No one could have expected the demented, yet cheerful associate of the Joker to rise to such fame, but she exceeded all expectations to her fame. Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, and ever since then, she's had a meteoric rise in popular appeal, most recently appearing on the big screen in DC's 2016 Suicide Squad. The Joker's crazy sometimes-girlfriend is a hit, and it's enough to make you wonder why. Why all the adoration from millions of fans? What about Harley Quinn's tale causes so many to become enraptured with her character?
She's undergone quite a few changes since 1992, from costume changes to new versions of her backstory, but her magnetism has remained stalwart. We don't consider a Batman/Joker story to be quite as complete without her now. The tension she brings to encounters with the Caped Crusader or the Clown Prince of Crime with her silly mannerisms and temper tantrums is astonishing, but perhaps it isn't so surprising. Harley Quinn fans will know that one of the largest reasons for her appeal is that her origin story is just as tragic as Bruce Wayne's. The chipper villain (or anti-hero) we see on the page or on the screen has suffered from her mental state and the Joker's continual abuses, and yet she keeps coming back for more.
Harley's history across the various universes (yes, we said universes) contains some slight variations, but what you can never fail to find are shocking, and usually disturbing, elements to her story. So if you want to take a peek into one of the most enduring female villains' past, read on.
25 Hi, Hyenas!
Admittedly, the two hyenas frequently seen gamboling around Harley are technically the Joker's. But they actually seem to prefer Harley to the Joker. This could be because she's the one who showers them with affection, whereas the Joker just orders them around like attack dogs. Harley will call them her "babies" and pet and caress them. From the first moment that we saw them on Batman: The Animated Series, we knew that these were Harley's pets.
Things take a turn for the dark in the New 52 series. Joker turns good ole Bud and Lou into raging hyena monsters, and sets them on Harley. Harley realizes to her grief that Joker has purposefully given them rabies, and that's why they're mindlessly slavering. Harley is forced to kill her beloved hyenas before they can kill her. People who are fans of the Harley-Joker relationship should really reconsider their shipping preferences.
24 Green Isn't Harley's Color
"In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight." Those are the beginning words of the Green Lantern oath. Now, evil has a very loose interpretation on occasion, but we're fairly sure that the last time we checked, Harley Quinn has been considered a villain, killing dozens of people and harming hundreds of others. That's a fairly basic definition of the term "evil." So does she sound like the kind of person who should be wearing the Green Lantern ring?
Well, she manages to slip on Hal Jordan's ring for a brief moment and actually uses it. When Harley Quinn gets it into her mind to find a power ring, she runs into complications which brings Hal Jordan of the Green Lantern Corps to her rescue. While fighting a common enemy, the two of them are blasted in the sky, sending an unconscious Hal and a Harley with no flight abilities plummeting to Earth. Harley yanks off Hal's ring and saves the two of them with some quick Green Lantern action. Only those with extraordinary willpower can use the rings. But if Harley Quinn, the loveblind girl who constantly tags along after her abusive "boyfriend" and can never seem to leave him, can use a Green Lantern Ring, does that mean that any old schmuck can put it on? The implications of this are disturbing.
23 What Nice Skin You Have
In the New 52's Suicide Squad series, Harley Quinn does some pretty messed up stuff to one of her teammates. She gets an insane hankering to break into the Gotham City Police Headquarters so that she can steal Joker's face. That's right. We said face. In this universe, Joker cut the skin off of his face, so that when he peeled it off, it was a kind of mask. (Again Joker-Harley shippers, stop this madness.)
The Joker's face is in police evidence, so Harley breaks in to steal it. The rest of the Squad go after her in order to stop her. Deadshot gets too close to her, and she knocks him out before he can take her out. He wakes up tied to a chair with his mask off and Joker's face slapped over his own. Harley then tries to have a conversation with the "Joker." If her sanity wasn't in question before, it definitely is now.
The entire story of Injustice is tragic. It makes for a great fighting game, but for comics fans, it's not easy to see the world's greatest super hero become the world's greatest villain. Superman has always stood for truth, justice, and the American way. But when the Joker tricks him into killing Lois and their unborn child, Superman wants to stand for nothing but a cold fist of revenge through the Joker's chest.
Harley Quinn was along for the whole ride. She kidnapped Lois with the Joker (also killing Jimmy Olsen in the process). She performs surgery on Lois, syncing her heart with a trigger to a nuclear bomb in Metropolis. So when Superman is tricked into killing Lois (fear gas laced with Kryptonite made him think she was Doomsday), not only does he lose his wife, but he loses his city. Is there anybody left who doesn't believe Harley Quinn is a villain?
21 Ivy And Harley, Best Of Friends
Now Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn is a ship we can get behind. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn have been an unbeatable duo since they met in Batman: The Animated Series. They pull off crimes perfectly together and they have oodles of fun doing it. And what's better, Poison Ivy is actually a good influence on Harley. She comforts her whenever the Joker dumps her and tries to convince her that she should leave him.
The truly depressing thing about their relationship is that Harley never listens to Ivy. It's clear that Ivy holds a special place in Harley's heart, but time and again, Harley betrays her to go back to "Mistah J." The one friend who truly seems to care for Harley can't get her to quit her relationship with the Joker.
20 The Joker's Retirement Plans
There is no straight set of guidelines for what a former Joker henchman should do after he or she leaves the Joker's service. Besides a long stint in prison, there's nothing much to look forward to. Not to fear. Joker has his own plans for what should happen after you part ways with him.
While recovering from a nasty head wound in Arkham Asylum, the Joker was meeting secretly with Harley Quinn as she pretended she was his speech therapist. On Joker's orders, Harley had been killing former members of his crew while he was stuck in Arkham. Little did she know that he wanted to kill her as well, since she was/is the most prominent person among his followers. In the end, she is saved by Batman, and she shoots the Joker in the shoulder. However, she follows after the Joker as he is dragged back to Arkham, asking him pleadingly if he still loves her.
19 Smooth, Acid-Bleached Skin
In early comics and in the animated series, Harley Quinn's skin is not naturally that white. She applies paint or powder in order to achieve that pale-clown look that the Joker always possesses. She's seen several times out of costume with a regular skin tone. With the coming of New 52, Harley's origin story was revamped slightly, and her skin's whiteness became a permanent part of her.
Harleen Quinzel, Harley's name before she joins up with the Joker, still helps Joker escape Arkham in the New 52. However, in this rebooted universe, he takes her to the vat of acid he fell into when he had his transformation into the Joker and forcibly pushes her into it. The acid bleaches her skin permanently and turns her insane.
18 Your Friendly Neighborhood Psychiatrist
Harley's origin story doesn't start when she decides to apply white paint on her face or when she's pushed into a tub of acid, depending on which universe you're reading from. It starts a little bit before that, when a young psychiatrist at Arkham named Harleen Quinzel takes over the Joker's therapy. As she interviews him, Harleen finds herself falling in love with this mad killer and sympathizing with what she supposes are his motives. She eventually falls in love with him so much, that she helps him escape the asylum and becomes his accomplice.
The Joker wooed her over with stories of abuse he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father. Not only did she believe them, she believed that he truly loved her, which inspired her to constantly aid him in all of his plans. She foregoes her name of Harleen Quinzel and adopts the name of Harley Quinn for the persona she becomes, the red-clad jester accomplice in the Joker's schemes.
17 The Rocket Of Love
Have you ever loved someone so much you want to place them in a rocket and launch it into outer space so you never have to see them again? Well, the Joker did. In a rare show of "affection," the Joker tricks Harley into going into a rocket ship and then seals her inside. There's a video screen within the rocket, and Joker's image appears there as the rocket takes off. He confesses to Harley that he has been feeling all these mushy romantic feelings about her.
This must have made Harley's day, but of course, the Joker then declares that he hates those feelings. Love and affection distract him from the things that he really needs to focus on. Like sowing discord in Gotham and Batman. Harley manages to land the rocket very roughly and survives mostly intact. We're sure her love for the Joker remained intact as well.
16 Harley's Graduate Thesis
Back when Harley was Harleen, she attended Gotham State University, looking to get a degree in Psychiatry. She wanted to enter a graduate program under that major, so in order to do that, she created a graduate thesis, which she showed to one of her professors. Harleen's thesis stated that people only disregard the rules of society when they are committing a crime or when they are in love.
