The cre­ator of Sui­cide Squad’s stand­out on the cul­tural evo­lu­tion of “Daddy’s lit­tle mon­ster”

Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS HE­WITT

How she went from Mr J’s pud­din’ to one of the hottest char­ac­ters in town.

PAUL DINI, THE man be­hind Har­ley Quinn, can pin­point the mo­ment when he knew his cre­ation had truly made it. It was last Oc­to­ber, in fact. The Satur­day be­fore

Hal­lowe’en, a time for most Los An­ge­lenos to have a mas­sive hoo­ley. And then Dini peered out of his win­dow. “I saw a rov­ing gang of Har­ley Quinns go­ing down the street,” he laughs. “There was a school­girl Har­ley, in a red-and-black out­fit with the mask, a steam­punk Har­ley, and the reg­u­lar movie Har­ley. They were ev­ery­where. I looked at my wife and said, ‘Well, there’s Daddy’s lit­tle mon­ster.’”

Yes, 24 years af­ter Dini, then a writer on Batman: The An­i­mated Se­ries, first introduced Har­ley Quinn, it’s fair to say she’s hav­ing a mo­ment. A zeit­geist-pierc­ing surge that can be traced back to that “reg­u­lar movie”, Sui­cide Squad. David Ayer’s wildly suc­cess­ful caper ($745 mil­lion world­wide) brought to­gether a bunch of the DC Uni­verse’s bad­dest bad guys, in­clud­ing Will Smith’s Dead­shot, Jai Court­ney’s Cap­tain Boomerang and Jay Her­nan­dez’s El Di­ablo, and watched them cede the spot­light to Mar­got Rob­bie’s colour­ful, capri­cious take on the Joker’s mad, bad and dan­ger­ous-to-know girl­friend.

She gets al­most all of the best lines.

She gets the meati­est story, as she be­gins to es­tab­lish an iden­tity away from her psy­chotic paramour. And the lion’s share of the film’s key mo­ments. And in the new Ex­tended Edi­tion ver­sion of the film, the bulk of the ad­di­tional 13 min­utes re­stored to Ayer’s film in­volve Har­ley.

There’s a deeper dive into the twisted me­chan­ics be­hind her re­la­tion­ship with

Jared Leto’s Joker: a lengthy scene in which a dis­traught and pre-trans­for­ma­tion-in-vat-ofacid Har­ley chases down the Clown Prince Of Crime and, paus­ing only to kill a pass­ing trucker, de­mands at gun­point that the Joker fall in love with her. “A heart scares you and a gun doesn’t?” she asks. And then there’s

a se­quence in which she de­lib­er­ately an­tag­o­nises var­i­ous mem­bers of the Squad, try­ing to pro­voke them into a re­sponse. “She’s a rab­bit hole,” coun­sels Cap­tain Boomerang. “Don’t fall in.”

It’s no sur­prise that the Ex­tended Edi­tion ups the ante on Har­ley. For, even in a movie star­ring Will Smith and Jared Leto, even in a film that has Batman swoop in ev­ery now and again to bust some heads, she is the un­doubted stand-out. The rea­son why you’re not read­ing a piece about Killer Croc right now. But where did it all be­gin?

“IT IS TO laugh, huh, Mr J?” With that one line, de­liv­ered while perched on a desk as the Joker throws darts back­wards at a pic­ture of Com­mis­sioner Gor­don, Har­ley Quinn an­nounced her­self to the world in Joker’s Fa­vor, a 1992 episode of The An­i­mated Se­ries. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to note just how com­plete the char­ac­ter al­ready was. The cos­tume may have changed — no redand-blue pig­tails or hot pants for this Har­ley, who’s clad in a red-and-black jester’s cos­tume — and cer­tain in­tri­ca­cies of her re­la­tion­ship with the Joker had yet to be filled in, but oth­er­wise it’s all there: the “Mr J” catch­phrase (that’s stud­ded through­out Sui­cide Squad), the in­sou­ciant at­ti­tude, the wel­come dol­lop of female en­ergy that en­livened the Joker, a char­ac­ter whose hench­men had tra­di­tion­ally been manly hunks of meat. They might as well have called him the Bloker.

Dini wanted to shake that up a lit­tle. “I thought a girl would be good in the mix.

I came up with an idea for a snappy blonde girl who would hang out with the Joker,” he ex­plains of Har­ley Quinn’s ori­gin. “And she re­ally did have a pur­pose for him. He can’t go into a lot of places with­out be­ing recog­nised, so it helps to have a cou­ple of al­lies to do the dirty work for him.”

Al­though Har­ley’s per­son­al­ity sprang al­most fully formed from Dini’s fin­gers, Bruce Timm — the an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor on Batman: The An­i­mated Se­ries — is cred­ited as her co-cre­ator. “I don’t think Bruce re­ally knew about the char­ac­ter un­til I’d handed him the out­line,” laughs Dini. Timm was en­tirely re­spon­si­ble for the look and move­ment of the char­ac­ter. “He came up with a de­sign for Har­ley in her jester cos­tume, and what she looked like when she was in dis­guise,” adds Dini. “She al­most looked like a dancer in the way she was posed. That was the idea, that she was very ath­letic and ca­pa­ble if she got into a fight.”

There have been mur­mur­ings over the years that Har­ley Quinn was ini­tially in­tended as a one-and-done char­ac­ter. Not the case. “I liked

the fact she added some hu­mour to Batman’s world, and ex­panded it a lit­tle bit. I liked writ­ing sto­ries about her and putting her in episodes where she fit. I liked the char­ac­ter from the get-go and hoped she would catch on.”

