In late 2011, DC Comics
announced a makeover and relaunch of their many iconic titles and characters.
The idea and motivation behind the dramatic changes was to modernise their
property to appeal to a new generation of readers. Subsequently, with all
the insight that a bunch of middle-aged preomdinantly white men have into
contemporary intersectional youth, they set about giving beloved and highly
recognisable characters "edgy, gritty" new looks and costumes as well as
eliminating seventy-plus years of continuity in many cases to give characters
new origins and histories.
Fan reaction to this dramatic
redevelopment has been wildly mixed. Whilst it certainly has had its vocal
supporters, it has also incurred an outraged reaction from many quarters
with many feeling the decisions made around which aspects of canon to retcon
or recreate are haphazard, inconsistent and sloppy. Fans are reacting strongly
against many of the costume redesigns as well as other emotionally-charged
changes such as Lois and Superman no longer being married and Barbara Gordon
walking again as Batgirl.
The costume redesigns
have been following an aesthetic intended to be hip, modern and urban but
often resulting in changes that look generic, ugly and plain in comparison
to the beautiful and distinctive designs that helped make their characters
iconic and memorable.
Arguably, one of the characters
most negatively affected by this new conceptual approach has been Harley
If you're on this website,
then you know the deal: introduced on the B:TAS show of the nineties, she
quickly skyrocketed to cult status, adored by fans of all ages until DC
saw fit to further capitalise on her popularity by introducing her to the
comics as well. She has maintained cult status ever since, enjoying a degree
of recognition and adoration only a few comic book characters have ever
had, even those who've been around the past seventy years. A recognised
seller, much merchandise is created around the character and tends to fly
off the shelves, quickly becoming prized rarities. DC is well aware of
her broad market appeal and she has become synonymous along with other
key characters in the Batman franchise.
Harley's highly recognisable
silhouette and distinctive costume is well regarded, not only for its flattering,
attractive and memorable look but for how effectively it evokes and communicates
the character's key traits and qualities. Like Superman or Wonder Woman,
Harley's costume is iconic and instantly identifiable.
Yet Harley was one of
the characters chosen for permanent redesign amongst DC's pantheon of legends.
When asked about the direction
he took his redesign in, Jim Lee stated, paraphrased, that people had liked
the Arkham Asylum (VG) design and so he was inspired by that. This seemed
to be the only justification for taking this design in so wildly tangent
a path from everything fans had come to know and love about Harley Quinn.
Upon its release, the
internet was surged with angry outcries from devoted fans who could see
no rhyme nor reason for this painfully nonsensical design. Fans' objections
ran the gamult from criticising the impracticality of the outfit, to its
grotesque hyper-sexualisation to how ugly and generic it is compared to
the original design to how little it seemed to speak of the personality
of the character we are all so dedicated to.
In interviews I did at
the time, I made the following comments regarding the redesign and the
potential impact it has on fans, which goes beyond simply a new look for
our favourite character:
costume is a huge part of her appeal because it speaks so profoundly about
her as a character. It’s also elegant, classic, distinctive and beautiful.
Furthermore, practically speaking it’s comparatively modest – which makes
it a great option for cosplayers who don’t want to dress skimpy and an
ideal choice for round-year conventions. The new costume is not only impractical;
it’s ugly and generic and says nothing about Harley as a character."
what I hate is how unimaginative and generic-looking it is. Harley's classic
costume is absolutely unmistakable - she has one of the most recognisable
silhouettes out there. That original design is really elegant, striking
and beautiful - not to mention it translates to reality really easily.
Unfortunately for fans, things
did not get much better with the debut of the series Harley was now set
to be an ongoing character in, a revamp of the legendary Suicide Squad.
