Call For Comments: So How About That Harley Quinn?

From Mav: So I want to talk about Harley Quinn. Why? Because I think she has a very interesting and near unique (maybe along with Deadpool) place in current superhero fandom. I’ve had this ongoing conversation with Wayne about the difficulty in creating major new comic characters for the Big Two (Marvel and DC) in the … what I am going to call “IP era.” See, in 2023, comics… like every other mass media is primarily dominated by the franchise concept. On some level this has been true of superhero comics since their inception. The idea was never to sell one Superman story; the idea was to sell ONGOING Superman stories! And then Batman… then Wonder Woman… then Flash… etc. And this makes sense, because even we as comics nerds, might treat comics like they are some gold standard, the honest truth is that since at least the advent of the MCU, and arguably quite some time before, comics are not the primary medium for superheroes anymore. They haven’t been for quite some time and probably never will be again.

And in a world where there are millions of dollars to be made on licensing a character, who wants to give their best original creations away to Marvel or DC? That’s why there are so many legacy characters. Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/Spiderman, the continuous lines of Robins and Batigirls. Those are characters that are direct spin-offs of some other character. Thie IP in indelibly tied to their progenitor character in some way or another. So Wayne and I would often say the most recent successful new characters we could think of were Deadpool and Harley Quinn. I guess it could be argued that Harley is a legacy character, since she’s sort of “derived from the Joker” but I actually don’t think she’s a legacy character in the same way as a Superboy, Supergirl or Mile Morales. It’s different… Ms. Marvel I’m kind of on the fence with. She’s sort of only a legacy character because Marvel insists she is. She almost doesn’t have to be. So, to me that make’s Harley the newest super-successful super character.

Except, it occurred to me recently that Harley Quinn premiered in 1992. She’s been around for 31 years (Deadpool is 32). This means that Harley Quinn has officially been around longer now than Spider-man was when Harley was introduced. In that time she’s become one of the most ubiquitous characters in comics. Again, I suppose one might have argued that she isn’t a character without the Joker as a tie-in, but honestly, I think that ship has long since sailed. She’s been a solo character in comics far longer than she was a sidekick. And besides, she’s arguably more important to the comics industry than Joker is. In fact, I would argue that she is likely the most popular female superhero character ever, after Wonder Woman, and frankly, that gap is probably closing pretty quickly. Her cartoon is one of the few hit shows from HBOMax, she is a top selling toy, she’s consistently a top choice for Halloween and cosplay, and — I would argue — Margot Robbie’s portrayal is one of the few things universally praised across the DCEU films.

So why does she work?

On this episode I want to discuss all things Harley Quinn, from her comic origins to her cultural relevance both within comics and beyond. I want to talk about the ways the character has come to represent everything from female empowerment to queer sexuality to mental illness to abuse survivorship. I want to talk about her dual nature as a kids’ cartoon icon and a hypersex symbol. What are your thoughts on the character in the comics, video games, cartoons, and movies, and in the fandom surrounding her?

Also, I ❤️the current TV show… so you know… I want to talk about that. I’ve got a couple really good ideas for guests for this one, so let us know your thoughts in the comments.

8 Comments and 0 Webmentions for “Call For Comments: So How About That Harley Quinn?”

  1. Super excited for this episode having just come off an 8 month under grad thesis project on Harley Quinn. Harley is a remarkably complex character and the ways in which she interacts with and calls into question various audience gazes are amazing. The new season of the show is continuing to rock the characters complexity. She speaks to normalizing trauma and abuse recovery, queerness, and so much more!

  2. As someone who quit superhero comics in the late 80s and restarted with Vertigo and some indies in the early/mid-90s, how about a history history of the how-and-why? I only know this character from the movies and I’m not sure I’ve seen them all.

    Context: I think the last comic that sucked me in to a character’s history was “Poison Elves” (and yes, Drew Hayes *is* dead contrary to the t-shirt I bought ages ago).

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