The cupid of crime. Daddy’s little monster. The maid of mischief. Ever since her debut, Harley Quinn has been a Gotham City icon who rose from relative obscurity to become one of the most beloved characters in all of comic books. But who is she really? Is she a sidekick for the clown prince of crime? Chaos perfected in an acrobatic package? The only sane person in a world going increasingly crazy? She may just be all that and a whole lot more, and right ahead of her return to the silver screen we’re taking a look at the 101 behind Harley Quinn.
Believe it or not, Harley’s first appearance wasn’t in the pages of your nearest Batman comic book, but rather on TV. Popping up all the way back in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated series, Harley’s debut cemented her role not only as a sidekick for the Joker, but also a love interest who’d do anything for the ace of knaves.
Comic relief who always wound up getting a bad deal, it wouldn’t be until 1999’s Mad Love episode of The New Batman Adventures when her full origin was revealed. Originally known as Dr Harleen Quinzel, this ambitious psychologist worked her way up the Arkham Asylum food chain as she sought to build a reputation by analysing the Joker. Only problem? The Joker happened to be a step ahead, eventually manipulating Quinzel into busting him out of the madhouse and joining him in one of his many crime capers.
From there, Quinn would be a regular in just about any slice of media related to Batman and the DC Comics universe. She graduated from Batman adversary to a cameo in Justice League, got a makeover in The Batman and has popped up in Justice League Action from time to time. After more than two decades, Harley finally got her own solo series, which so far has seen her cause all kinds of chaos all over Gotham as she re-establishes herself as a solo act.
Powers and abilities
- Above average intellect and super psychiatry – While she may not be able to match the world’s greatest detective in a battle of the minds, Harley still happens to be a qualified psychiatrist who specialises in the fields of psychoanalysis and criminology
- Expert fighter and gymnast – Able to knock heads and give the likes of Catwoman and Nightwing a run for their money in the acrobatics department, Harley Quinn has even managed to best Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in a handicap fight
- Enhanced strength and Stamina – After a few injections from Poison Ivy, Harley runs riot in peak physical condition and has stamina for days
- Toxic immunity – Thanks to Poison Ivy, Harley is immune to just about every poison and toxin on the planet
Even video games wanted a slice of Quinn during her red-hot rise to stardom! She’d make her digital debut in The Adventures of Batman & Robin for the Super NES, went 3D in Batman Vengeance, she was a frequent playable character in many a LEGO game featuring DC’s mightiest heroes and villains and even a rough brawler in NetherRealm’s Injustice series of fighting games. The Batman Arkham series of games would also feature plenty of Quinn over the years, taking her from Joker sidekick to grieving widow and even a playable character with her own campaign of chaos in Batman: Arkham Knight.
So what about the comic books then? With all of that popularity powering her rise to stardom, Harley eventually worked her way into the pages of Batman comics during the landmark No Man’s Land storyline that saw Gotham City devastated by a massive earthquake and sealed off from the rest of the United States of America. Violent, mercurial and dangerous agile, this version of Harley Quinn was still capable of mercy and compassion, caught between her adoration for the Joker and her desire to genuinely reform.
Over the years, Harley would pop up in numerous other comic books, mini-series and one-shots, but it was 2011’s New 52 relaunch that would pave the way for her new status quo. No longer just a sidekick to the Joker and a punching bag whenever his schemes were foiled, this version of Harley Quinn was an independent force of chaos, neither good nor truly evil but existing to live her life without a care in the world.
Essential reading and viewing
- Harley Quinn by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
- Gotham City Sirens
- Injustice: Gods Among Us
- Batman: Mad Love
- DC Universe Harley Quinn (chuffing good show)
- Suicide Squad 2016
- Birds of Prey 2020
- Batman: The Animated Series
- Batman: Harley and Ivy
A force of nature in pop culture, Harley Quinn’s biggest claim to fame came when she was given a live-action shot in the arm, and no we’re not talking about that time when she was a villain in the Birds of Prey TV series. Weird times. In 2016, Harley Quinn hit the big screen in 2016’s Suicide Squad as Margot Robbie stepped into the shoes of the icon. A major player throughout that film, Robbie’s role was widely praised with even the creator of her character Paul Dini commenting that the Australian actress absolutely nailed the part.
In 2020, Robbie returns to the flamboyant roots of the anti-hero, taking the lead and assembling a team of her own in Birds of Prey. A film which you can go see for free, if you remember to enter our competition for some gratis tickets courtesy of Empire Entertainment!
Last Updated: January 27, 2020