I’ve been watching the DC comics reboot commentary without much personal stake. It bothers me that the universe is losing Oracle in a redesign touted as promoting diversity, but at a slight remove. I’m not part of the audience for these comics. Watching a bunch of white guys of a certain age decide that they knew how to increase their appeal to everyone else was painful but predictable.
The wonderful thing about Harley’s original design is that it’s inviting, welcoming even. If you saw her on the street, you wouldn’t expect her to suddenly draw out a gun and steal all your money. The general public would be won over with her megawatt grin until her mallet knocked them unconscious. If you put the new Harley in a city, people would start asking if Marilyn Manson was shooting a new music video, pedestrians would avoid her all together and the police would be called. She’s more intimidating and easily more suspicious than the original.
Uh-uh. You don’t mess with my Harley Quinn.
Yes, my Harley Quinn, for two reasons: No comic book character stays static, and Harley’s been part of several reimaginings. At least one has had a very different Harley origin story, which includes a female Joker. A few show us an older, grown up Harley. I’m not talking about those.
More importantly, Harley is mine because she’s a beloved part of my id. You see, Harley is such a pretty little anti-feminist’s nightmare.
No, really. What is Harley before she meets the Joker? We know what kind of practice and injury and self-denial goes into being a gymnast. More work and self-denial puts her in a profession that is all about helping others, thanklessly. And all of it done coming out of a family where the men are allowed to fail but Harley is supposed to remain a “good girl.”
Then comes the Joker. Our little Harley falls in love, exactly as she’s been told good girls do. And there is hell to pay.
Harley adopts Mr. J’s ends as her own–and gets in his way helping him, when she isn’t showing him up. After all, she doesn’t have to be crazy to do what she does. It all makes sense in her world. She idolizes Mr. J, creating a fictionalized, idealized Joker in her own mind that he can never live up to. She maddeningly maintains her cheer when things are going wrong for him. She is so perfectly devoted to him that he has to kill her to get rid of her–or try, at any rate, since she insists on staying alive.
For all her mayhem, Harley remains the quintessential good girl, and I love that this only makes her all the more terrifying and formidable. Harley is the bit of me that looks out from under her eyelashes and says, “Yes, I can be exactly what you want me to be. I can follow those rules and present the front that you require. You’re going to hate it.”
That isn’t this Harley. I don’t know what this Harley is. Maybe she’ll give us something else we need in the place of that chaotic, amoral creature we’re told we should aspire to be. But if we lose our good girl in the process of remaking the bad, then we’ve lost too much.