“I Could-a Plotzed!” A Critical Convo About Harley Quinn

A little history. For a few years, I’ve wanted to write critical essays on some of the geeky things I love. Examining them and finding new and interesting tangents to take them to that might not be obvious. But every time I thought I was ready, I couldn’t follow through. It wasn’t until a week or two ago, after watching the amazing critical examination of METAL GEAR SOLID 2, that I figured out how I should go about things. The video plays like an essay in motion, but that’s not how it inspired me. For some reason, I saw that my way into writing a critical essay was by not writing it like an essay. Rather, like a conversation. Once that clicked, everything ZIPPED into place. The only thing for me to decide was my first subject.

After thinking for a while, I made a sliding scale. There are some subjects that I have A LOT to say about, but I might be overwhelmed by if I started now. They ended up on the far end, waiting for me to level-up and handle their boss battles. So I made my first battle against Harley Quinn. You’ll find it hard to believe after seeing how long this is (and this is LONG), but I have the least to say about her compared to the others. Once I had Harley, the next step was to create people to talk about her. Willa and Lucy fit the bill, but strongly coming at this as a writer, I couldn’t have them start off waxing poetic. I spent years training myself to put characters first, so much so that it’s second nature to me. Because of that, I had to find a reason for them to ramble about her for as long as they do, and make them interesting enough for me to care. Why fuck all night if you can’t stand the other person? And, like all characters, I’m in Willa and Lucy, but it’s not a one-to-one ratio sorta thing. For one, I’m a guy, but I would rock the pigtails if I was bored and hopeless enough. I can safely say that there’s none of me in Michelle, though. My intention with writing this was to create a celebration and examination of Harley, but also an introduction and a refresher. This is my first juggling act, so I apologize if I drop a chainsaw or two. With that said, this , along with my Bowie memorial poem, is my proudest written work this year, so far. There are some scripts, but they’re meant to be acted, and I’ll feel just as proud when they’re shot over the course of the rest of the year.

So, after a week of planning, here’s me at my geekiest(?).

-1st pic- Harley Quinn - By Bruce Timm

The woman of the hour – By Bruce Timm

Ding-dong!

A woman stands on the doorstep of her best friend. In one hand, she clutches a bag full of empty calories. Chocolate, donuts, chocolate, soda, chocolate, and ice cream. She can hate herself in the morning, they’re called “comfort foods” for a reason. As we’ll find out soon, Willa has a reason for each and every figure-destroying morsel crinkling in the plastic bag.

The locks begin to undo themselves on the other side of the door, and Willa tucks a wisp of hair behind an ear as she puts on her best face. The door swings open with a warm creak.

“Ahoy-hoy.”

“Hey, Lucy.”

Lucy’s spectacled eyes glance to the goodies hung in plastic. “I hope you know that I’m claiming all that butter pecan,” she says with a false queen’s authority and a grin.

Willa retorts, “After my week?” She enters and Lucy smells a new smell. Despair is a foreign concept to her, so she dismisses it as something her friend might’ve stepped in. Closing the door behind her, Lucy mourns, “Woe to the republic. And take off your Doc Martens.”

The early-afternoon sun passes through the curtained windows of the living room as welcome a guest as Willa. The room, like Lucy, is proud of the geeky accoutrements scattered, piled, pinned, and posed within its four walls. Lucy is a fan of symbols, so, to the casual eye, she seems to have a touch of hoarder in her. “Casual,” like “normal,” is a bad word here, and the time-traveler geek will appreciate the blue box with an old travelogue tucked inside. The open-minded sci-fi geek will get a chuckle out of the viral outbreak poster with “Smith” splattered on it in green paint. And on and on.

Willa sits on the couch next to Lucy’s cat, Michelle… or rather, Michelle allows Willa to sit there. Lucy takes her bag and arranges everything on a coffee table within leg’s reach in a buffet fashion. Willa reaches her hand out and is allowed to pet Michelle. While Lucy arranges, she hums to herself.

