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The Editor’s Notes: Harley Quinn Caught in the Crosshairs of Controversy

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.

At this year’s San Diego Comic Con a new ongoing, monthly series starring Harley Quinn was announced. It’s being written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti and will feature a variety of artists, but most importantly, Conner’s recent redesign of Harley’s unfortunate current outfit. You may recall I was cautiously optimistic but indeed looking forward to this new series, as I wrote in an earlier edition of The Editor’s Notes.

Since then, poor Harley has been caught in the crosshairs of controversy. It all began innocently enough with a contest proposed by DC Comics to not only bring in interest for the new series, but new talent as well. They’re asking for artists aspiring to work in comics to illustrate a page from the new Harley Quinn title’s zero issue. The winner will not only have their page featured in the first issue alongside big name talent like Conner, Paul Pope, and Bruce Timm but – and I’m assuming here as the language is a little unclear – have the opportunity to work with DC Comics again having now officially broken into the industry.

The full text and contest rules can be found on DC’s official site.

Awesome opportunity, right!? What a great way for DC to not only engage with their readers but hopefully foster new talent.

Except, this is DC Comics we’re talking about. A company that has, quite unfortunately, only been mired in one controversy after another. Take an earlier edition of The Editor’s Notes for instance, wherein we call into question DC’s decision to ax the planned marriage of Batwoman and her girlfriend. Hell, there’s even a website whose sole purpose is to host a counter logging how many days it’s been seen DC’s latest PR blunder.

This latest PR blunder being the page from Harley Quinn DC wants anyone, literally anyone who wants to enter the contest, to draw. Here’s the script [trigger warning: suicide],

PAGE 15, 4 panels


Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.


Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.


Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.


Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.

Needless to say, the internet went wild with headlines phrasing the situation as, “DC Holds Contest Asking Fans to Draw Harley’s Naked Suicide!” And the sorry thing is, these headlines weren’t really embellishing or sensationalizing the story either. That is basically what DC was asking for.

I’m honestly bewildered no one at DC Comics looked over this contest and thought, “Hmm, I wonder if anyone will find issue with this?” A comical look at suicide, really!? This is the criteria you’ve given for a contest specifically aimed at amateur artists? Artists who may or may not have any history dealing with such sensitive topics and are not necessarily held to the same expectations or standards of professionals. This was a dumb, dumb move.

Palmiotti, thankfully, quickly fired off a response on his Facebook page hoping to provide some context for the panels contestants were asked to draw,

That the tryout Harley Quinn page went out without an overall description of tone and dialogue is all my fault. I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda and I talking to Harley and giving her a hard time. I should have also mentioned we were thinking a Mad magazine /Looney Tunes approach was what we were looking for.

We thought it was obvious with the whale and chicken suit, and so on, but learned it was not. I am sorry for those who took offense, our intentions were always to make this a fun and silly book that broke the 4th wall, and head into issue 1 with an ongoing story/adventure that is a lot like the past Powergirl series we did. I hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention.

I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since It was my screw up. The idea for the page to find new talent is an amazing one and we hope that can be the positive that comes forward from today on…that we get some new talent working in our field because of this unique opportunity.

And while I sincerely appreciate Palmiotti’s response and do believe they weren’t seeking to trivialize something as serious as suicide, the content is still a dubious choice for a contest where anyone can enter and give their spin on Harley attempting to kill herself. This should have been a serious red flag and I cannot believe there wasn’t another page in the book that would have been better-suited.

After public outcry coupled with a joint statement from the American Psychiatric Association, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness which stated how disappointed they were in DC’s decision, calling the contest, “extremely insensitive, and potentially dangerous,” DC issued their own statement,

The purpose of the talent search was to allow new artists an opportunity to draw a single page of a 20-page story. True to the nature of the character, the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone, as Harley Quinn breaks the 4th Wall and satirizes the very scenes she appears in. DC Entertainment sincerely apologizes to anyone who may have found the page synopsis offensive and for not clearly providing the entire context of the scene within the full scope of the story.

Sorry, too little, too late in my opinion.

First of all, DC, I’m unclear where you’re getting the impression “cartoony” and “over-the-top” is “true to the nature of the character” because as I’ve been following Harley in the New 52, that is not the case. She’s become extremely violent in an extremely un-cartoony way, just look at her recent adventure in their Villains Month event, and instead of being “over-the-top” she’s become quite sinister. In fact, the New 52 has drained most of the whimsy straight out of the character.

Conner’s and Palmiotti’s series still appears to be an opportunity to recapture the fun, gleefully maniacal Harley we all fell in love with, so while I’m now even more cautious, I’m still looking forward to it. I have faith the two will deliver on their promise of providing an entertaining and tonally appropriate comic, even considering this now infamous page, because Conner and Palmiotti are professionals.

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