Some have said that corrupting a life is worse than simply ending it. Harleen Quinzel entered was a young woman with a genius level I.Q. who entered college on a gymnastics scholarship. After graduating and becoming a psychiatrist, she went to Arkham Asylum and began having private sessions and interviews with the Joker, claiming she intended to publish a book on the subject of serial killers and mass murderers. To gain the Joker’s trust, she consented that he could call her “Harley Quinn” rather than Dr. Quinzel, as reference to the term “harlequin.” But as time went on, the Clown Prince of Killers pushed and manipulated the psychiatrist further and further, convincing her that she loved him.
Over the years, Dr. Quinzel helped the Joker escape Arkham Asylum many times until she was discovered and became a patient herself, her license revoked. Some time later, she was able to escape and decided that now she would publicly join her beloved “Mr. J” as a costumed aide. After her first adventure as Harley Quinn, the Joker left her for dead and she only survived thanks to treatment from the toxic criminal Poison Ivy. Ivy’s chemicals had a curious effect on Harley, enhancing her strength and agility greatly, enough so that she was now able to provide quite a fight for heroes such as Batman. Seeing the advantage of having such muscle around, the Joker apologized for his actions and recruited Harley to his side.
Despite her strong feelings for Gotham’s most notorious murderer, Harley has attempted to live a life that does not involve him, spending more time with folks such as Poison Ivy and Catwoman. And in DC’s newly relaunched Suicide Squad title, coming soon, she’ll evidently find a new role in the near future.
Originally introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley has graced not only comics and cartoons but also video games. Let’s take a gander at all her different interpretations, eh? As usual, we’ll be sticking mainly with mainstream reality (and the aforementioned other media), so there won’t be any pics here of how Harley may have looked in a parallel universe or Elseworlds story.
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn debuted on BATMAN: The Animated Series in September, 1992. She was initially intended to just make one wacky appearance, but she hit such a chord with audiences that she became a recurring character, winning everyone over with her mixture of violent aggression and school girl sweetness. In 1999, she finally was introduced into the mainstream comic book continuity of DC Comics in the one shot Batman: Harley Quinn.
This is a great costume. It says “harlequin” immediately but doesn’t look like something completely derivative of the Joker’s purple, green and orange wardrobe. Color scheme and diamond pattern brings playing cards to mind, which again provides a connection to the Joker but doesn’t just opt his style. So she has the look of someone who fits into his paradigm, but she’s not simply “The Joker’s Girlfriend.” She stands on her own.
The outfit is close-fitting enough that you can believe Harley’s gymnastics would not be hampered, but the hat and gloves still give a hint of playfulness. Which is good, because Harley is a very optimistic crazy person. This outfit is also a very good example of how a woman in comics can be sexy without having half of her costume mysteriously missing. Only her face isn’t covered by fabric but we can still see she’s got a great, athletic body and she can still flirt with the best of them when she so chooses.
A great design that really first the character. It’s no wonder this costume has stayed on Harley consistently throughout the past decade of her comic book appearances.
Now, occasionally, Harley has gone for a more casual look. I’m okay with this because while it evokes her costume, it’s not meant as a replacement outfit. It just shows that Harley likes to stick with a certain style even when she’s not strictly on the job.
On the later cartoon series simply entitled The Batman, Harley basically kept the same look and was simply drawn in a different style. It still works and gives you an immediate idea of what kind of lady this is.
However, in her one live-action incarnation, the costume did not show up. In the short-lived TV series Birds of Prey, Dr. Harleen Quinzel never truly became a costumed super-villain but she did sport outfits that recalled the silliness and color scheme of her comic book counterpart.
More recently in the cartoon BATMAN: The Brave and the Bold, Harley wound up getting this monochromatic look during an adventure where the Joker gained god-like power. Doesn’t really work as a new standard, but it wasn’t meant to be one either. If you watch the episode, trust me, this design makes sense for the context.
THE VIDEO GAMES
Harley’s popularity with even those who don’t normally read comics books has ensured that she shows up in other media. This is the look she sported for the wildly popular video game BATMAN: Arkham Asylum.
I immediately don’t like this. Sexy? Sure, I can see how it could fit into that. But this is my problem and you can call it silly if you want to: this is a nurse’s outfit and Harley is a doctor.
Also, this outfit comes off as a little lazy to me. Like it takes a lot of thought to realize that people find nurse outfits sexy? Really, there’s barely anything that says “Harley” or “harlequin” in this design. It’s not terrible, it’s just not that interesting either.
Now this design from the new video game BATMAN: Arkham City… Hmmm. This is something else. If Harley Quinn were to appear in Chris Nolan’s Batman films, this is how I imagine she might look. You’ve got the basic elements there, but with an urban take to it. This is an “outfit” rather than a straight-up “costume.” It’s still stylized, still has a hint of that playful craziness, but you also get a sense of intimidation.
This isn’t the design I’d settle for. There are changes I would make, tweaks like a black T-shirt under the corset maybe (if she’s going to still be an acrobat, she doesn’t want to accidentally fall out of her top). But even with those changes, I totally understand where this design is coming from and I can still appreciate it. This lady definitely looks like a fighter who’s taken down her share of guys in her time. Very, very interesting take.
The main things that don’t work for me are the hair and the make-up. I’d like an actual domino mask on Harley, just to add a slightly stronger flavor of costume to the look. And I think it would have been better if the entire pony tails were colored.
I can’t even talk about this. It’s just lazy and ridiculous. If you want my full reaction, check out an earlier article where I spoke about it. I’m not against change or evolution in a character, but this doesn’t fit Harley’s personality at all nor does it serve how she physically interacts with the world (i.e. as a gymnast). I really hope this look doesn’t last, it strips away everything creative and fun about the character and replaces it with something that is so generic and, again, lazy. If you feel differently, fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. This is just my two cents.
And that wraps it up, folks. Before we go, a couple of CONVENTION ALERTS. You can find me this weekend speaking on many panels at the Shore Leave Convention outside of Baltimore, MD. And I will be wandering around San Diego Comic-Con as well, so if you see me, feel free to say hi. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. and is also a creator/host of the web-show and podcast “Crazy Sexy Geeks.” He knows entirely too much about the history of superhero comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle. You can find him on Twitter: @SizzlerKistler