Separated from the Joker, after finally having been reunited at the close
of Gotham City Sirens, Harley had also apparently undergone something of
a personality makeover, presumably done to make her more "edgy" and therefore
fit in with the contrivedly "grownup" approach DC were attempting with
redesign has Harley looking like just another face in a crowd of try-hard
wannabe-goth posers. It demonstrates none of her zany personality, her
charming quirks or playful nature. Another thing about Harley and her personal
fashion aesthetic is that she's sexy and cute, but pretty conventional
- peaches & cream skin, straw-blonde hair, big blue eyes - she likes
to dress cute, comfortable and stylish. This redesign does not reflect
that at all - she's not the sort of dame to mix her hair colour up like
that. She's not ghost-white. She radiates all-American girl-next-door health
and vitality. This redesign evokes none of that.
part of the charm and appeal of Harley's classic look is that, as a character,
she's pretty deceiving. She looks all playful and fun, just a little mischief
with no real harm intended - right until she crushes your skull in with
her mallet. Personally, I find the cutesy bombshell who no one takes seriously
- which is kinda her edge - until she snaps and starts blowing things up
- to be a lot more intriguing and "dark" than someone who looks like they
raided Hot Topic's clearance bin to rebel against Mommy and Daddy for not
letting her go on that camping trip with her boyfriend.
it just doesn't stand out. It's like any other super-revealing, impractical,
unimaginative female character costume that comics are saturated with.
The best costumes are the ones you recognize instantly, that have iconic
style. Harley's classic costume has that in spades. Furthermore - it's
just not practical. Come on. The first time she does a back-flip, you can
kiss that PG-rating goodbye. "
Whilst writer Adam Glass
consistently promised fans Harley's new direction would make sense with
the revelation of her origin (in itself an upsetting premise to fans, who
are very much attached to her origin as laid out in Mad Love), fans have
thus far not been impressed with what's on offer. From interviews and discussions,
Glass clearly has the right ideas about Harley, enough to have a good grasp
of her character and identity but how it's played out on the page has been
dissatisfying and contradictory not just to Harley's previous established
personality but also to what Glass himself has had to say about the character.
Upon its release with the revelation that Harley is hellbent on proving
herself to the Joker, I had this to say:
always said I will pick up this book, because I collect everything Harley
and always have. I remain dubious and critical of the relaunch over all
and I think a bunch of bad character choices have been made, but I always
concede to what I feel fits in and makes sense. I happily ate my hat when
the Joker graphic novel turned out to be better than I expected but I still
maintain my criticisms of that (which doesn’t preclude my ability to enjoy
it - hey, I love the Chucky movies, okay!) and I still think a lot of the
decisions around this relaunch are BAD.
with the last writer on Gotham City Sirens, I felt much of the time that
the writer understood where he needed to go with the characters but didn’t
understand how he needed to write them to get them there. So he took them
to the right point - but wrote them out of character doing so, if that
makes sense. Sometimes he hit the mark right on, other moments just rang
hollow and false.
how I’m feeling about the relaunch right now - they know what they need
to do to maintain characterisation, but are jamming the characters into
these contrived set-ups to meet the relaunch specifications.
will never, however, ever, EVER agree Harley’s costume change is a good
idea, in character or serves the character. If this relaunch were, in fact,
an elseworlds story or a continuity for a new series, it would be different
- I would still hate the costume but, as with Arkham City, Arkham Asylum,
Joker, etc I could accept it as it’s set within a different world. But
for this to be the mainstream? No. No, it’s wrong. I will never back down
on that. It’s NOT ‘just a costume’. Costumes reflect characters. Harley’s
costume was a key statement about her character and was part of what made
her so accessible to so many fans - including very young girls. And that
Exception was paticularly
taken with the insinuation given by Harley herself that she'd had a long
list of criminal bad boyfriends in the past. I gave voice to my own objections
on that score with the following:
objectives as a medical student and a doctor were both self-centered and
selfish. She had an ambitious goal and was calculating and deliberate in
her pursuit of it. She would NOT have risked her intentions for the sake
of some cheap thrills with a bad boy, or even a lineup of them. That’s
the whole POINT. That Joker bamboozled her so intensely, his seduction
of her so complete that she was willing to sacrifice self-interest and
normalcy for is sake. THAT’S part of the intrinsic drama of the whole story.
Harley wasn’t a “good girl” BJ (Before Joker), but she was careful because
she wanted to attain celebrity-status in a ‘sanctioned’ way. But love became
her mission instead - their attraction and interest in each other (and
make no mistake this was mutual - he fucked with many doctors but he didn’t
mould them all into his image) was powerful enough to derail her life-path
to that point and set it off on a completely different course. She attained
a kind of celebrity-status still, but lost everything else. And she’s okay
with that because what she gained, from her perspective, was far greater.