“Ah,” she mutters.

She hops to one of her two CD towers, then pops The Cure’s GALORE into the stereo. The first few notes of the first song, “Why Can’t I Be You?”, matches the bit she hummed. She looks at the table o’ diabetes and is about to settle next to her two pals when she remembers the final ingredient.

Lucy hops again to a cabinet near the CDs, lousy with stickers from pretty much any pop culture thing you could think of. She takes out two glasses and a partially finished bottle of apple Puckers.

“Michelle thought the little baggie was catnip, so…” Lucy admits with a certain sadness. Willa looks by her striped feet, at the gnawed plastic and hash, then at the mellow feline. “I was wondering why the little bitch was letting me pet her,” Willa says. Lucy shrugs apologetically, then gestures with the glass. Willa nods, “Three fingers,” then gives Michelle the death glare. Yet still, she strokes the fur…

As she pours triple-shots for both on the coffee table, Lucy straightens her red frames and asks, “Are we ready for an afternoon of toxicity?”

“The only reason why I bought so much junk food is because I thought I’d be earning my munchies,” Willa mutters.

“I said, ‘Are we r–‘”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m ready.”

Lucy makes sure that their hands have glasses full of sweet emerald.

“For duty and humanity,” they say together with a tink and a sip.

Lucy flips her hair behind her (“To get the spirits buzzing.”) and sets her glass on the arm of the couch behind her. She lies with her knees up, to not get in the way of her pals, and uses the arm as a pillow. A pose she’s perfected since her slumber party days at Willa’s. Willa considers setting her glass on the stoned kitty, then sees that it’s not worth the trouble of cleaning up if it spills. She settles on keeping it handy.

Lucy pokes Willa with a painted toenail and says, “I’m glad that you decided to come out today. I was worried about you.”

“Yeah, radio silence could be spooky. I had a reason, y’know.”

“I know. I’m not saying that you didn’t. I’m just glad you’re here, you know?”

“Heh,” Willa says with a smirk, “I know.”

“Do you wanna talk about him?

“Yeah, but I’ll only end up crying over how much he ruined my fucking life. So I’m gonna let you talk for a change.”

Lucy sits up with slight surprise, like Michelle after hearing a can opener if she wasn’t busy feeling a little THC. “Wow, you get to be Silent Bob for a change? How do I cope with the pressure? What am I supposed to talk about that’ll take your mind off of–“

“Don’t.”

“…He Who Shall Not Be Named?”

Willa sips approvingly and says, “I think you know. Something you’ve wanted to yak my ear off about for years.” She gestures with her glass to a place behind Lucy. Lucy, dripping with hope, slowly turns around and perches like a cat ready to pounce. As the back of her yellow thong peeks over her charcoal sweatpants, her eyes lock onto a red and black marionette in a doctor’s coat.

“I GET TO TALK ABOUT HARLEY QUINN!!”

SMASH! Her alcohol abuse hits the hardwood and sends a sticky-sweet green mess everywhere. Not that Lucy cares. Willa almost spilled her drink on Michelle. Not that Lucy cares. Michelle might be so high that she thinks she’s the universe experiencing itself. Not that Lucy cares. Because she finally gets to talk about one of her favorite characters, in all the ways she’s thought about, to someone who wants to listen. Cats don’t count.

Lucy springs from her spot and tosses a pillow over her mess in one deft motion. Willa would applaud if she wasn’t worried about the monster she just unleashed. Still, she’s glad that Lucy’s happy because she’s infectious and she prefers the monster bounding before her to the monster of her memories. Waiting for her to bait it with thoughts of Nameless He.

Before she disappears down a corridor for a spell, Lucy puts GALORE on random.

“Where are you going?” Willa asks.

“Getting into character!”

“Oh…”

Willa prepares for whatever’s about to come by filling her glass and worrying with a smile. Lucy can be heard rustling and twice letting out a quiet “ow” from her bedroom. When she rejoins the party, her friend can’t help but laugh.