Her graduate thesis is a huge foreshadowing for Harleen's fate. Harleen, or should we say Harley, disregards the rules of society as she commits crimes because she's in love. In the origin for Harley Quinn that they set in Batman: The Animated Series, her thesis holds true at least for herself. They diverged from this in the New 52, where the majority of Harley's psychological problems are born when she is pushed into the acid vat by the Joker unwillingly.
15 Give Me Harley Or Give Me Death
Death has been overused in comics. Too often have super heroes been killed off in order to increase the drama of a story, only to be brought back as if nothing had happened. Resurrect a character enough times, and death, the greatest threat that faces everybody, starts to mean less and less.
Unfortunately, even Harley Quinn did not escape this treatment. She gets killed after having moved to Metropolis with Poison Ivy, and winds up in Hell. She stirs up trouble there because she's stuck in Hell with several former associates of hers who she killed, but in the end, she is kicked out. Of Hell. That's right. Kicked out. Expelled. Banished. When she is resurrected, she goes back to Arkham Asylum and turns herself in because she finally understands that she needs help. (Spoiler: She goes back to her old ways, completely unreformed.
14 Harley Quinn, Landlady Extraordinaire
Harley Quinn becomes a landlady in the New 52, a strange departure from her normal occupation of being the Joker's welcome mat. Somehow, she is given a four-story property on Coney Island to take charge of. Within are an assortment of tenants that Harley befriends and we're assuming collects rent from.
Harley Quinn becoming a landlady is one of the changes that the New 52 brought about when DC decided to reboot their comics and erased almost thirty years of continuity. It's by no means the worst of the changes. It's merely indicative that DC was only keeping core concepts from their original stories; they wanted to reinvent their characters. Harley striking out on her own is a clear departure from her previous iterations in which she was always attached to the Joker.
13 Harley Pulls A Batman
Speaking of the changes that New 52 has wrought upon our beloved heroes and villains, one of the biggest changes that occurred was Harley distancing herself emotionally from the Joker. At the beginning of New 52, Harley's character was still emotionally drawn toward the Joker, as seen by the disturbing Joker's-face-on-Deadshot's-face scene. But when she moved away from Gotham, a clearer change began to occur.
When she is breaking a friend of hers out of Arkham Asylum, who should she run into but the Joker. He tries to cajole her into letting him out so that they can reunite. Harley lets him out, but only to give him a piece of her mind. She uses her words and her fists alike, beating the Joker until she is clearly the victor. She pulls a gun on him, but then doesn't shoot, realizing that the escalation of violence is all that the Joker wants. This Harley is a far cry from the Harley who would betray Poison Ivy and Catwoman to free the Joker from captivity. And we think we like her for it.
12 Harley Quinn And The Quinntets
Who says the Joker's the only one who can have henchmen? Harley Quinn forms her own criminal band of henchmen who work solely for her. They are set up to perform heists, but their progress as a band does not go well. Harley functions surprisingly well as a team player, especially if the Joker's not around. When the Joker's around, you always get the feeling that he's about to double-cross someone. Harley's lightheartedness and surprising loyalty to her friends makes her an asset to any team that she wants to be a part of.
When Harley does her tour of Hell, she runs into her Quinntets, all of who have died and landed themselves in Hell, one of them dead at Harley's hands. Together, they all plan to escape the confines of Hell. Harley makes it out, but sadly, it is presumed that the rest of her team could not.
11 Scholarship In Gymnastics, Degree In Psychiatry
Harley Quinn attended Gotham State University with the help of a gymnastics scholarship. Even though she pursues a career in psychiatry, it is interesting to note that she has this background in acrobatics. It definitely comes in handy when she begins her career in villainy with the Joker. Her former life ends up assisting her, similar as to how Dick Grayson's former life as an acrobat in the circus plays a large role in how he fights as Robin and Nightwing.
During combat, Harley's style of fighting clearly shows her apparent skill in gymnastics. She's considered to be an Olympic-level gymnast. It is depressing to imagine that if Harley had decided to pursue a career in gymnastics instead of psychiatry, she might never have met the Joker and turned to a life of crime. Of course, her delightful antics do crack us up, and we would miss them.
