City Sirens” hit stands in 2009 and ran until 2011, a monthly ongoing
designed to bring a little glory to everyone's favourite villainesses –
Catwoman, Poison Ivy and, of course, our beloved Harley Quinn!
Whilst this was a “Gotham
Girls” team-up, it most definitely was not in the vein of the playful
and pally flash animated series!
No, in keeping with the
grittier and more adult tone of the mainstream comics, Gotham City Sirens
found the ladies in a tense truce, banding together for survival's sake
in the aftermath of a Gotham without THE Batman!
Gotham City Sirens,
typically, divided fans. Whilst many were initially delighted that
the series was being penned by Paul Dini - not only one of the most
acclaimed contemporary writers of Batman lore, but the very same dude who
had a major hand in creating Harley - after a few issues some fans felt
his treatment was glib and superficial and not delivering what they had
initially hoped for. With no announcements and to many fans' confusion,
the writer changed soon after as did the artist and by the end of its run,
had changed creative teams several times, to varying success. This made
the timbre of the book inconsistent and its direction unclear.
When the book was just
three issues in, in
addition to these first thoughts, I wrote the following about the characterisation
do find it fascinating to watch the way Dini has developed Harley over
the years, particularly how he brings different aspects of her more to
the fore depending on the setting. Her playfulness and sweetness are played
up in B:TAS, her wickedness and malice in the new Arkahm Asylum VG, her
ambition and calculatedness in The Batman.
But how did the rest of the
series fare? An early story took a peek into Harley's relationship with
the Joker as Gaggy, a dumped earlier henchman of the Clown Prince of Crime,
impersonated his former boss to kill Harley in a fit of malicious jealousy.
Harley's family were introduced for the first time ever in a Christmas
issue. And, in response to a postcard campaign carried out by JokerxHarley
fans, the series finished up with Joker & Harley being reunited in
a glorious and spectacular way - but at great cost to Harley & Ivy's
canon offers the opportunity for a fully balanced integration of all the
varying elements of her and this is the approach he seems to take – and
is continuing with so far in GCS.
just two issues we've seen so much of her peeking out: playfulness, genuine
disingenuousness, hedonism, enthusiasm and flightiness - right alongside
her callousness, canniness and manipulativeness. She was definitely playing
up the bimbo schtick which I love to see her do. She's a beautiful bimbo,
is our Harley, and thoroughly genuine about it - but she knows how to work
it to her advantage - or just to her amusement - too.
These stories were carried
out with varying degrees of success and with varying responses from fans.
What initially delighted fans with the promise of JokerxHarley goodness
in the Gaggy story turned out to be a gut-wrenching, heart-plucking disappointment
as Gaggy's deceit was revealed. Boringly, Dini seemed to be placing the
blame for Harley's obsession with the Joker on a bad relationship with
her father, about
which I had the following to say:
the whole lot reduces the grand tale of Harley's path to madness – the
enormity of what she gave up for love is undermined by her family's easy
acceptance of her chosen lifestyle. What exactly were the stakes for Harley
in becoming a supervillain? She was accustomed to growing up surrounded
by crime with a mother who constantly welcomed everyone back. What transformation
did Harley go through exactly then? This story would have you believe there
was never any difference between the identity of her former life and who
she is now. So where the hell has the pathos gone – that pathos inherent
to the story of an ambitious and, if morally questionable at least sincere
and passionate, young doctor who wanted to make something of herself only
to become more than she could ever dream possible – to completely upend
a life she then wishes she could reclaim????
And whilst fans were very
appreciative of the reunion, stated by DC as being directly in response
to our campaign, the characterisation in that story definitely did not
ring wholly true.
This was said of much
of the series, regardless who the character focus was for whichever story
arc. In the end. GCS was unsatisfying for many different reasons
and an inconsistent and glib treatment of character with uninspiring storylines
was often cited as being at the heart of it. A series that had so
much potential ended up being a middling success. And in the final bittersweet
blow, they gave us a reunited JokerxHarley only for the series to be cancelled
and the characters split up again for the New 52.
A quick reflection of
what I wrote about GCS when the series was still new:
a standard of several years standing of lacklustre mainstream treatment,
could Harley finally be given her dues? After all, who better to handle
her than her Daddy? The guy who understands her better than anyone? Several
times he's tried to put her on the right track, depiction wise, by leaving
trails other writers could pick up and follow – only for them go meandering
in some other direction. Now that he has full reins once more, will he
finally establish Harley properly within the mainstream canon?
It was only a few issues
later with the Gaggy storyline that my heart was broken by GCS -
what seemed to be a story affirming the love between Joker & Harley
turned out to be a psych out - and at the time I wasn't emotionally prepared
to deal with it and it seemed like a major betrayal to me. This definitely
coloured the way I read GCS ever after that but with hindsight I
think its largest failing was not seeming to know what to do with Harley.
far, the outlook is good! Only three issues in (and only two of them written
by him, incidentally) at time of this writing and the story is off to a
slow start but character-wise, there's enormous promise in there!
far the outlook is good – great, even! But at this early stage of the game,
it's hard to tell! It may all go horribly wrong!
