I know I said I’d have a Sherlock Review for you guys today, but this needed to be addressed.
On Free Comic Book Day, my friend, whom I shall call Joe, questioned my reluctance to have some faith in the Suicide Squad movie due to the fact that my biggest problem with it is that they’re using Harley Quinn’s New 52 origin which takes away her agency in becoming a supervillain as opposed to the original ‘Mad Love’ story where she chooses to become a supervillain, arguing that Joker fell into the same vat of chemicals that he pushed Harley into and therefore had no agency in his becoming a supervillain as well. We never got to finish this argument as we had to leave the comic store to go to the next one and he seems to have let the issue go…And since I can’t let anything go, we’re going to examining this.
First off, let’s take a look at the currently agreed on canon origin for the Joker as of 2016. We’ll then compare it with Harley’s New 52 origin and compare that with Harley’s original origin story.
According to DC Database (a Wiki which is NOT as well updated as Marvel’s by the way), the currently agreed on origin for the Joker on the current Earth Prime (post-’Flashpoint’) is 2013’s ‘Batman: Zero Year’ by current Batman writer Scott Snyder, who as far as I can tell is not related to Zack Snyder. In this story, the Joker begins his life as the leader of The Red Hood Gang, a criminal who blackmailed wealthy Gothamites to be in his gang as hostages. As Bruce Wayne became Batman, he began freeing/ getting rid of the gang one by one, leading to a showdown between the gang, Batman, and the GCPD at the Ace Chemical Processing Plant, supposedly filled with flesh eating chemicals the gang was going to steal. As the leader tried to escape, he and Batman ended up over a vat of chemicals. When Batman tried to save him, the leader escaped his grasp and intentionally fell into the vat. Though Batman believed him to have died, in reality he mutated into the mass murdering maniac known only as the Joker.
So, not only did Joker CHOOSE to fall into the vat, but he was also a terrible person/ maniac before hand. Sorry, Joe. Not looking too good for your argument.
Now let’s look at Harley’s New 52 origin, made by Adam Glass in 2012. A psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum, she disguised herself as a patient in order to better understand them. The Joker saw through her disguise and seduced her, finding out details about her past to get close to her. When her supervisor stole her notes to publish them as her own and discovered what she’d been doing, having already been seduced by the Joker, Harley killed a guard and helped Joker escape. He took her to the Ace Chemical Plant and, when she realized what he was about to do, she tried to get away. Unfortunately, he pushed her into the vat and the chemicals inside made her lose touch with reality, latching on to the Joker as her only anchor until he abandoned her. By that time, however, she had become so used to her new reality that she could manage on her own.
So, Harley was, debatably, perfectly sane before she met Joker, killed a guy when someone tried to steal her work, helped Joker escape, did NOT want to be turned crazy by the chemical vat and tried to escape, but Joker pushed her in anyway meaning that she had NO say in becoming a supervillain.
Thankfully, things have only gotten better for Harley since she’s gotten better and much more deserving writers. Since her break up with Joker, Harley has since left Gotham for New York and is happily living in her own solo series as an anti hero where she gets up to well meaning chaos and is confirmed to be in a non monogamous relationship with Poison Ivy, a character who, while still a villain who gets locked up in Arkham a lot, is still an infinitely healthier match for Harley than Joker.
Let’s look at Harley’s original origin, made by Paul Dini in 1994. Starts off similar enough, working at Arkham. She doesn’t go undercover, but she does want to interview the Joker as she wants to write a tell all book. Over the course of their sessions, he makes her sympathise and fall in love with him over a supposed tragic backstory and her charm, as well as makes her share his hatred for Batman. After seeing what Batman did to Joker after bringing him back when he escapes, Harley busts Joker out of jail, wearing the Harley Quinn outfit, and they go on their criminal way: no chemicals making her crazy, no Joker making her do anything, just her, him, and their abusive relationship.
Harley chooses to become a supervillain. She becomes crazy on her own terms, it’s a natural, if not tragic, process. NOT an artificial one. Her skin isn’t bleached white by chemicals, it’s makeup.
I could go into the whole ‘what’s up with her outfit in the New 52’, but the lady can wear what she likes. I just miss the classic jester outfit over the hotpants and tank top look. Whatever.
So yeah, Joker chose to be crazy by refusing Batman’s help and because he was already an asshole. Harley in both versions was a well meaning, misguided, but still pretty normal and decent psychiatrist who succumbed to the Florence Nightingale effect and fell in love with her patient. In one version, Joker forces her to go crazy against her will by pushing her into the same vat of chemicals he chose to fall into, while she’s trying to escape. In the other, she goes along with him, not because she’s completely crazy, just because she loves him. Hence why the story’s called ‘Mad Love’. The second story leaves Harley with her agency as a person in tact. She chose this life and she deals with the consequences when they come.
I’m happy that New Harley has gotten away from Joker and seems to be much happier, but I wish it hadn’t been done at the expense of her agency as a supervillain. I’m glad Harley’s an anti hero now instead of a villain, because she’s such a great character and I wanna see her do good, but that’s because she got placed with much better writers who care about her, specifically husband and wife team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. Yeah, Harley’s now co-written by a woman.
I hope now you guys can see why I’m nervous about Harley and Suicide Squad in general. I was looking forward to this movie, but taking such a great character and using the origin that takes away her agency as a villain has just turned me off from the movie, like most live action movies DC does, outside of solo Batman stuff because it’s already been proven that you have to actively try to screw up Batman. This is why I don’t watch DC. This is why Marvel gets my money.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Deadpool DVD to buy. Expect the Sherlock review next week.
(Photo via Warner Bros. Animation)