BoLS logo Today's Tabletop & RPG News

DC Explained: From Joker’s Fool to a Fan-Favorite Anti-Hero – Who is Harley Quinn?

6 Minute Read
Apr 1 2022

She’s been turning our hearts to puddin’ since 1992 – in this house, we stan Harley Quinn, Batman’s cheekiest adversary turned anti-hero.

Harley Quinn might be making a lot of appearances in various DC comic books – from working against or alongside members of the Batfamily to running with the Suicide Squad. But her origin story is very rare. No, not the “psychologist falling in love with a patient” thing. Although that’s pretty weird. I mean that this clever clown made her first appearance in Batman the Animated Series as one of Joker’s nameless gang. But Harleen Quinzel was destined for far greater things.

Created by: Bruce Timm & Paul Dini

Harley Quinns First Appearance: Batman the Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor”

Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated Series

This character wasn’t just created as a cute themed henchlady, but intended as a foil to the Joker meant to highlight all of his personality traits – including his egotism. After seeing his friend actress Arleen Sorkin portray a roller-skating jester on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, he asked the Boston-resident to voice the character.

After seeing the character come to life in a pre-screening, Dini, Timm, and the rest of the show’s producers were delighted. How could they not be? Over the course of the show, Harley because a regular staple in Gotham. And so did her complicated relationship with the Joker.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Joker & Harley Quinn

Harley’s early years revolved around her relationship with the Joker. Constantly cracking her own wise and wanting an intimate connection with him, the Joker is clearly using Harley. But running right back to her Puddin’ was a part of her schtick. Still, the series gave Harley the chance to make it in the world without Mista J. Episodes like “Harley and Ivy,” “Harliquinade,” and “Harley’s Holiday” gave a fan-favorite character a break from being the Joker’s punching bag.

In 1993, Harley made the jump from screen to page in an issue of The Batman Adventures. The story, titled “Mad Love”, was written by the same creative team as the animated series. It scooped up the Eisner Award for “Best Single Story”, and it also revealed Harleen Quinzel’s origin story.


Courtesy of DC Comics

Dr. Harleen Quinzel was a psychologist who received an internship at the infamous Arkham Asylum. After he strikes her curiosity, the good doctor arranges to interview the Clown Prince of Crime. During their sessions, the Joker lies to Harleen about his past, using it to gain her sympathy. As the sessions continue, Dr. Quinzel admits that she has fallen in love with her patient, and helps him escape Arkham.

But once the two leave the asylum, the honeymoon is over. Joker abuses and manipulates Harley. While the creators toed the line to keep it light enough for the kids, Harley Quinn’s treatment is still pretty bleak. And Harley spent a really long time repeating the cycle of abuse.

Harley & Ivy

After one particularly brutal snubbing by the Joker, Harley’s injured body is found by the Green Goddess of Gotham, Poison Ivy. She took pity on Harley, nursing her back to health with her own special medicine. Ivy’s juice gives Harley immunity to toxins, along with super strength and agility.

Over the years, Harley and Ivy became quite the team, and eventually a couple! Considered by many (me, it’s me) to be DC’s ultimate OTP, Harley and Ivy have also found romance on the screen in HBO’s animated series Harley Quinn.

NOW KISS. Courtesy of HBO Max.

The two ladies also teamed up with Catwoman for Paul Dini’s series Gotham City Sirens. The series also explores more of Harley’s early life, including her family and childhood in Brooklyn.


The Suicide Squad

Harley is nothing if not a team player. Her first team, the Secret Six, were a group of criminals who formed to fight for their own interests (for better or worse). But Harley’s most famous team up is definitely with the Suicide Squad. When Harley returned in DC’s New 52 launch event, she had a different (much skimpier) look and more psychopathic tendencies. At this point, a lot of details of Harley’s character were changed, but she was also not hanging out with the Joker anymore. She instead found a new family in her Task Force X teammates.

Courtesy of DC Comics

But this run also changed Harley’s backstory. Instead of willingly following the Joker and choosing to become his sidekick, this Harley was dumped into a vat of chemicals and just went insane. “She just got crazy” was a serious downgrade from Harley’s past story, and fans were not pleased.

After the end of Suicide Squad, Harley got another (much better) roller-derby inspired makeover and a return to the cartoonish personality that fans loved. What’s more, the romance between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy began to blossom, and the writers confirmed that the two ladies were in a non-monogamous romantic relationship.

Harley Hits the Big Screen

In 2016, Harley Quinn was one of several DC villains to make it to the big screen in David Ayer’s film Suicide Squad. While the film wasn’t exactly a gem – I’ll say it, worst Joker ever – Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley was by and far the most charming part of an otherwise meh film. Robbie’s character was so popular that she got her own movie four years later.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Birds of Prey: the Emancipation of Harley Quinn liberated Harley from the Joker once and for all. In the film, she strikes out on her own and incurs the wrath of Black Mask. The film is a gloriously good time, with glitter explosions, fight scenes, and some absolutely excellent roller-skating choreography. The film also introduces regular Gotham fixtures Black Canary, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, and Rene Montoya into the cinematic universe.

In 2021, Harley starred in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, with Robbie turning in another chaotically-charismatic performance as Harley Quinn. Only this time she wasn’t doing all the heavy lifting. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, and has resulted in a spin-off series about the patriotic vigilante known as Peacemaker.


What’s Next for Harley Quinn?

Warner Bros. hasn’t announced any specific upcoming projects featuring Robbies portrayal of the character. But the actress is ready for it. After mentioning wanting a short break from playing Quinn, Robbie told ET:

“No, I’ve had enough of a break. I’m ready to do her again[.] I did Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad back-to-back, so that was a lot of Harley all in a one year period, but that was a while ago now. I’m always ready for more Harley!”

As for Harley’s animated presence, the third season of the show will premiere on HBO Max this fall. Meanwhile Harley’s comic was rebooted in 2021 after the events of “The Joker War” see the Joker attempt to destroy Gotham and Bruce Wayne, Harley’s ex leaves town. In her new title, Harley sets out to help rebuild the city of Gotham. While breaking the 4th wall, of course.

Courtesy of DC Comics

Author: Danni Danger
  • Star Trek: 'Picard' "Fly Me to the Moon" Brings Back an Almost Spin-Off