Initially, while I very
much defended the characterisation of Harley in Dini's hands, it began
to provoke me by seeming to be quite shallow after all... at first it made
sense that a Harley without purpose as given to her by the Joker would
be an unproductive layabout, waiting for some direction. But as the series
continued on, this began to nag - a good storyline could've concocted some
purpose for her. It was good, initially, for the point to be made that
Harley is a willing number two and that being separated from the Joker
isn't automatically going to unleash her fearsome, independent, assertive
side, as so many against the ship argue. But for the whole series to be
that way? It took fans dedicatedly emailing DC with our desires to see
a reunion between Joker and Harley for her to be given something to really
work with. And even then aspects of it felt contrived and OOC - for both
HQ & J.
Furthermore, the relationship
between the series' three stars did not always make sense. What began as
an uneasy truce became way more affectionate than it should ever have between
these characters. Whilst it climaxed with a split and the return to the
old animosity, it too quickly moved into sisterhood... particularly between
Catwoman and Harley who, due to their respective relationships with Batman
and the Joker, would never have formed a close bond. Selina, in particular,
would keep her distance from Harley out of awareness she's unapologetically
attached to the man who has caused Bruce the most grief. It does make sense
that in the weird, wild world of Gotham that, over time, they would've
formed some sort of closer relationship that would inevitably be broken,
but I felt it happened too easily and without any real care being taken
to depict how the pressure of living together in strained conditions may
have led to fragile bonds forming.
But, you win some and
you lose some. Reflecting on GCS, it certainly wasn't all bad.
Again, some comments of mine from the early issues:
and others were inhibited from exploring Harley's “obvious Jewishness”
in the animated series to full potential, censors putting a nix on any
mention of religious cultural identity, and it's an aspect of who she is
that has never been addressed by other writers. Already Dini is bringing
it further to the forefront and it's a welcome rounding out of something
that has always been implied as part of her history – too often, comic
book characters are denied any culture or religiosity excepting Christian
(when they're good-aligned) and vaguely Muslim or Satanistic (when bad-aligned).
And the series' climax can
certainly be credited with demonstrating that DC WILL respond to fans if
we make ourselves heard well enough! It certainly also gave us an unbeliavably
exciting moment with a visual confirmation of sexual intimacy between Joker
and Harley, something many anti-shippers have insisted does not exist.
All in all, the series ended with an enormous triumph for JokerxHarley
fans and that cannot be discredited or forgotten, and several of the issues
held promise and intriguing possibilities and even fairly good stories
for Ivy and Catwoman (though the series was always distinctive for not
quite getting the characters 100% feeling totally right).
to me is further exploration of her “little girl” identity. Again, something
too risque to be anything much more than subtext in the kids-focused canons
where she has most featured, Dini now seems to be steadily – if still very
subtly – bringing it out more. Subtle is best; you don't need to clang
people over the head with it – it's still pretty obvious, even in the kiddie-oriented
material . It's really nice to see it being done in a genuine, unforced,
uncreepy, uncontrived and unsexual way – as it should be. Sure, it can
be intensely sexual and erotic, being a kink identity – but that's not
the default and certainly not with Harley, who seems more to have, in her
insanity, mentally regressed.
curious sense of honour has already come up, with her diving in to rescue
'Bruce Wayne' (a plastic-surgery altered Hush) as repayment for him approving
her release from Arkham some months back – and this gives her the opportunity
to show off her incredible fight skills as well. Never underestimate this
bubble-headed bimbo – she'll hand you your kidneys!
even showing off her innate perceptiveness and psychological skills as
well as glowing, joyous confidence!
debated relationship with Holly seems crossed off here – there's no doubt
they're real friends, but in keeping with Harley's flighty yet needy nature,
she went in search of other company when Holly left, rather than follow
her. The only person she follows is her Mistah J! The rest of the time
she alleiviates loneliness with whoever is most convenient – yet also in
the place she wants to be.
– testament to her abiding relationship with the Joker is indeed paid.
Although I cannot be truly happy until they have been properly reunited
in a way that does them justice, getting these little reminders is lovely
and a balm to my shipper soul. They have worked on a dual level as well
– first of all to remind us that Joker will always be Harley's number one,
that their love – and reunion – is inevitable (something the other characters
take for granted as well) – as well as seving as a very pointed message
that no matter how flighty, flaky, dippy and perky Harley may be, she is
freaking nuts! She's in love with the Joker – and if you can go there,
then you have to be crazy – and subsequently, not someone anyone would
want to mess with, or take for granted!
even had the very pointed message in issue two that Joker reciprocates
Harley's feelings – something else other writers have long disregarded.
And at the end of the
day, GCS was a series that took place while the Harley Quinn fandom
was in the midst of a swell of new activity, asserting itself with its
ideas and convictions about the character, illuminating the way the relationship
bewteen creators and fans can unfold, aided by the Internet. It certainly
took place at an interesting time in comics history and will, despite its
various failings and potentials, be remembered for giving us this: