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Credit: DC Universe

Harley Quinn gave us one of the best queer romances of the year

Contributed by
Jul 13, 2020

Warning: Spoilers throughout for Season 2 of Harley Quinn.

Happy endings, especially for comic book characters, are never a given; in fact, they're almost never a guarantee. That number ticks down even further when the characters involved are, more often than not, perceived as the "bad guys" — whether a long-time member of a certain superhero's rogues' gallery, a persistent nemesis, or just an annoying inconvenience that pops up to throw a wrench in the plot.

But that hasn't been the case for DC Universe's animated series Harley Quinn. Over the course of its two seasons (with an as-of-yet-unannounced verdict on a potential Season 3) it offered a hilarious, at-times heart-wrenching, but ultimately satisfying take on one of comics' most dynamic criminal duos. This time around, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy got to literally drive off into the sunset together — even if it was with most of the New Gotham City PD close behind.

Surprisingly, Harley and Ivy's first team-up didn't actually occur on the page, but on the screen. When Harley first debuted as a character in the 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, "Joker's Favor," she arguably stole the show. From that point on co-creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm slowly evolved her, building in her backstory through a 1994 graphic novel entitled Mad Love, in which Harley's origins were revealed to be even more interconnected to the Joker. As Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a rising psychologist in her field assigned to Arkham Asylum, she was drawn in by the Joker's manipulations and eventually became one of his most loyal devotees, taking the name Harley Quinn.

The same storyline would also later play out in 1999's The New Batman Adventures. It was there that Harley also crossed paths with Poison Ivy via an episode called "Harley & Ivy," in what could best be described as a grudging partnership when their separate missions end up ruining one another's plans (they teamed up a few more times after that over the course of the series' run). Meanwhile, Dini and Timm would also go on to write a three-issue miniseries titled Batman: Harley and Ivy, which emphasized a more flirtatious dynamic between the two women even if an officially romantic relationship never came to pass.

The New Batman Adventures - "Girls' Night Out" / Credit: Warner Bros.

That will-they-won't-they, on-again-off-again dynamic has come to define much of Harley and Ivy's relationship throughout their comic appearances. When DC Comics revamped their entire continuity in 2011 with the New 52, it seemed like a perfect jumping-off point to introduce a romance — and in 2015, the then-writers of the Harley Quinn solo comic, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, confirmed in a tweet via the DC Comics account that Harley and Ivy were in fact "Girlfriends [sic] without the jealousy of monogamy" during a hosted Twitter chat.

Certain comics, like Marguerite Bennett's DC Bombshells, depicted Harley and Ivy kissing on-page in 2016 and subsequently dedicated an entire story arc to their relationship. In the alternate reality of the Injustice video games, an Injustice 2 prequel comic released in 2018 made mention of the two going off to Vegas and getting hitched by an Elvis impersonator — although that marriage would later be undone when they took up opposing sides on the clash between Batman and Gorilla Grodd.

The existence of Harley and Ivy's romance consistently seemed to be a by-product of which creators held the reins at any given time and whether keeping them together — or breaking them up — would better serve the story they were trying to tell. Such is the nature of comics, especially when main books are changing hands so often. Long-running pairings, like Batman and Catwoman, are often enjoying a happily monogamous relationship in one series only to split by the time another creator picks up the baton. But in the case of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy — and taking into account the fact that consistent queer representation in superhero comics, not to mention queer couples in happy relationships on-page, still has a long way to go — any narrative decision to break them up or write their dynamic off as just gals being pals felt discouraging at best and disingenuous at worst.

Credit: DC Universe

With that long, storied, and complicated history in mind, it's what makes the creative choice to have Harley and Ivy's relationship gradually, believably evolve into a romance on Harley Quinn all the more refreshing. Executive producers Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker have gone on record to state that it was always their intention to develop the dynamic between these long-time BFFs and partners-in-crime into something romantic, but in a way that would be true to the characters and how much work they needed to do on themselves separately before they could enter into anything more together.

It's the epitome of a slow burn over the course of the series' two seasons, but it doesn't make the end result any less gratifying. We watch Ivy begin to lean away from the philosophy of hating everyone to maybe liking a small group of people more than most, while Harley's initial growth happens once she's officially broken up with the Joker and starts to realize that maybe the person she's really in love with has been in front of her, quietly supporting her and her endeavors to become the next criminal mastermind of Gotham, the entire time.

Credit: DC Universe

It's an evolution that doesn't happen without some hiccups — like Ivy's decision to pursue a relationship with Kite Man, which starts out as a series of covert hookups and dinner dates before turning into a more serious commitment — but if anything, that only adds to the believability factor. Someone falling for their best friend isn't always going to be smooth sailing; sometimes it's messy and complicated, and sometimes it doesn't happen exactly at the right moment for both parties involved.

But Harley Quinn took the time to build out Harley and Ivy's relationship through all of its ups and downs — Ivy's death at the hands of Joker and eventual resurrection, her subsequent engagement to Kite Man, a near-death experience that culminated in a thank-God-we're-alive kiss, a bachelorette weekend in Themyscira wherein Harley and Ivy hooked up multiple times after partying a little too hard, and the eventual attempts of the diabolical Dr. Psycho to brainwash Ivy into killing Harley herself. Several moments between the two women made it clear that Harley was ready to become more than friends, but Ivy expressed her reluctance to take the plunge in a scene that called back to a Season 1 episode (in which Harley was revealed to be Ivy's biggest fear deep down in her subconscious): "I trust you with my life, but I don't trust you with my heart."

It was that trust that had to be solidified over the remainder of the season — and perhaps in the most dramatic fashion — came to fruition on the day of Ivy and Kite Man's wedding at the Old Gotham Corn Factory. Harley's attempts to interfere with the event are dismissed as her usual brand of chaos-making, but only because she's caught on to the fact that Commissioner Gordon and several officers from the New Gotham Police Department intend to hijack the wedding and arrest all of the criminals who have been invited. Eventually, the whole thing blows up in spectacular fashion, Kite Man comes to the realization that Ivy doesn't really want to marry him after all, and Ivy finally confesses that seeing Harley's willingness to grow and be better is what she's been waiting for in terms of daring to let herself love her best friend more deeply.

The future of Harley Quinn might still be up in the air — as of this writing, a third season hasn't been officially confirmed — but one thing that won't be in question is the future of Harley and Ivy's relationship. Halpern and Schumacker confirmed that, should the show be picked up for Season 3, the two characters will officially be a couple, with the dramatic narrative stakes revolving around something apart from the issue of whether or not they'll break up.

Next to their comics counterparts, it's encouraging to have the confirmation that a Harley/Ivy relationship that was two seasons in the making won't be undone or erased — but this was a course for these two characters that was, frankly, a long time coming. Seeing it fully realized on-screen was only further proof that there's no reason that a romance between these two can't be portrayed consistently in every medium — and not just relegated to the pages of a side series or an alternate continuity outside of official canon. Hopefully, we'll start to see more stories in this same brilliantly funny, badass, and emotional vein begin to take shape. The world's chaotic enough as it is right now; surely we could all do with way more happy endings out there.

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