10 My Chemical Romance
The scene in Suicide Squad where Harley and the Joker leap into a vat of milky white chemicals is a different take on the New 52's storyline following the same events. In the comics, the Joker leads Harley to a vat of acid at an Ace Chemicals plant. Ace Chemicals is where the Joker himself fell into the acid that sparked his change into the Clown Prince of Crime. He takes her there for her rebirth, transforming her from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn. In the comics, she is fearful and struggles against being pushed into the acid, and when she emerges less than sane, it tinges her character's backstory with even more tragedy because it is no longer her fault for having those violent tendencies.
Some Harley Quinn fans were upset that her agency in following after the Joker had been taken away from her. Upon seeing flashes of the scene in Suicide Squad's movie trailer, fans bemoaned that DC was going to rehash the same thing. However, the movie spun the scene differently. Harley jumps into the vat of her own volition, losing her sanity in one swift jump, and retaining her agency as an avid Joker lover.
9 Harley's Home For Christmas
Written by Paul Dini, Gotham City Sirens #7 takes us into the dysfunctional home of Harley Quinn, where her mother, father, and brother live. Harley's identity is known to the public, so her family is fully aware that she is a "villain." Even so, her interactions with her family members are unnervingly dysfunctional in a normal way.
Her brother is lazy by nature, even though he has two kids out of wedlock. We get the feeling Harley's mom is providing for her two grandchildren more than their own father. Her father is in prison for cheating a woman out of her money, and her mother is supporting the household. Harley tells her father that he is the reason she got into psychiatry, because she wanted to understand why he would put his family through what he did. Reading that, we wanted to cringe. She inadvertently blamed him for her meeting the Joker, freeing the Joker, joining the Joker, and basically becoming a criminal with the Joker. Talk about family issues.
8 A Finger With Love
In the New 52, Harley's dysfunctional family was struck by tragedy, or at least her father was. A drunk driver killed her father, but since the man was rich, he got off without any sort of punishment. During one of Harleen's therapy sessions with the Joker, after their relationship had gotten closer, the Joker revealed that he knew about her father's demise. This was shocking for Harleen to hear, especially given the fact that the Joker was an inmate within the walls of Arkham Asylum and should have had no way to obtain that information.
But that is not all. The Joker does not merely show to Harley that he has this information about her past. He also presents her with a gift to show her how well he esteems her. He gives to her the finger of the man who killed her father, regretfully informing her that he could not bring the man's entire dead body into the asylum. The Joker's gift of her father's killer's finger brings Harley that one step closer to making the decision to free him from Arkham.
In at least one reality, Harley had some grandchildren. It's never explicitly stated who their parents are or who their grandpa was, but they both recognized Harley Quinn as their grandmother. Delia and Deirdre Dennis are Harley's twin granddaughters. They take on the name Dee Dee (that's how they refer to each other separately and collectively), and they join the Jokerz. The Jokerz are a gang that idolizes the Joker (deceased in this timeline), and Dee Dee are a perfect fit for the group.
They make their appearance in the animated movie, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. In it, they and the Jokerz plague the new Batman, Terry McGinnis. They give this Batman a run for his money using the same gymnastic abilities that Harley utilized in her time. Their abilities do not stop them from getting caught and arrested. An aged Harley is the person who bails them out before their trial and gives them a good granny whacking with her cane.
6 Who Is That Guy?
While Harleen was studying Psychiatry at Gotham State University, she also dated a fellow Psychiatry major named Guy Kopski. So while Harleen was working on her graduate thesis about love, crime, and the rules of society, Guy was making his thesis about Chaos Theory. It's the little ironies in comics that make them so worth it. The two of them were quite happy together, or at least they were, until Harleen decided to include Guy in an experiment to test her thesis on.
She created a lie, saying that she accidentally shot her graduate professor and that the cops were after her, in order to "test" Guy's love for her. Instead of, I don't know, calling the cops, Guy picks up a gun in order to make sure that her graduate professor was really dead and would not spill the beans on her. He crazily shoots an innocent person who he thought was her professor, and then ends his own life because he can't bear to live with himself. This causes Harleen to believe that chaos really does rule the world and that this one inmate at Arkham that she has read about (three guesses as to who this inmate is) understands the chaos.