“You… you realize that those are uneven, right?” Willa manages to ask. Lucy, looking the same as before save for two very lopsided pigtails, replies, “They’re so boss, shut up.”

“I guess I better take this off,” Willa says as she gestures towards her biker jacket. “I was wondering when you were gonna,” Lucy says. Willa de-robes, revealing her sleevless, white Victorian blouse. She chucks her hide to a corner and straightens out her long, black pleated skirt before reconnecting with her Puckers.

Lucy, barely able to contain her excitement, paces back and forth in a small area of the living room. Lucy, barely able to contain her confusion, zips her red hoodie up and down a few inches, revealing and concealing the black and white ringer tee underneath.

“Performance anxiety?” Willa asks, smugly.

“No. Maybe,” Lucy admits, still pacing and zipping.

“Well, I don’t wanna throw up, so could you stay in one spot, please?”

Lucy does, then pushes up her sleeves and says, “There’re just SO many places to start. Do I talk about her and Poison Ivy? Or how she’s an addict? Or if she promotes victim culture?”

Willa holds up a hand as if to stop her and says, “Whoa, victim culture?”

“Yeah. You see–“

“How about you start by reintroducing me to her and going from there? I only really know her from those Arkham games and a few episodes of that old Batman cartoon.” Willa looks Lucy up and down, then says, “I can tell by your bug-eyes that she might be in other stuff… so I’m gonna continue my Silent Bob routine. Take it away, Brodie.”

Lucy takes a deep breath–

“And remember,” Willa adds, “my attention span is like your bladder.”

Lucy takes a more determined deep breath, like an agitated dream puff. As she breathes in, she searches for her smartphone. Willa points to the donuts, and Lucy frees it from under them. She inhaled a bit too much because a loud burp shoots out of her.

“To start at the beginning,” Lucy says, taking a professorial tone, “we must start at the very beginning. Paul Dini was a writer on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and thought it’d be funny if Joker had a one-off henchwoman in an episode.”

“Wait, Harley was only supposed to appear once?”

Lucy nods as she scrolls through her phone. “Dini went to Bruce Timm–“

“Who’s that?”

“The guy behind the show. A puppet master, you’d say. Dini told him about his Harley Quinn idea, as in ‘harlequin,’ and even drew a picture of her.”

“Wow, the writer drew the character? That doesn’t happen a lot,” Willa says.

“Well…” Lucy says as she holds up her phone’s screen.

Harley's First Design - By Paul Dini

Harley’s first design – By Paul Dini

“Wwwwhat?”

“Timm said the same thing,” Lucy says as she brings the phone back to her and scrolls. “Then he drew the Harley in the red-and-black onesie we know and love. It was also Dini who gave Harley her voice. His friend, Arleen Sorkin, was on a soap opera and he thought she’d make a great Harley. Then Ms. Quinn popped up on the square screen on September 11, 1992 in the episode JOKER’S FAVOR.”

“Did Bruce Timm direct it?”

“No, Boyd Kirkland did. And Dini wrote it.”

Willa sips her green and asks, “Would you consider Harley a villain?”

“Hmm… Not really,” Lucy explains, “I mean, she keeps some deadly company, but I think she’s the truest example of Chaotic Neutral. Like Captain Jack Sparrow or Tyler Durden.”

“Ugh, Chaotic Neutral…”

“What?”

“Remember the one time we tried role-playing at that game store,” Willa asks, “but no one got a chance to play because EVERYONE wanted to be Chaotic Neutral?”

“Heh, yeah…” Lucy replies. “But don’t let that memory taint Harley!”

“I’m not, I’m just pointing out a bad time,” Willa says with a sip. “So that was the only time she appeared on the show? I remember her getting thrown out of a window.”

“That’s MAD LOVE, but we’ll get to that soon. Let’s see… I remember her in HARLEY & IVY, when those two first joined forces. Another Dini/Kirkland collabo, and it came out in January ’93. Did you know that Diane Pershing played Ivy?”

