You know what they say about Harley Quinn: she’s definitely four different characters dating back to the Golden Age. Well, maybe “they” don’t say that, but it’s true — the concept of Harley Quinn did not begin with Harleen Quinzel’s first appearance in 1992. In fact, the concept of a Harlequin as a fourth-wall-breaking jokester dates back to the late 1500s at least, but in DC Comics alone, there were four unique Harleys cruising around the neighborhood.
So, how does DC manage to have multiple Harlequins in one universe? The short answer is that they don’t; we barely see the others in current continuity. The slightly longer answer is that sometimes two of them show up in the same issue so that one can kick the other into traffic. There's definitely always been a “there can be only one” vibe between the Harleys.
Making her debut in All-American Comics #89 in 1947, Molly Mayne saw the mighty superheroes of her era and felt inspired to… commit crimes to get one of them to date her. Molly became a supervillain to flirt with Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of his day. It didn’t work out and she eventually gave up. Decades passed, and Alan was married and widowed before he finally looked up and realized that Molly had been there all along. Well, OK, he had to go find her, but metaphorically she had been standing in front of him for decades. Later, Alan was de-aged to a younger body and Molly wasn’t, so she straight up sold her soul to Neron to become young again. Molly has zero chill.
It is true that Molly Mayne’s history as a character has been focused around a guy who is not that deep, and sure, we know basically nothing about her outside of that. Yet, we cannot sell Molly short. She had a heck of a sense of style — that hat, those tights, that hair, and that lipstick? Nothing short of iconic. Apart from her sweet illusion-casting glasses, she also carried around a mandolin that she would use to crack people over the head with. Maybe she didn’t get her due when she was around, but she sure left an impression.
Duela arrives on the scene and cracks the mystery of Robin’s secret identity in her very first appearance in Batman Family #6. Then she does an about-face and joins the Titans, though she does so without explaining any of the details around who she is or why she keeps telling people she’s the Joker’s Daughter. After leaving the Titans, things go absolutely wild for Duela, and to this day we don’t have a ton of context for who she even is. One iteration of continuity posited her as the daughter of Earth-3’s Joker and his wife Three-Face, yet that doesn’t explain how she drastically changed in age multiple times.
Duela showed up again in the New 52, an extremely edgelord period of DC’s history. She was now a teen girl who found the Joker’s face (his literal face) and just slapped it on and started wearing it around town. Also, at one point, Harley Quinn showed up, got annoyed by Dent's idolatry of the Joker, and kicked her right into traffic! (We told you!)
The granddaughter of Dan Richards (one of the many DC characters to operate under the name of Manhunter), Marcie Cooper eventually joined the Manhunters herself. What does that entail? We read all of those comics and we still have no idea. Later, she made it her mission to destroy Infinity Inc., which she tried to carry out via dating Obsidian. Diabolical!
Molly is kind of the worst. She used her proximity to superheroes to gain possession of Molly Mayne’s illusion-casting glasses, even though stealing from the elderly is almost always wrong. She also convinced poor Solomon Grundy to murder Skyman, which led to Grundy nearly killing her, after which she ended up in prison and disappeared off the face of the planet. Totally normal.
We Don’t Know Who
Well, if it isn’t old what’s-her-face. This iteration of Harlequin doesn’t have a civilian name that we know of, but she does have some of the key traits of Harlequins — a killer sense of style and an overriding interest in a guy who is significantly less compelling than she is.
This Harlequin was convinced that she and the de-aged Alan Scott should be together and tried to convince him of it too. Using her illusory powers, she took him through a series of sci-fi alternate realities in which the two of them shared an epic romance, but Alan just got mad and showed her his version of the story where everything was awful. That seriously bummed Harlequin out, so she realized that she was out of his league, went to therapy, and learned how to set better boundaries in life. Just kidding, she just bounced. We have no idea what happened to her.
This, of course, inevitably takes us to the deluxe model, the one who was built to last. Harley showed up in Batman: The Animated Series as the Joker’s henchman and girlfriend. This was a partnership that would ultimately not stand the test of time, and the two now generally try to murder one another when their paths cross. We later discovered that Harley was from an abusive home and went into psychology to better understand her dysfunctional home life. Instead, she ended up becoming a vigilante, and clown-themed antiheroes would never be the same.
Harley has been beyond and back since her early days — she’s lived in Metropolis with on-again-off-again girlfriend Poison Ivy, definitively told the Joker off, adopted a taxidermy beaver sidekick, and even very nearly become a hero. Sometimes. Kind of.
Obviously, our conclusion is that our modern Harley is the greatest of all the Harleys, but, in all fairness, she is the one with the most screentime. Unfortunately, these other Harlequins were just too ahead of their time. Yet there is something unforgettable about them (their outfits), and they each made their own mark on the DC Universe (with their outfits).