“Suicide Squad” marks a major milestone for one of the most popular and unique villains in the Batman mythos: this is the live-action debut of the Joker’s deranged, lovesick partner in crime, Harley Quinn. Since her debut in 1992, Harley has become as popular among Batman fans as her dear old “Mr. J,” spawning a relationship with Batman’s nemesis that has been fun and disturbing in equal parts, but always complex and engaging.
Harley’s introduction to Gotham City was quite different compared to her compatriots in Batman’s rogues’ gallery. Instead of making her debut in a comic, she was introduced in an episode of the critically acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series.” In the episode, Harley is introduced as an accomplice to the Joker’s plan to assassinate Commissioner Gordon and several members of Gotham’s elite at a gala in Gordon’s honor. Disguised as a cop, Harley wheels the Joker into the event inside a giant cake before filling the room with a gas that paralyzes everyone, allowing the Joker to make a grand entrance and plant a bomb on Gordon’s chest.
According to an interview with original voice actor Arleen Sorkin, “Batman” show runner Paul Dini came up with the idea for Harley after watching an episode of “Days of Our Lives” in which Sorkin dressed up in a jester’s outfit during a dream sequence. Dini and Sorkin knew each other during their days at Emerson College, and Dini asked her if she’d be interested in taking the role.
A couple years later, Dini gave Harley her origin story in an award-winning one-shot comic called “Mad Love.” The comic revealed that Harley was once a psychiatrist named Harleen Quinzel, who took a job at Arkham Asylum to learn more about criminal psychology. It was there that she met the Joker, who manipulated her during their sessions by telling her a phony story about being raised by an abusive father. After many sessions, Harleen came to realize that she was falling in love with the Joker, and that she believed Batman was getting in the way of him getting better by preventing the Joker from being accepted in the world. She then took it upon herself to break the Joker out of Arkham, creating the alter ego of Harley Quinn in the process.
In the years since, the relationship between the Joker and Harley has been explored in comics, animated series, and video games. On a regular basis, their relationship proves to be an abusive one, as Joker berates and assaults Harley whenever he’s displeased with her. In “Mad Love,” Harley captures Batman and plans to drop him into a pool of piranhas in the hopes that killing him will make Joker love her. Instead, it only enrages him, as he can’t stand the idea of his sidekick upstaging him and stealing the bragging rights that would come with being the one to off Batman.
But it has been suggested that the real reason why the Joker attacks Harley is because she has succeeded in winning his heart, but he can’t admit it because doing so would negate his nihilistic worldview. In another Dini comic called “Batman: Harley Quinn,” the Joker decides to kill off Harley by tying her to a rocket. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt some changes coming over me since you entered my life,” he explains. “I’ve been reminded of what’s it like to be part of a couple, to care for someone who cares for me. It’s the first time in recent memory I’ve had those feelings…and I hate having those feelings! They’re upsetting, confusing and worse, distracting me from getting my share of Gotham now that the getting’s good!”
Harley’s turbulent relationship with Mr. J has led her to find other Gotham rogues to hang out with. She’s worked occasionally alongside Catwoman and Poison Ivy, with her relationship with the latter being confirmed as a romantic one by DC last year. Still despite all of the Joker’s treachery, Harley always decide to take him back at the last moment, resulting in the cycle starting all over again.
In “Suicide Squad,” DC fans will get to see Jared Leto and Margot Robbie re-enact Harley and Joker’s first meeting in Arkham before they both get roped into joining the Suicide Squad by Amanda Waller. If the trailers are any indication, Robbie will be bringing Harley’s gleeful love for nihilistic destruction to the character’s live-action debut. Question is, how far will the film delve into the bittersweet romance that has defined her character arc for so long?
“Suicide Squad” invades theaters on Friday, Aug. 5.