Harley & Ivy - By Bruce Timm

Harley & Ivy – By Bruce Timm

“Stay on target…”

“Harley tries to go straight in HARLEY’S HOLIDAY, but that didn’t go so well.”

“Dini and Kirkland?”

“Dini and Kevin Alteri, back in October ’94.”

“I hope you’re cheating with that info,” Willa warns. “Those are some detailed details.”

“O-of course, I am. That’s why I have the phone,” Lucy says as she laughs nervously. “MAD LOVE, the episode, was the series finale of the show, in January ’99. Dini and Butch Lukic made that one.”

“The episode?”

“Yeah, it was a comic first, published in February ’94. Even won an Eisner for ‘Best Single Issue.'”

“I wanna win an Eisner…” Willa gripes. “So that’s the one with Harley getting pushed out the window?”

“Yes, it’s that one. More happens, though.” Lucy starts to get visibly excited as she explains. “You find out that her real name’s Harleen Quinzel and that she was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum before things went bad, which gives her the rare distinction of a villain who starts off there as opposed to ends up there.”

“And Joker had something to do with that.”

“Uh-huh. Played poor Harleen like a fiddle, telling her what she wanted to hear so that she’d fall for him. Then she snapped and became Harley.”

Joker & Harley - By Alex Ross

Joker & Harley – By Alex Ross

“That’s new,” Willa quips. “Usually, villains get caught up in the murder or money machines. But she chose to be bad.”

“Ain’t she cool?” Lucy beams as she continues, “Harley does two big things to Batman in MAD LOVE: makes him laugh and almost kills him.”

“Then she gets pushed out the window.”

Lucy pouts. “Then she gets pushed out the window. There was also a web cartoon series, GOTHAM GIRLS. It was cute, but one of the things that stands out the most to me is when Ivy gave Harley a Joker sex doll.”

Willa almost chokes on her drink, almost getting a reaction from the still-stoned Michelle. “What?! On a kid’s show?!”

“Yup. You know about Real Dolls?”

“Sadly.”

“Well, Ivy’s present was a Joker doll in a big wooden crated labeled ‘Real Villains.'”

Willa can do nothing but finish her drink with a cough in disbelief. She then says, as Lucy refills her glass while trying not to get her very lopsided pigtails wet, “Time to take a break from the history lesson. What are some thoughts you’ve had of her over the years?”

Lucy starts bouncing, stops pouring, and says, “I’m so excited that I gotta pee!” She sets the bottle down and scurries to the bathroom. “Be right back!”

Even though it’s her house and they’ve known each other for most of their lives, Lucy turns the water on in the sink so that Willa can’t hear the obvious. As she sits alone, Willa slowly regrets finishing her drink so quickly. It’s gone to her head and, coupled with “Lovesong,” seems to bait her monster. The romantic confessional aspect of the song churns feelings that she thought she let go. That she wanted to let go. But how could you forget the love of your life in a week? She hopes the monster goes away with the toilet flush, and tries to feel better with a sandwich made of chocolate and donuts.

“Whew,” Lucy exclaims as she comes back, “I thought I wasn’t gonna make it! It’s a good thing I’m wearing a yellow thong, if you catch my…” She notices Willa’s change in mood. “What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, I was just thinking about how this song’s kinda written for Harley.”

Lucy listens, then snaps as she agrees. “No shit. I didn’t notice that before. I guess you could say that about a lot of Cure’s songs.”

“You mean I figured out something before the nutty professor?” Willa puckishly asks. “Why am I here again?”

Lucy would be shooting daggers from her eyes if her glasses wouldn’t turn it into a suicide accidental. Instead, she settles for something more petty. “I’m taking the butter pecan.”

“Fair enough.”

The kitchen is practically a skip away from the couch, so it doesn’t take long for Lucy to get a spoon and dive into the slightly melted carton of ice cream. “Have you watched JESSICA JONES?”

