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Harley Quinn: from Batman to Birds of Prey
When she first showed up in Episode 22 of Batman: The Animated Series, "Joker's Favor," it was easy to see that Harley Quinn had what it takes to be a star. Over the last few decades, we've seen her go from those humble beginnings to, well, the subject of a film franchise. Not too bad for a character who was intended to be nothing more than Joker's henchman of the week! Then again, Harley has always been full of surprises.
Since those humble beginnings, Harley has been all around the world and then some, so we're here to revisit some of her highlights, some of her worst moments, and some of the experiences that make Harley the Clown Princess of Crime that we know and love today.
When we first meet up with one Harleen Quinzel, she is but one of the Joker's many henchmen. So... she helps Joker torture Batman and that's about that. But her creators, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, were so fond of her and the now-iconic portrayal of her by voice actor Arleen Sorkin, they brought her back. Ultimately, it was obvious that her relationship with the Joker was an unsustainable plot point, so they broke them up again and teamed her up with her most iconic partner, Poison Ivy. The two performed many heists together, and Harley slowly started to get over the Joker.
She was quickly introduced to the comics universe with a couple of books in the style of the animated series, first being Batman Adventures #12, then they brought her into canonical continuity in the one-shot, Mad Love. Also by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, Mad Love helped establish the story of how Harley became involved with the Joker. She became his psychologist at Arkham Asylum and fell in love with her idealized version of him, becoming a partner-in-crime despite his aggression towards her and the rest of the world. Flashback stories have been told about this time in Harley's life often, and we found out that in one version of continuity Harley actually killed or severely maimed several children with defective, exploding video games to gain Joker's trust. There's no denying that Harley did some extremely messed-up stuff in her early days.
Queen of Comics
Though Harley became famous due to her roles in the animated series, such as Gotham Girls, as well as her many appearances in video games like Arkham Asylum and Injustice, the majority of her characterization has occurred in the funny books. She's had several volumes of her own solo series and made many more appearances in mini-series with Poison Ivy, as a cast member of Suicide Squad, and guest-starring in any number of books.
In her first solo ongoing, she quickly teamed up with Poison Ivy and moved briefly to Metropolis with her, but she eventually dies and is resurrected. She turns herself into Arkham once she realizes that she's going to keep committing crimes, which is a surprisingly mature decision for our Harls. Unfortunately, it was not to last, and she eventually joined back up with Joker (booooo!). Fortunately for the readers, however, this was also not to last, and she eventually shot the guy when she realized he was in the middle of a scheme to kill her.
Hanging With The Girls
When your former beau tries to kill you in cold blood, there's not much to do but to work on your female friendships. For Harley, that meant going all the way to Themyscira and training as an Amazon with fellow queer Holly Robinson from the Catwoman comics. Not much happened here on the page besides them being gaslit by Granny Goodness, who had infiltrated Paradise Island, but here's our question: why the heck not? Everyone wants to read about The Adventures of Harley Quinn on Themyscira. This is the greatest wasted opportunity of the whole Countdown series, and that is no light statement.
Harley joined back up with Ivy and they both became friends and roommates with Catwoman during the Gotham Sirens series. Again, Harley ended up returning to the Joker's side. Though their reunion was, as usual, short-lived, it damaged her friendship with Poison Ivy. Angry with Ivy, Harley demanded to know why Ivy put up with so much bad behavior from her to begin with, asking, "Is it because you love me?" to which Ivy cannot reply (because it's TRUE!).
New 52 & Old 52
Harley was still obsessed with the Joker even after the New 52 reboot in 2011, which led to some incredibly uncomfortable moments (she put the Joker's severed face on Deadshot and talked to him like he was the Joker), but it also saw the first of her team-ups with the Suicide Squad. She definitely betrayed and nearly killed them, but, in all fairness, she did get shot and also nearly killed, so, truly, what are a few serious bodily injuries among friends?
After all that mess, Harley finally got what many consider to be her definitive take in the Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti run. This series saw her reunited with Ivy, with whom she was now in an openly romantic relationship, and removed her from the Batman universe almost entirely. She acquired her delightful sidekick, Bernie the Taxidermy Beaver during this run, a device that led to the anticipated number of puns. She also very nearly beat the Joker to death before leaving him to rot in Arkham during this series, and if that's not growth, we don't know what is.
Since the Conner/Palmiotti run ended, Harley has truly been all over the place, both in the comics and in the movies. She's still got her own solo series, she starred in an Old Lady Harley series set in the future, she teamed up with Ivy again in the recent Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy mini-series, she has her own animated show, she showed up in the Suicide Squad movie, and, oh yeah, she's bringing the Birds of Prey to the big screen in the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn as we speak. Harley isn't always the easiest character to love, and she's not always morally sound, but when it comes to clown-themed antiheroes, she's the very best we've got. Here's to you, Harls, and may you give us many more years of your antics and adventures!