That’s what makes their love story so intense, so dramatic, so unique,
so tragic AND so beautiful. It’s simply NOT in line with this progression
and character that a random list of villainous thugs would’ve preceded
pursued psychiatry to attain fame, using less than ethical means. But the
Joker was her first lapse into pure insanity, into crossing the line between
normalcy and madness. That’s what makes it dramatic. There wasn’t a ‘pattern’
of bad guys, part of the heady appeal of the Joker in her life was he being
something so outside her experience until then. It wasn’t just a series
of bad boys escalating. It was a dramatic, powerful shift from one life
to another. There were indicates of aptitude for it in her normal life,
but she was fame-hungry - she was being careful. She was concealing her
Concerted ire was drawn when
Harley pounced on Deadshot in a following issue, resulting in a near-sex-scene
between the two that baffled and outraged fans of both characters. It was
strongly held that not enough character development had been done, nor
reasonable chemistry and attraction between the two formed, for such an
event to make sense.
the Joker just one more in a list of crims and thugs lowers the drama of
her story and doesn’t jive with her psyche anyway. Harley’s shift into
her life of crime was a transformation. Making out all her previous boyfriends
were all “TRULY BAD” - which is a really BIG thing to claim - demonstrates
no progression and no transformation.
for the second exchange… ARGGHHHH. That implies that she has ALWAYS let
herself be defined by her boyfriends when this PATENTLY isn’t so. SHE was
defining her life pre-Joker - by going after what she wanted, creating
herself into what she wanted to be as a psychiatrist. I really doubt any
GUY was going to get in her way then. The one who eventually did so orchestrated
a campaign of psychological manipulation over months of intimate time together.
Ambitious little Dr Quinzel did not have TIME for guys to do that prior
to her internship at Arkham - and certainly not whilst there! Until it
was sprung on her unawares…
the TRANSFORMATION is the point. From one thing to another."
Most recently at time
of this writing (18/03/2012) the latest development to upset fans has been
the much-dreaded new origin. Harley's heretofore unexplained white skin
and parti-coloured hair as well as her original connection with the Joker
have been explained. Whilst fans are somewhat divided as to the characterisation
in the unfolding of her scenes as Dr Harleen Quinzel with the Joker, all
Harley's most devoted fans are united in their disdain for her 'transformation'.
In opposition to the slow seduction and warping of her mind throughout
many months of therapy with the ultimate self-actualisation in Harley Quinn,
after only a few exchanges the Joker dipped an unwilling Harley in the
same vat of toxic goo that transformed him - leaving her in her current
Rightly, fans feel this
plot device is lazy and lacks the drama and pathos of the original. Fans
left their opinions on the official page for the issue on DC Comics' website.
However, it is worthwhile
noting that writer Adam Glass would've been obliged to create an origin
that explained Harley's new look which would somewhat have limited his
options. The same goes for all creative teams working on DC books right
now - ultimately they have to fall in line with the directives handed down
by the group who decided on all the imposed changes. Certainly the stories
are not completely without merit. There are moments that are intriguing
and ring true for character, that are enjoyable and provoking; certainly
some of the ideas that Glass has conceptualised have a lot of potential
and demonstrate a keen interest in the character and desire to do something
substantial with her. Perhaps the biggest issue is the obligation to confine
the story to the new parameters as defined by the head honchos at DC Comics.
As to why Harley Quinn
needed a new origin at all - well, one could very well ask that with regards
to the many beloved characters whose classic histories have been tampered
with. DC seem to feel it's a necessary move, despite the dissent of fans.
Indeed, one might wonder if DC's priority has become wholly the securing
of a new audience rather than maintaining the loyalty of the existing one.
Time will tell how well these changes sustain and who will stay, who will
go and who will join up. Many Harley Quinn fans have already dropped the
Secret Six title - will this radical new direction of DC's prove to be
a short-term publicity stunt along the lines of Knightfall and Blue Superman
- or are DC determined to make it stick, no matter what?
Notable fan reactions
that are worth pursuing include the following:
and Her Costumes
What's Wrong With This?
List of Boyfriends?
I Needed To Get Off My Chest
from a Deadshot fan
I Just Read The Newest Issue of Suicide Squad (with some commentary
Us Back Our Harley
Have You Done, SS