“Watched, read, and loved,” Willa replies. “I still wish the show was named ALIAS, like the comic.”

Alias Issue 23 Cover - By David Mack

ALIAS #23 cover – By David Mack

“She and Harley have something in common,” Lucy says.

“Yeah, they’re both comic characters.”

“Besides that. They’re both survivors of asshole purple men.”

Willa wishes that she could raise an eyebrow. “How d’you figure?”

Lucy holds up her spoon and says, “Well, Harley has Joker–”

TDK Joker

She switches spoon hands. “–and Jessica has Kilgrave. Or Purple Man, as he was called in the comic.”

20-jessica-jones-014-w529-h352

Willa thinks about it and says, “That’s trippy.”

Lucy continues, slowly digging a scoop like a drowsy woodpecker, “Harley and Jessica end up with their purple men by completely different ways. Like I said, Harley chose to be with Joker. He whispered in her ear, but it was her choice, in the long run. Oh, and I’m not saying that Harley made the right choice by going with Joker. As you know, Jessica didn’t have a choice. Kilgrave’s morbid charisma made everyone his slave.” She says with a sick grin, “Which kinda makes Harley more twisted. Humans aren’t known for always making good choices, though, which is why so many women get beaten by their men. Sometimes to death. What Harley and Jessica go through could be seen as Stockholm Syndrome, but we know better, don’t we?”

Willa nods.

“Jessica’s pretty much an open-and-shut case: she’s a rape victim.”

Willa interrupts, “Who took it easy on that asshole when she–”

Lucy repays the favor. “Drink your juice.” Willa obliges as Lucy eats her scoop, then sets the carton on the coffee table. Rubbing the chilly hand that held the ice cream on her thigh, she sits on the floor and continues, “Harley’s got a lot of problems. Being a doctor and Joker being her patient, there’s a touch of the Nightingale effect going on with her falling in love with him. Him looking like a clown makes her a coulrophiliac. I don’t wanna jump into her being an addict just yet, but I will say that she has a strong case of dependent personality disorder. She’s obviously a smart woman, so you gotta figure that a big reason she sticks with Mistah J is because turns off that part of her brain. She also might see him as a challenge.”

“A challenge?”

“It’s an open secret that Harleen cheated her way through school, mostly by seduction. I can’t remember Joker ever getting horny. Harley does. You know how you’re at a bar or something and a guy hits on you and doesn’t get the point that you’re not interested and hits on you harder? It’s kinda like that.”

“Harley seems like a very sad character… but she’s always so chipper.”

Giving her biggest genuine smile, Lucy says, “It’s usually the happiest people with the darkest side.” Not giving her friend a chance to process that fully… “Oh! Speaking of chipper, I see Harley as a chipper Hannibal Lecter mixed with Charlie Chaplin and Bettie Page. In fact, I consider her DC Comics’ Bettie.”

“Because she’s naughty and nice?”

“Hell yeah! Lookit!” Lucy holds up her phone and swipes twixt two pics.

Bettie Page

And…

To My Puddin' - By Nszerdy

To My Puddin’ – By Nszerdy

Willa admits, “They are adorably pleasing to the eye. And her thigh-highs match mine in that drawing.”

Lucy peeks under the coffee table and says, “So they do!”

“Wait, Hannibal Lecter? How?”

“I’ve only seen this aspect of Harley used in a grand way towards the end of the comic series she had with Poison Ivy and Catwoman, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, but it’s strange how everyone forgets that she’s a psychiatrist. Which means she knows how to get into peoples’ minds and manipulate them. At one point, she breaks into Arkham and plays mind games with a few guards with a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

“And those things worked?”

Lucy nods. “Because she spent time working those guards, finding out what their weaknesses were, and found out that they were a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

Willa stands up and announces, “Pee break.”

“But I was gonna–”

“When I get back,” Willa says on her way to the bathroom. Just before she closes the door on the disappointed Lucy, she adds, “You’re helping me a lot, y’know. Taking my mind off of… him. Think of how you’re gonna explain Harley as an addict, and that whole victim culture thing. Sounds really interesting.”

Something Willa can’t help but notice is how the room suddenly smells like apple as she relieves herself. The tiles on the walls have random designs on them, and to distract herself from her monster, she imagines things that they look like. A goat, a mountain range, an explosion, power lines, Japan. She finishes up while trying to figure out whether a particular design is a potato or a politician.

As she dries her hands on her skirt, she sees that Lucy’s taken her spot on the couch and that she’s playing with the limp paws of her stoned kitty. She takes her glass and asks, “Did you think about the stuff?”

“Yess’m,” Lucy replies. “But before I do, I should show you her conquering her addiction.” She holds up her phone.

Harley Quinn Issue 25 Page - By Chad Hardin

Page from HARLEY QUINN #25 – By Chad Hardin

“I have to show you,” she adds, “that my girl does get better. But this was a long time after she got pushed outta that window.”

“What happened to her skin?” Willa asks.

“DC rebooted the universe and changed Harley. The same basic things happen, except Joker throws her into the chemicals that made him look the way he does.”

“Where’s her onesie? I mean, I know it’s a little impractical, but it covered more.”

Lucy sighs. “This version, I don’t mind because she moonlights as a roller derby girl.”

“Heh, that’s actually a great idea,” Willa says.

“Yeah! Wait ’til you read the Skate Club issues. It’s like Fight Club, but on skates.”

“Does she wear this in the Suicide Squad comic?”

Lucy raps her fingers on her cat’s side, then says, “Yeah. But it makes no sense.”

“Ooo, is that disdain I hear on your breath?”

“I’ll get to that soon,” Lucy growls. “Addict. Her. Bad times. Do you remember those plasma glass balls? The ones you put your finger on and all the electricity goes to that spot?”2771597629_6aacbfe877_z

“Yeah, and they made your hair go all wild, too.”

“Imagine that Harley’s one of those, and those bolts are her love reaching out everywhere and once one bolt finds someone, they all do. The energy has no choice BUT to, and it’s beautiful when it does. Joker’s the middle finger pressing against her, and it has no problem if the glass tips over and shatters. But the plasma doesn’t care. All it knows is that it has a spot for it to focus on. The finger goes away, the bolts are sent into chaos. The finger comes back, serenity. That’s Harley and addiction.”

“That’s kinda touching,” Willa warmly admits. Then she makes a face and says, “Ugh, sorry, bad pun.”

“Heh, it’s fine.” Lucy’s face turns slightly sorrowful. “I know that Joker and Harley have an abusive relationship. It’s the part of her I wish I could erase, but at the same time, it’s one of the most important parts of her. Especially now, it shows how strong she is because she’s able to finally walk away from it. Her getting pushed out a window is pretty dark, but I felt that the story was leading to that point. Being a Harley fan means that you see different interpretations of her. Sometimes, it’s handled with a beautiful tragedy, like in the issue of GOTHAM CITY SIRENS when Ivy heartbreakingly finds Harley’s obsessive shrine to Joker. And sometimes, it feels like the art team uses Joker and Harley’s relationship as an excuse to abuse women.” Her hand hovers over her phone. “There have been other examples throughout the years… but this is the one that screams in my mind.” She shows Willa this:

Suicide Squad Issue 14 Panel - By Fernando Dagnino

Panel from SUICIDE SQUAD #14 – By Fernando Dagnino

The only thing Willa can say is “What. The. Fuck.”

Lucy quietly sets down her phone and says, “Joker is supposed to be jealous because she has a life outside of him. She beats him up afterwards, even bites off a bit of his tongue, then escapes his dungeon to show she ‘was more than just one of his broken toys to throw away.'”

“But the guys behind the issue you showed me didn’t have to go as far as they did in that panel,” Willa protests. “Maybe if it was a Lars von Trier film.”