5 An Ocean Of Calamine Lotion
Whenever "Mistah J" got tired of Harley and kicked her out of wherever they were staying, Harley's number one place to go to was Poison Ivy's. However, Poison Ivy gives off a toxicity that makes prolonged exposure to her company deadly. In order to have Harley safely stay with her, Poison Ivy gave her a serum that immunized her from her own toxicity. The serum did not just protect Harley from Poison Ivy, but it also made her immune to several other toxins, including the Joker's laughing gas.
The serum imbued Harley with some very beneficial side effects as well. Her agility and strength were both enhanced by it, which does not mean that Harley can effectively battle Superman, but it does mean that she can deal her fair share of damage as well as take it.
4 Working For Wonder Woman's Mom
When a woman claiming to be Athena (of the Greek pantheon) sets up a women's shelter, Harley finds a safe haven to recover from the blustery whirlwind that is her life. All is not as it seems at this shelter. Teaming up with Holly Robinson, a former Catwoman, Harley comes to the conclusion that something subversive is going on.
"Athena" takes some of the women from the shelter, including Harley and Holly, and begins giving them Amazon training on Themyscira. Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and Wonder Woman's mother, gets word to Harley and Holly, and together they find out that the "Athena" they know is none other than Granny Goodness, Apokoliptian and servant of Darkseid. She has been training the "Amazons" to be her own personal army. Harley, Holly, and Hippolyta defeat Granny Goodness with the help of Mary Marvel.
3 Time For The Roller Derby
New 52's Harley needed a job, and she finds the perfect fit working part-time for a roller derby team. She is a feisty member of the team, and clearly shakes out her aggressive tendencies while playing the sport. For those who don't know how roller derby is played, the general rules are as follows. Two teams of five members each skate around a track in the same direction, like race car driving. Each team assigns a single member who gains points for passing the members of the other team called jammers. The rest of the team will block the opposing jammer and try to help their own. Roller derby is very much a contact sport.
We think that this is a sport that is right up Harley Quinn's alley. It takes no small degree of skill and agility, and it requires that you know how to take a fall. Plus, there's an inherent violence in all contact sports that we know Harley would excel at.
2 A Date With Bruce Wayne
The Joker's all-time gal did indeed go on a date with Batman. Well, strictly speaking, she didn't know that he was the Batman. To Harley Quinn, she got a date with billionaire Bruce Wayne. As part of his rich playboy cover, Bruce Wayne signs himself up for a charity auction; the highest bidder will get to go on a date with the infamous Bruce Wayne. Harley does not want to let this chance pass her by. Because Harley had to steal the money in order to win the bid, the auction is attacked by a man wanting to steal back the money. Bruce ends up incapacitated.
Harley can't let her date with Bruce Wayne end like this, so of course she goes after him. She rescues him (at the inopportune moment when Bruce is making a deal with his captor), and then insists on going on a date anyways. They have a nice talk and a nice good night kiss that leaves Harley sighing all the way home. She gets a surprise visit from Batman that night, praising her rescue of Bruce Wayne (subtle, Batman, real subtle). She kisses him before he can make a Bat exit, but the kiss does not meet her expectations. She gives Batman the hint that he should learn how to kiss from Bruce Wayne.
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1 Unconditional, Mad Love
In Paul Dini's issue for The Batman Adventures, "Mad Love," Harley cleverly captures the Batman. In order to distract her, Batman tries to convince Harley that the Joker doesn't really love her, and if she needs evidence, simply call the Joker and tell him what she is currently doing. She does, and the Joker arrives, furious at her for getting in between him and Batman. He throws her out a window and she is severely injured. Days later, as she recovers from her injuries at Arkham, Harley vows to forget about the Joker. But one bunch of flowers and a "Get Well" card later, and she's head over heels again.
That is the most tragic fact of Harley's life: a large part of her will always love the Joker despite all that he has done to her. She will forgive his every wrong, and remain his victim for as long as she lives. We can hope for her, as her allies hope for her, but as the end of Dini's story relates, there's no reasoning with mad love.