Why I like to rev my Harley (And you should, too!)

by Victoria Fox

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This Thursday one of DC’s more anticipated films, Suicide Squad, debuts.  While the film holds a smorgasbord of intriguing characters, the worst hero ever who’s really been stealing the show is Harley Quinn. At this point there’s really no escaping her, and rightfully so! The introduction of this movie has increased her popularity even more so than the spike we’ve seen in recent years due to her exposure to the video game world (please see any of the Arkham video games). But now, she has finally made it into a live action movie and thus, is even more public than before.  As a large fan of hers in recent years to more of a distant fan of hers for even longer, I personally question why it has taken them this long. I could go on about that for days though, so I’ll spare you.

My main focus here is a question I seem to get a lot; why do you like Harley Quinn?

I’ll start out by saying that I’m a sucker for design, so my initial appreciation of her, from Batman: The Animated Series, was largely superficial.  She looked great! Her costume was fun and fitting for her character. She was new and interesting, which was why I think she has garnered a fairly strong fan base. However, something that always kept me at arms length was her relationship with the Joker.  Yes, it was fun to see them “unsave” the day together, a sort of twisted romance. But at times I found myself easily frustrated with how willingly she would give in to his charms. Yes, it’s possible the Joker cared about her on some complex and largely hard to understand level, but in the end she deserved far better.  The constant cycle of him pushing her away, then winning her back was difficult to stomach on occasion.

After quite some time, I allowed myself to fully fall in love with her character and as time progressed, the Joker became less and less essential to her story. She began frolicking around with best friend Poison Ivy and taking on battles of her own.

Fast forward to the ammending of her origins in DC’s New 52. This new take showed the Joker pushing an infatuated Harleen Quinzel into a vat of chemicals, much like the ones that transformed him.  I took issue with this particularly because it took the choice to become Harley Quinn away from her even more.  Now Harley has always owed her entire existence to the Joker, but to make it even more about what he wanted and what he did seemed unfair. Nonetheless, I still appreciated her for who she was personally; a clown princess with a heart of gold.

The launching of her New 52 solo comic, fronted  by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, brought forth the Harley I always wanted to love.  While I found the change in origin problematic, it became clear that New 52 Harley was all about leaving behind the person she created for the Joker. She was on her own, figuring life out and having incredible new experiences. The Joker was more of a side note that has appeared only a few times. My favorite part of that dynamic was that nearly every time the Joker dropped in, Harley faced him and refused to let him affect her in the way that he used to. This newer story was so moving because it made no excuses for Harley’s past.  She was still fighting her demons as a victim of abuse, but she was conquering those demons, and she was looking fab while doing it.  While her past has been wrought with sadness, horror, and often times betrayal, she continues to push through and build her own life without anyone’s approval.  Harley’s story is one of survival.

So people ask me why I’m a Harley fan, and that is why.  It’s about surviving horrible life experiences. It’s about living, and not just living to get through but living and not letting the bad parts of life quell your spirit. It’s about overcoming the bad times and not letting them change you in the process. It’s about having a good time no matter what you’re doing; whether it’s plotting to date a crime fighting vigilante or partaking in some roller derby. While I hate to break out a Cheetah Girls song here (I don’t really hate it), it’s really all about girl power.

So yes, she’s cute and crazy; traits that I’m sure would charm the heck out of anyone. But it goes so much deeper than that. While she is crazy, she is most certainly not stupid. Often people associate villains with being lesser than that of a hero, whether it be in terms of intelligence, strength, or wit. When it comes to Harley, that association couldn’t be farther off the mark. Gaining a degree in psychology (and from a gymnastics scholarship no less!), Harleen Quinzel is arguably one of the most brilliant characters in the DC universe. She even beat her puddin’ to nearly killing Batman. (Please see Mad Love for the full story, also because it’s just really great). Underneath the insanity is an accomplished genius who has used her smarts to combat the hold the Joker had on her. With her genius intellect, she overcame the obstacles of being the Joker’s victim, and refused to let him be the victor.

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Harley Quinn has more than proven that with her intelligence, strength, and carefree attitude she is a strong and in charge female character that should probably scare us more than most of Batman’s rogues gallery. That being said, it is about damn time she delved into the live action world. While Suicide Squad‘s Harley will no doubt be a smidge different than what I’m used to, I am excited to see this old friend nonetheless.