The Editor’s Notes: Harley Quinn Reinvented, Again

The Editor’s Notes is an opinion column allowing our writers to express their honest feelings about comic books, the comic book industry, and all that it inspires. The views expressed within belong solely to their author.

Harley Quinn is, arguably, one of DC’s most popular characters. She’s easily one of DC’s most popular female characters and probably is their most popular female villain.

If you’ve ever attended a convention then you know it’s impossible to swing a dead Robin without hitting a Harley cosplayer. She’s appeared in every animated Batman program since her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series. In every new video game based on the DC Universe, Harley Quinn is either a playable character, like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, or a crucial-to-the-plot NPC, as in the Batman: Arkham series.

With Harley Quinn in such high demand it was only a matter of time before she nabbed her own book in DC’s rebooted universe, “The New 52.” Later this year, Harley Quinn will begin releasing as a monthly series from the “comic book power couple,” Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. As of yet, no artist has been assigned, but judging by the cover for the first issue Ms. Quinn is being reinvented, again.

Most recently, Harley Quinn can be found running missions with the government’s secret organization of villainous mercenaries, the Suicide Squad. She’s had her origin altered slightly – though significantly, in my opinion – and her costume redesigned. This Harley, while still hopelessly in love with Mistah J, wasn’t driven mad by her misguided devotion. Rather, she was tricked and then dunked in acid at Ace Chemicals by The Joker, mimicking his “rebirth” from years ago. Harley Quinn is now as white-skinned as he and her hair, no longer blonde, is half black, half red in a lazy attempt at evoking the look of her classic harlequin outfit. She’s also more certifiably insane than ever, with almost no hope of rehabilitation, and is exceedingly more violent and dangerous. Which explains why she’s now a hired gun working for Amanda Waller.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow. This sounds nothing like the Harley Quinn who gal-palled with Poison Ivy and tried repeatedly to become an upstanding Gotham citizen,” you’re not alone. The changes to Harley’s characterization have been radical, and for a longtime fan like myself impossible to ignore. And while I can appreciate DC’s efforts to define Harley Quinn independently of The Joker, I find her rebooted persona lacking in the mirth, glee – and in some ways – innocence of her original creation. As has unfortunately become the norm, Harley Quinn has been transformed into a gritty, more twisted, darker version of herself, because that’s what modern comic book readers want, right? RIGHT!?

Clearly, I’ve been less than pleased with the direction DC has taken poor Harley, but this news of an ongoing, monthly title from Conner and Palmiotti gives me hope. These two creators have a knack for writing believable, multidimensional women. Their past works speak for themselves: the excellent Power Girl ongoing, the surprisingly not-solely-tits-and-ass Ame-Comi girls, and one of the few successes to come out of Before Watchmen, the Silk Spectre mini-series. These are exactly the kind of credentials I want from whomever DC is putting in charge of Harley Quinn’s latest reinvention.

Speaking with Comic Book Resources, Conner and Palmiotti are looking to establish Harley separately from The Joker and her Suicide Squad teammates, as Palmiotti says,

We took a good long look at the New 52 version and then applied it to what we were going to do in the series. Harley is a complex character and we are going to build on her background, motivations and her home and supporting cast. Sort of what we did with Power Girl but with a mix of a bit more homicidal maniac added in.

That’s how you develop Harley Quinn as an individual. Create a world of her own, with her own adventures and her own problems. Of course, at some point those problems will involve The Joker as the two characters will be forever linked. We all carry emotional baggage with us, and while ours may not be as psychotic as Harley’s, being unable to ever fully let it go is something readers can sympathize with, as Conner points out,

The Joker is someone that she’ll never be able to shake, nor is she really going to want to. Their relationship is a lot of what defines her now, although she is going to get into a lot of stuff where it has nothing to do with him. But that will always be looming in the background. She’ll have some serious ex-boyfriend issues.

Possibly even more heartening than hearing how Conner and Palmiotti are approaching Harley Quinn as a character, is seeing Conner’s new spin on her costume. Harley’s outfit in “The New 52” is horrific. It’s not only cheap and gaudy, but 100% impractical for character known for her acrobatic prowess. Both Conner and Palmiotti are very aware of this,

Palmiotti: The piece of artwork you see by Amanda running with this interview is what we see working for the character. Having so many personalities how can anyone imagine she would wear just one thing. Amanda has a great gift of creating costumes that you can actually wear in real life. A lot of designs these days are so over the top, they just aren’t realistic on any level for a character to fight or even sit on the toilet with them. Yeah, I said sit on the toilet. What do you think happens when the characters are not fighting bad guys? There is a lot of house cleaning, food eating, pet cleanup and bathroom time. Yes…we will be exploring all of these things.

Conner: I am trying to incorporate my favorite things about her latest look and her early costume. I was also inspired by some roller derby girls that I met a short time ago. I think that look totally works for Harley. Another thing I try to keep in mind is what would work really well for costumers and cosplayers, and what would be fun for them to create. One of my favorite things at a comic convention is seeing people dressed up in something that just started out as a thought in my head. Lastly, I always put the character in something that I wish I could run around in all the time.

Some would consider Conner’s comment about creating a costume with cosplayers in mind pandering, but this is exactly the kind of thought process an artist should use to approach a character’s costume. Sure, comics allow some leeway with the true nature of physics, but stray too far into the impractical and your design becomes a real turn off, and not only to cosplayers.

Yes, Harley Quinn fans, there might actually be something to get excited about on the horizon. Two established and greatly admired comic book creators are tackling the latest reinvention of our beloved Harley. They promise to not only put her in character appropriate and practical clothing, but to work on re-establishing Harley as a dreadfully misguided and sympathetic individual, not the twisted, murderous villain we’ve seen in the pages of Suicide Squad. I’m cautiously optimistic but excited, and have already added Harley Quinn to my pull.

For more from Conner and Palmiotti on their approach to this new ongoing series read their full interview with Comic Book Resources. Are you intrigued by this new monthly Harley Quinn title? Were you as upset by Harley’s “New 52″transformation as I? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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