“Yeah… The editor should’ve stepped in. Alan Moore wished his did when he wanted Joker to shoot Barbara Gordon and… do things to her in KILLING JOKE. Do I think that Harley promotes victim culture? In the wrong hands, maybe. In the right hands, she’s more of a cautionary tale.”

“Whose hands are the right ones?”

“Paul Dini’s are one,” Lucy lists, “Karl Kesel, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti are others.”

“Who are those other three?”

“Kesel wrote the first Harley series back in the early aughts. Up until his last few issues, they were drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson.” Lucy happily swaps the previous pic on her phone with a new one.

e8d338cfab58fe9ace197e376beeab91

HARLEY QUINN #17 cover – By Terry and Rachel Dodson

Willa practically squeals. “That’s so fucking cheesecake! I want it!”

“Tough, it’s mine,” Lucy declares. “It was a fun run. Everything you loved about Harley in the animated series got cranked up. She even ditched Joker in the first few issues. The guy who followed, A.J. Lieberman… I understood what he wanted to do, which was everything Kesel and the Dodsons didn’t do. He made her a more realistic character, and I appreciated that a lot and I liked how he handled her. But during his run, I saw that Harley works best when she’s a flashing neon sign.”

“Is that what Conner and Palmiotti do?” Willa asks.

“OH, HOW–” Lucy agitates her bladder again and rushes off to the bathroom.

Even though the faucet runs… even though it’s buried under a few pounds of leather a few feet away… Willa still hears her phone ring a tune she hoped to never hear again. Metallica’s cover of “Loverman.” Before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s already answered the phone and kneeling by her jacket. She can’t help herself. Love was so hard for her to get that she’d leap at any opportunity to have it back. Even with him. Even after what he did. He tells her what she wants to hear, and her monster is pleased. It grows fat with each hollow syllable and greedy with each empty promise.

“Fuck off, we’re talking Harley!”

Willa didn’t hear Lucy get close or notice that she took the phone, but she was so happy to have her as a friend after hearing her say those words, then hang up and toss the phone on the couch. “Thank you,” Willa whimpers. She repeats herself as she looks at the floor, ashamed at how easily she almost fell back into his arms. Lucy kneels next to her and holds her. “Shh… You’re still Willa,” her friend reminds her. They stay like that for a song or two, until Willa gets into a more comfortable position and says, “What about Conner and Palmiotti?”

Lucy replies, smiling, “You remember that Eddie Murphy bit about crackers? How when you’re starving, a regular cracker tastes like a Ritz? That’s how I felt about Harley in the first few issues of the Suicide Squad comic. Then when Ritz came along by way of her Conner/Palmiotti-penned self-titled book, I realized I’d been eating regular crackers. Harley stories work best as character pieces instead of story pieces. They understood that, as did Kesel.”

“Do they do anything with her and Ivy?”

“Heh, lots. It was established a few years ago that they’re friends because they see similar wounds in each other.”

“How so?” Willa asks.

“Both were damaged goods because of assholes. In Ivy’s case, she was literally changed by hers. Back when she was Dr. Pamela Isley, she worked on plants with her unrequited love, Jason Woodrue. He forced her into an experiment, changing her into a human plant. He tinkered with the formula, then turned himself into Floronic Man.”

“Those two and Jessica Jones should form a club.”

“Heh, yeah.” Lucy continues, “Since teaming up, there’s been this ‘are they/aren’t they’ subtext that Conner and Palmiotti make text in an issue. Essentially, they’re friends with benefits in an open relationship. I don’t think it matters, though. What I was always drawn to was their friendship. Whether they kiss or not isn’t important to me.” She takes down her pigtails and says, “Harley must be crazy for having these up all they time, they fucking hurt.”

“I guess I’d be remiss,” Willa says, “if I didn’t ask the obvious question. How do you feel about Harley in the Suicide Squad film that’s a-coming?”

“Harley made a big-budget action movie in a comic once,” Lucy replies.

