The rise of Harley Quinn


Colebrook’s Becky Fuller was one of an army of women who dressed up as the character Harley Quinn at New York ComicCon earlier this month.

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Throughout the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, there were female cosplayers (those who put on costumes as a fictional figure) dressed in all sorts of interpretations Harley Quinn. Some wore black and red harlequin costumes; some wore pig tails with tight white T-shirts that read “Daddy’s Little Monster” and carried monstrous mallet.
Harley Quinn received broader public attention when the character, and her background story, figured prominently in the 2016 film, “Suicide Squad.” Initially, the character, portrayed by Margot Robbie, is brought in as a physician to treat the imprisoned Joker. The character is eventually seduced by Joker and falls in love with the villain. She is then tricked into getting him released from prison.

Margot Robbie in the first “Suicide Squad” movie as Harley Quinn. CONTRIBUTED

At ComicCon on Oct. 4, a billboard advertised the Spring 2020 release of “Birds of Prey,” which stars Robbie, continuing her role from “Suicide Squad.” The film focuses entirely on Harley Quinn’s adventures once she has said farewell to Joker.

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More women will be showing their allegiance to Harley Quinn this Halloween. reported the comic book character is one of the hottest costumes for women in 2019.
Rich Destadio, owner of Waterbury’s Richie’s Comic Cabana on Store Avenue, said Harley Quinn’s popularity reaches back to television’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” which ran on Fox from 1992 to 1992. Then Harley Quinn transitioned to comic book form, appearing in the book, “Batman, the Animated Series No. 12.” Harley Quinn has now been the subject of three different comic book mini-series. Her popularity was soaring by the time the 2016 film “Suicide Squad” was released, Destadio said.
“I think the character is popular amongst girls and women because she has proven to be so much stronger than anyone expected,” Colebrook’s Fuller explained. When Harley Quinn was first featured in “Suicide Squad,” she was Joker’s underling. But, as Fuller sees it, the female villain has come into her own now that the character’s story in “Birds of Prey” includes her breaking away from Joker.
Lisa Coates of Danbury said Harley Quinn is a “cool character… I think among comic fans, at least for myself, she is a complex character with an interesting backstory.”
“Her version of villainy isn’t just pure sex appeal,” said Coates. “She is a psychiatrist from a broken home whose mind was twisted by the Joker and (she) suffers from multiple personality disorder, homicidal tendencies, and Stockholm Syndrome,” Coates said.
“She goes from psychiatrist to psychotic villain to redemption seeker,” she said.
Fuller sees Harley Quinn as a role model, especially for those who struggle with mental illness. “She shows that you can still be in control of your own narrative, even if you are struggling with things. Those struggles don’t take away from who you are- they don’t define you.”
Wind Goodfriend, a professor at Buena Vista University in Iowa, teamed up with Ryan Harder to write a chapter entitled “Relationship Abuse: When the Joker Isn’t Funny” for the book “Joker Psychology: Evil Clowns and the Women who Love Them,” which was released in September.
“Some people like the Harley who is portrayed as a true sociopath, in part because there aren’t many women shown in this way in our society,” said Goodfriend. “While sociopaths certainly shouldn’t be role models, the idea of ‘bad’ women at least helps people break out of the stereotype that women always have to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite.'”
The portrayal of Harley as an intelligent woman who breaks free from an abusive partner “can be a message of hope to other people who have experienced — or are still experiencing– relationship abuse,” Goodfriend said.
Goodfriend said Harley Quinn isn’t a true villain. “While she is certainly still responsible for her criminal actions, there are millions of women – and men – around the world who are caught in relationships in which someone controls them with mental and emotional abuse,” she said. “Her ability to eventually recognize this and to leave the Joker are why she’s admirable.”
But, not everyone sees Harley Quinn as a character to celebrate.
“I find her a bit problematic because she is oversexualized as ‘Daddy’s Little Monster’ and is in an abusive relationship,” said Karla Aponte Roque of Branford. “Granted not all movies have to be rainbows and sunshine, but it’s important to make sure to mention some of the problematic themes.”
Although she likes the character, Coates said she has some problems with how some admire her for the wrong reasons.
“It’s problematic that some women will post things (on social media) about Harley and the Joker being relationship goals,” said Coates.
“It’s a horrible, abusive relationship,” said Coates. “He’s not a loving man, he is her tormentor.”
“Admiring Harley only becomes a problem in two circumstances,” said Goodfriend, “when fans decide to imitate her criminal behaviors, or romanticize the idea that love means control or abuse. Jealousy and control aren’t love.”
The soaring popularity of Harley Quinn has become a boon for the comic book industry, said Destadio. The character appeals both to women and men — many of whom have never been in a comic book store before, said the Naugatuck native. Once they become customers, Destadio said they discover the wider scope of the comic book universe.