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Harley Quinn! Created in Batman: The Animated Series then incorporated into comic book canon. She was smart, resourceful, and devoted. She was also hopelessly in love with Joker, a man who was nothing but cruel to her. Harley was dimensional, she was interesting. She was a good character.
For the most part, this was how she was in the comics as well. Then the New 52 — or Nu52 — rolled around and she got reinvented for a whole new audience! They made a few changes. She was more independent from The Joker, she went through a costume change, and her behavior was somewhat changed.
At first, I kept an open mind. I’m a big proponent of change. It can be good! Especially in a medium like superhero comics where things never really end. So I read the first dozen Suicide Squads, I saw all her variant covers, I read the buzz about her own comic, and I’ve come to the conclusion that DC is ruining Harley Quinn.
How, you ask? Let me lay it out for you this way:
Changing Harley’s costume must have been hard. Harley’s costume is kind of like Spider-Man’s in that it’s so iconic right out of the gate. It’s attractive without trying too hard, it accents the Joker without becoming “female Joker”, and it’s actually functional. Like Jim Lee’s Catwoman, you could actually see Harley kicking ass in her costume, not just tripping over high heels.
So I understand the difficulty in changing her costume for the Nu52, I really do. You were always going to make a lot of people mad no matter what you decided on. It’s a no win situation. However, I really feel like they could have done better than what they eventually went with:
Oh man! Looks like they got the male demographic down pat with this. Everyone knows 15-25 year old males go crazy for ruffle collars and capes! You didn’t notice those things? Huh, that’s weird. Look again. See?! Just… just the hottest. Like a she stepped right out of Shakespeare. A weird, cowboy version of Shakespeare.
So my problem isn’t so much that they put her in hot pants and a half-tied bustier. I mean, I’m as much for showing skin as the next guy. My problem is that they’ve made her just like every other scantily-clad female character. It’s like turning Amanda Waller into another supermodel heroine. It’s not so much that you cranked up the sex appeal, it’s that you took away this one distinct element of her character in order to make her more generic.
Remember how iconic Harley’s first costume was? Do you think this is as-or-more-so iconic than the first one? It certainly plays off the elements of the first one, but it doesn’t really do anything to distinguish her from, like Starfire, or pre-Nu52 Poison Ivy, or a bunch other characters. You’ll forget this design a few years after it goes away, I guarantee it.
The worst part is that they didn’t really have to make this change either. Batman was redesigned, but he’s not that different. If anything he got more lines on his suit. Superman lost his red underwear, and Flash again had more lines on his costume. Why did she have to have a full redesign? Just to put her in her underwear?
Harley has changed a little bit in the Nu52. She was a member of the Suicide Squad right off the bat. Joker was thought dead, so she kind of was on her own. She had to find out who she was. And it turns out she was kind of a wooden character. Or at least, that’s how she was written.
I picked up Suicide Squad as soon as the Nu52 launched, partly because I always liked the idea of the comic and partly because I’ve always had a soft spot for Harley and I thought it’d be interesting to see her on a team. Almost immediately it became obvious that she was taking up some kind of Deadpool roll. A madcap character full of zany comments! Sweet! Also, she loved to get as close to naked as possible. Oh, and there was something about banging Deadshot.
Look, I understand that there is some really cool stories to tell. Maybe she immediately latches onto Deadshot because he’s in the one charge and she responds to leaders. Maybe she has attachment issues because of Joker’s abuse. I never really saw any of that. In all honesty, they could have gotten into that later, I don’t know. I stopped reading Suicide Squad around Joker’s return. Harley just seemed like a weird sex clown and it didn’t really jive with me. I didn’t really care.
Indeed, her own comic may deal more with these things. It is being written by Gail Simone after all. I was just so turned off with Nu52 Harley that I just could not muster up the interest to look. They took this dynamic character and pressed her into this weird one dimensional mold. A zany character who sometimes gets to be sex-crazed whenever. I was bored.
When we first see her in the Nu52, the Joker is presumed dead and she’s on her own. She starts to establish herself as separate from the Joker. So when the Joker does finally come back, she actually breaks away from him! That’s interesting, I suppose. She’s going out on her own! I can’t wait to see what she becomes!
This is where I get a feel that she becomes a worse character. Especially with the behavior changes stated above. I had hoped — I still hope — that I was wrong, that maybe she’s progressed since I stopped reading, kind of like Starfire did. Maybe she was being shown as something more. Then I saw these upcoming Harley variant covers.
Yes, some of these are pretty funny. In a Deadpool way…. and that’s what I find troubling. Maybe it’s too harsh to take this from a bunch of comic book covers, but it made me realize that this cool, layered character is going to be relegated to “Lady Deadpool”. Maybe that’s inevitable. Maybe I’m wrong? Any Harley Quinn fans out there? Let me know if I’ve missed the mark in the comments below.