Harley & Ivy Issue 3 Cover - By Bruce Timm

HARLEY & IVY #3 cover – By Bruce Timm

She continues, “Her director name was ‘Alice Smithee’ and she kept killing Batman. Ivy kept jacking up the budget to fund their future crimes. Then Harley went mad with power…”

“What a great non-answer,” Willa quips.

“I know, right? I’ve gone on a media blackout with the trailers because I wanna be as surprised as possible. It’s been damn hard, in case you were curious. I saw what she looks like and heard who’s playing her, and I loved Margot Robbie in Z FOR ZACHARIAH.”

“Who’s your Harley?” Willa asks.

Without hesitation, Lucy replies, “Every Harley who enjoys life.”

-last pic- Harley Quinn - By Alan Scampos

Harley Quinn – By Alex Scampos

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2 Responses to ““I Could-a Plotzed!” A Critical Convo About Harley Quinn”

  1. So when you warned in your intro that this was a long piece, you weren’t kidding. And this is going to be one of the shorter ones? But hey, let your geek shine. (And I will say, I was surprised that you were writing an essay and not fan fiction – or is that reserved for Doctor Who?)

    I’ve always liked Harley but have never delved into her background. Like most people, I forgot that she used to work in a mental hospital and that the Joker was first her patient – then her obsession.

    I absolutely love how you described this obsession by using one of those glass plasma balls. That having the Joker around gives her focus and essentially, purpose. It’s truly poetic.

    I look forward to your next essay.

    • Would you believe that I didn’t say everything I wanted to? And that I expected it to be shorter? Funny how life turns out, but the story tells you what it wants and I’d rather have too many things than not enough. One of the things I regret the most about not being able to find its way in is how Harley and Wonder Woman are creatures of compassion. Harley is capable of a deep, profound love for one person, where as Princess Diana loves everyone. But that would’ve taken me down a Wonder Woman road because I have a few things to say about her. Not nearly as much as about Harley, but stuff worth saying someday. There was also the one genuinely nice thing Joker did for Harley. He was given godlike powers and decided to wipe out the universe (so people like him would never exist). She’s worried that she’s gonna die even though she did so much for him. For all her “tears of service,” with a kiss, he turns her into a smiling constellation and gives her the best seat in the house for armageddon.

      Writing fan faction would take me down a dark path. Being able to write my favorite characters doing whatever I want with no one to stop me? I dunno if you know about Funko Pop figures, but they’re essentially chibi versions of pop culture icons, and the range is huge. I have five, but only two are paired with each other: The Twelfth Doctor and Harley. There’s a LEGO video game that combines all sorts of geek universes, and you can form teams with whichever special LEGO toys you have. I don’t own it, but you can probably figure out what my two-person team would be if I did. So knowing what I know about both worlds, and loving them as I do, making fan fiction with them would be like self-inscribing crack. Like… How could you not like and let Harley ride a Dalek like a horse into battle while Twelve tries to stop her and an army of Cybermen? Or have her save him with a Sonic Mallet? Or have him save her from Batman as the TARDIS chases the Batmobile? Addictive times…

      I’m glad that you liked the plasma ball analogy. It works for me for two reasons, by explaining things cleanly and because I could see her playing with it. Writing everything, I kept reminding myself to not come off as “ISN’T SHE AWESOME?!” She’s one of my favorite characters, without question, but there’s a difference between praising and fawning. Lucy is excited by Harley and has a lot of good things to say about her, but I’d like to think that she never crosses the line into being one of those annoying fans who puts their fandom on an absurdly high pedestal. Speaking of Lucy, I’m really proud of how she and Willa turned out. Like I mentioned way up top, I wanted the thing to be like a conversation instead of a rant, which meant that both characters had to have opinions and that there had to be more going on than just Harley talk. I wanted to allude to Willa having a life (amusing to notice that she’s ultimately the main character yet Lucy’s the jabberwocky). I also wanted Willa and Lucy to have aspects of Harley, but not beat people over the head with it. If people don’t pick up on all the details, fine, but I hope that the details aren’t spotlights.

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