A tragic, yet loveable figure, whose love for a psychotic clown was ruining her life- Harley Quinn was a fantastic DC villain and is set to re-appear in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Harley’s look was an instantly recognisable classic. A red and black quartered jester with a white face and a thick New York accent, she’s nothing if not memorable. Since her first appearance in the early 1990s as part of Batman: The Animated Series, Harley quickly evolved from being just the Joker’s sidekick to become a fully fledged character in her own right, gaining the origin story ‘Mad Love’ in 1992 that fully explored her background and set the scene for her fall from grace.
The Harley of the animated series was ultimately revealed as a strong character.
Had DC stuck to their guns on Harley’s appearance for Suicide Squad, (basically DC’s version of the Dirty Dozen, it sees some of the best DC villains unite,) this hardly would have sparked any debate. The film, however, is being released in the wake, not just of the Arkham Asylum series of video games, but DC’s own New 52 comic book revamp, both of which have ditched the classic Harley look for something overtly sexual. Arkham went for a kind of ‘naughty nurse’ look but could, just about, be forgiven for that. The theme of the game being the inmate’s taking over the asylum; it makes sense that Harley’s look would change to reflect that.
Worse though is the implied relationship between Harley and the Joker, though never one of equals, it now has taken a perverse turn for the worse.
Suicide Squad though have gone a lot farther than that, for while Arkham Asylum’s Harley was representative of the character’s darker side, her look in Suicide Squad is indicative of nothing more than a desire to over sexualise and, shockingly, infantilise the character. Gone is the classic jester apparel. Gone too is the ‘naughty nurse’ visage. In their place, a crop top and choker complete with baseball bat. Worse though is the implied relationship between Harley and the Joker, though never one of equals, it now has taken a perverse turn for the worse with a whole master/slave theme made implicit if not graphic. Her crop top reads ‘Daddy’s Lil Monster’ and her choker has ‘Puddin’, (Harley’s nickname for the Joker,) emblazoned it. All this comes against a general backdrop of see through clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination. This depiction is a far cry from the Harley of old and comes at a time when many films seem to working hard to portray female characters in a more balanced, less objectifying light. (Recent release Mad Max Fury Road, even consulted Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, for advice on portraying female characters.) Overall, this could be a major mis-step from DC.
Thankfully the two other female characters in Suicide Squad, seemingly, will not be portrayed in a similar light. Harley is afforded no such grace, with actress Margot Robbie likely to struggle in making Quinn’s complex personality stand out in contrast to the way her character’s appearance has been reduced to that of eye-candy for the male audience to salivate over. It’s a betrayal both of the character and of her many fans, who were won over not by the character’s appearance, but by her complex, addictive personality and the fact that she ultimately provided a good example to inspire people by recognising her love for the Joker as the dangerous addiction it was.
The Harley of the animated series was ultimately revealed as a strong character, whose intelligence and insight overcame the self-delusion she had surrounded herself with. In the comics she has moved beyond the Joker, and put her life back together, but most importantly she has remained a serious character who fans from all backgrounds could take seriously and even relate to. Suicide Squad’s Harley is un-likely to offer us such dynamic character development and the fact DC have taken such a backwards step with her appearance is thoroughly disappointing.
By Gareth Wood