harley made a new life for herself on Coney Island, leaving all traces of her past behind. She ran into the Joker again in 2016’s Harley Quinn #25 and told her toxic ex off once and for all. She was done—he couldn’t control her and she would kill him if he ever interfered with her life again. If the Joker didn’t take her threats seriously before, then the chunk of his lip that she bit off while confronting him probably did the trick.
Harley Quinn Animated Series
Harleen’s break from the Joker was such an integral part of the Harley Quinn animated series (now streaming on HBO Max) that it can be considered the main arc of the first season. After years of abuse and neglect from the Joker, Poison Ivy convinces Harley to make a clean break from the Clown Prince once and for all. While Harley broke a few times and gave in to the Joker’s charms, she was able to find her resolve and defeat the Clown Prince when he tried to take over Gotham. This led to Harley moving on to a more healthy relationship in season two.
DC Extended Universe
Jared Leto’s Joker moved Heaven and Earth to reunite with Harley in the 2016 Suicide Squad film, but the Clown Prince has always been fickle. By the first act of Birds of Prey, the Joker had unceremoniously dumped Harley. At first, she didn’t take things so well, but then decided to mark her independence by blowing up Ace Chemicals, giving her ex a metaphorical middle finger.
Harley struck out on her own and was even able to take down the crime lord Black Mask. Her break with the Joker was so concrete that she vowed to never let herself fall in that deep with a psychopath again. She kept this promise by shooting her fiancé Silvio Luna in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
After becoming pregnant Harley took a hard look at her life. She didn’t want her child to become part of the Joker’s twisted world, so she ran away. Harleen gave birth to a girl named Lucy and made sure she was some place safe before returning to the Joker a year later, disheartened to see that the Clown Prince didn’t even notice that she was gone. Shortly thereafter, Superman murdered the Joker, freeing Harley from his clutches once and for all.
The more time passed, the more Harley realized she never should’ve let herself be controlled and vowed that no man would ever lay a hand on her again. Lobo learned this the hard way after Harley Quinn punched him through a wall.
After a pep talk from Ivy, Harley worked up the courage to break things off with the Joker. Harley told her soon-to-be-ex that she was ending their abusive relationship and stepping out on her own.
In a somewhat unexpected twist (“somewhat” because this is DCeased, after all), the Joker had already been turned into a zombie, which made the conversation easier for Harley in some ways, but harder in others. Is it a hot take to say that zombie-Joker isn’t as toxic as regular Joker?
In this reality, Harley Quinn was a fifteen-year-old high school student and the Joker was a chaotic force of nature who took her under his wing. The Joker’s real identity was John Kane, a privileged teenaged film snob. When John showed his true nature and betrayed Harley, it proved to be the last straw for her. Harley cut ties with Joker and helped save her neighborhood.
In the WWII-era world of DC Bombshells, the Joker is more commonly known as Mistah Jay, a thief obsessed with mixing chemicals. His abusive nature and love of alcohol frightened Harley, so she left and never looked back. Over time, Harley grew closer with her friend Ivy, who showed her what a healthy relationship can look like, and the two finally shared a tender kiss in DC Comics: Bombshells #42.
Of course, this is only a sample of the many worlds you’ll find in the DC Multiverse. Some stories are still in progress, and if Harley hasn’t broken away from the Joker yet in any of them, there’s a pretty good chance that she will. Harleen has proven that she’s more than the hench-girl we met in “Joker’s Favor” and that she won’t let any man, and certainly not any clown, define her.
DC FanDome returns on October 16, 2021! For more articles like this one, and to stay up to date on all the latest news, visit dcfandome.com.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.