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Harley Quinn's Queen of Fables is the Black anti-hero we never knew we needed
In Season 1 of the Harley Quinn animated series, Queen of Fables is introduced as an evil sorceress (loosely based on the Evil Queen from Snow White) who was sent to a biblio prison of fiscal proportions for transforming Gotham into an enchanted fairytale land. Though this sounds like a dream come true, the Queen has a knack for creating homicidal elves, goblins, and blind mice to terrorize the citizens of Gotham. It's revealed that none other than Zatanna Zatara comes to the city's rescue and succeeds in transforming the Queen into a U.S. Code Tax Book. All of this backstory is illustrated when Harley Quinn herself seeks out the Queen of Fables as a potential mentor in villainy.
At the time of their first meeting, Harley is desperately attempting to join the Legion of Doom, so on the surface, it seems right that she would take to a mentor such as the Queen of Fables — but is there a significant difference between being a "bad guy" and a bad person, after all? Interestingly, while we know that Harley's arc has questioned the ethics of love, abuse, and "goodness," the QOF sets us up for a new bracket within the villain centric world — the world of the Black Anti-Hero. Alas, there can be no surefire way as to why the Queen of Fables was envisioned in this incarnation, but we can explore both the issues and rewards of such a creation.
Black femininity has historically been depicted within restrictive guidelines that render these characters as only emotional supports, talented tokens, or the "sidekick friend" who is omnipresent. The thin line between respectability and honor has always been a firm point in typecasting for Black women. While the white version of Queen of Fables, who prominently appeared in comics, would appear to be narcissistic and crude, a Queen of Fables of African descent leans into another trope, a fantastical Sapphire — a harmful stereotype that depicts Black women as vivacious, promiscuous, and ungovernable. In contrast with Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Queen of Fables is the ideal antihero because of her ability to maintain complete autonomy in a structure that would see her imprisoned for the rest of her life for her actions.
The Queen (brought to life by Wanda Sykes on Harley Quinn) is sassy and unrepentant, which bears a significant meaning in many creative depictions of Black feminine rage. While the motions for introducing diverse characters into the creative renaissance of comics is genuine, it is interesting to consider the reasons why Queen of Fables was chosen to be presented in this particular incarnation. Comparatively, with the introduction of Selina Kyle (voiced by Sanaa Lathan in Season 2), there's an additional weight lifted off of the misconceptions QOF could embody. By introducing more Black women as antagonists, it also introduces the potential of showcasing the idea that Black femininity is not a monolith and not the same impossible binary standard most Black female characters are written to internalize. Whether it be receiving torture with grace or empathy for those who do her harm, the Black feminine ideal has always had to put herself last in any and every situation.
Upon being freed by the government from a cruel and unjust punishment, it would appear that the Queen of Fables is on track to be a "good, bad guy" by agreeing to help Harley and the rest of her crew steal a Climate Changer. Poison Ivy is hesitant to allow QOF into the crew, wary of her reputation as being "Super Villainy" (or in other words, a Boss B*tch). In the end, Harley ends up saving the Queen of Fables after a botched heist results in a vengeful family member coming to exact revenge. Harley attempts to make reconciliations with the queen, only to be rebuffed and reprimanded for her actions. QOF is allowed to maintain her freedom and autonomy by not expressing empathy or remorse for her actions. Ultimately, this proceeds to her untimely death by beheading — but hey, she was real to the very end.
While we should be cognizant of the history of Black femininity being the ultimate threat to all things, I am optimistic that through the creation of characters like Harley Quinn's version of Queen of Fables, an entertaining villain with truly chaotic evil tendencies, a bevy of future Black characters will be given the right to embody the freedom of simply being in genre — consequences and all.