With the brand new, original Harley Quinn animated series on its way November 29th, we’re rolling out the red-and-black checkered carpet all month for a character spotlight on the Darling of Arkham Asylum, and every Wednesday in November is officially Harley Quinnesday! It’s been 27 years since we first got to know Harley in Batman: The Animated Series, and few characters in DC’s deep bullpen have evolved quite so much in that time. After all, Harley’s trademark jester cap is but one of the many hats she’s worn over the years, playing all sides of the moral spectrum. Think you’ve got Harley Quinn figured out? If there’s one thing we’ve learned about her, it’s that she’s always got a new role tucked up her sleeves to keep us guessing. Here are just some of the myriad takes on Harley Quinn we’ve seen over the years.
THE LOVESICK LOON
The first time we meet Harley Quinn is early in Batman: The Animated Series, as a colorful gun moll for The Joker’s eccentric gang of hooligans. This iconic, original take on Harley is the one who fawns helplessly her “Mister J,” forever struggling for the approval of a madman which will never come. Little more than a sight gag upon her first appearance in “Joker’s Favor,” the unique character design coupled with voice actress Arleen Sorkin’s unforgettable performance struck a chord with us all when she laments at the end of her tete-a-tete with Batman, “I knew I shoulda stayed in beauty school.” It’s the little details that separate a one-shot character to an icon who rivals the Justice League in recognizability.
Created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series, Harley’s origins are first explored in The Batman Adventures: Mad Love. Before Arkham, before The Joker, Harley was Harleen Quinzel, a promising young mind in the field of psychology who sought redemption for those tortured souls who needed it most. Every so often, this original sympathetic side of Harleen peers out through the chaos, reminding us of the dedicated analyst she once was.
THE LIBERATED LIBERTINE
Harley steps out of the toxic shadow of The Joker for the first time in “Harley and Ivy” — and we’re not talking about Smilex. In this Thelma and Louise inspired romp, Harley learns to live a little and enjoy life on her own terms by pairing up with the driven Pamela Isley on one madcap adventure which would lead to many more. Over time, it’s become apparent that Ivy represents not just an escape for Harley from the prison of the Clown Prince, but a real shot at a future, demented as it may be. (And, yeah… we ship it.)
THE QUEENPIN OF CRIME
The logline for the upcoming Harley Quinn series may ring a bit familiar for those who have followed her through her myriad spin-off comic series. In this animated feature, Harley’s goal in separating from The Joker is to establish her own criminal empire, making a space for herself in Gotham’s underworld as an independent Super Villain. Harley Quinn’s first ongoing series from the year 2000 begins on a similar note, with Harley pooling her resources so she can strike out on her own. Where it goes from there is… a direction which may only be clear to Harley herself. But it’s definitely one hell of a ride.
With the launch of The New 52 in 2011, Harley was given a new role that nobody saw coming: the frontwoman of the rebooted and perennially doomed Suicide Squad, where anyone could die at any time. Through all the chaos and bloodshed, Harley improbably survived one inescapable death scenario after another with cartoonish glee in her most violent role to date. Eight years later, it’s hard to imagine the Squad without her. It’s pretty telling that her live action movie debut wasn’t as The Joker’s lapdog, but as the leading lady of Task Force X.
DAYTIME TALK SHOW HOST
One of the most interesting things about 2004’s The Batman animated series was how it remixed familiar villains with completely new directions. Naturally, Harley Quinn’s debut was no exception. This version of Harley was a the host of a pop psychology based daytime talk show with a penchant for harmful advice. Considering The Joker’s own penchant for hijacking the airwaves for his own deadly mind games, this fresh background seems like a match made in malicious media heaven. After all, what’s a clown with an audience?
ANYTHING... AND EVERYTHING!
Everything changed for Harley Quinn in 2013, when she truly, deeply broke OUT. Out of The Joker, out of Gotham, out of Belle Reve, and practically out of continuity — all to start a brand new life on Coney Island. And ever since, Harley’s had the freedom to follow every crazy dream her mixed up heart can conjure. She’s been a roller derby queen, an animal rescue vigilante, Power Girl’s super-sidekick, a Female Fury, and even a candidate for public office. (Not too much of a stretch, considering… well, never mind.) Unfettered by the demons of her past and with a wide world of possibility ahead of her, Coney Island is Harley Quinn’s eden paradise: an indefinite vacation from common sense going on six years and counting. Harley Quinn will always have a new role to play, but one thing is clear: she’s through with letting people tell her what she has to be.