That she did. Al­though she pops up in rel­a­tively few episodes of Batman: The An­i­mated Se­ries, Har­ley turned heads right away. Just a year later, DC Comics started in­clud­ing the char­ac­ter in some of their own ti­tles. And then, in 1994, they ap­proached Dini and Timm with an of­fer that would change the course of the char­ac­ter for­ever, and lead to Rob­bie waltzing away with a film just over two decades later.

THAT OF­FER WAS to pro­duce a comic, Mad Love, in the style of The An­i­mated Se­ries, that would tackle Har­ley’s ori­gin. It was some­thing Dini hadn’t given a great deal of thought to but, “She couldn’t just be a girl that went wrong that he keeps call­ing up ev­ery time he es­capes.”

From that sprang the idea — used in Sui­cide Squad — that Har­ley Quinn was once Dr

Har­leen Quinzel, a psy­chi­a­trist as­signed to the Joker dur­ing one of his stints at Arkham

Asy­lum. Dur­ing that time, Dr Quinzel was se­duced — emo­tion­ally and men­tally at the very least — by the Joker, and fell in love with him. Or was con­vinced she had fallen in love with him. “The idea we liked a lot was that he had some­how got­ten into her head, snapped her and brought her over to his point of view,” says Dini.

From the off, pretty much, it was clear Har­ley was suf­fer­ing at the hands of the Joker. He con­stantly de­means her, be­lit­tles her, slaps her. He even pushes her out of a win­dow. And yet she kept com­ing back for more, kept ex­cus­ing away his vi­o­lence. Some crit­ics have ar­gued Har­ley’s un­blink­ing devo­tion to the Joker re­duces her to mere chat­tel, an­other so-called strong woman who be­comes noth­ing more than a play­thing at the hands of an abu­sive man. But Dini, who was in­spired by what he saw hap­pen­ing in some friends’ re­la­tion­ships at the time, says he wanted to shine a light on the plight of women trapped in cy­cles of vi­o­lence. In, don’t for­get, a show os­ten­si­bly aimed at younger view­ers. “She was an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter in that she did have this tragic flaw, this weird co-de­pen­dency with the Joker,” says Dini. “We were say­ing, ‘Hey, kids, don’t be this. Watch out, this is the con­se­quence of hang­ing out with a ma­niac like the Joker.’ If any­thing, it’s a cau­tion­ary story.”

In the comic books, Har­ley Quinn has long since found the in­ner strength to move away from the Joker. She’s more an­ti­hero now than vil­lain, a part of the Sui­cide Squad on the printed page and some­one who en­joys a polyamorous re­la­tion­ship with Poi­son Ivy. (The seeds for which were sown in The An­i­mated Se­ries, prin­ci­pally the episode Har­ley & Ivy). Dini con­tin­ues to write for the char­ac­ter across me­dia as var­ied as Arkham Asy­lum, the video game, and one­off sto­ries for DC Comics. But he has ceded the char­ac­ter’s de­vel­op­ment on the printed page to the likes of Amanda Con­ner and Jimmy Palmiotti on the Sui­cide Squad on­go­ing se­ries, be­liev­ing he laid the foun­da­tion for that change. “We gave her a place to grow from,” he says.

“The other writ­ers who have taken over Har­ley have ac­knowl­edged where she’s come from and are keep­ing her evo­lu­tion go­ing.”

In Sui­cide Squad, with which Dini was not in­volved, that evo­lu­tion seemed to halt some­what, with the back-to-square-one it­er­a­tion of Har­ley Quinn at­tract­ing crit­i­cism from some quar­ters. Through­out, she’s de­fined by her re­la­tion­ship with the Joker, and even though Ayer thrives with no­tions of her break­ing the cy­cle of co-de­pen­dency, it ends with her be­ing res­cued from pri­son by Mr J, her knight in pur­ple shin­ing ar­mour. “Peo­ple say she should have walked out on the Joker,” muses Dini. “The Joker was barely in the movie. So even if he comes off as a psy­chotic, mur­der­ous but ar­dent boyfriend, why not show the two of them in love as they run off to­gether? That way, the re­la­tion­ship has a place to go — then the whole thing can sour and she can move away from him.”

Per­haps wings will be spread the next time we see Rob­bie as the char­ac­ter, whether that’s in Sui­cide Squad 2 or the solo movie on which she is a pro­ducer. For one thing has been universal — even if some have been un­happy with cer­tain as­pects of Har­ley Quinn’s char­ac­ter or cos­tume in Sui­cide Squad, Rob­bie’s per­for­mance has been ac­claimed across the board. Like Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark, or Hugh Jack­man and Wolver­ine, it seems one of those per­fect mar­riages of ac­tor and comic-book char­ac­ter.

The play­ful­ness. The will­ing­ness to em­brace the dark­ness lurk­ing un­der the sur­face. The vi­vac­ity. And, of course, the abil­ity to take a char­ac­ter that had been pre­vi­ously merely pop­u­lar (just ask Kevin Smith, who named his daugh­ter Har­ley Quinn), and turn her into a phe­nom­e­non. The kind of phe­nom­e­non that in­spires peo­ple to dress up as Daddy’s lit­tle mon­ster. “There’s al­ways go­ing to be su­per­cil­ious fin­ger-wag­gers and peo­ple who are ready to shame any­body else for any­thing,” says Dini. “But Har­ley is like a walk­ing, smil­ing mid­dle fin­ger to all those peo­ple. Har­ley’s gonna do what she wants, she’s gonna look the way she wants. That’s what peo­ple em­brace.”

Need­less to say, she had the last laugh.


Har­ley Quinn de­buts a new look in the Arkham Asy­lum video game. Driv­ing the Joker wild in the forth­com­ing LEGO Batman Movie.

From top to bot­tom: Co-cre­ator Paul Dini; Mar­got Rob­bie as Dr Quinzel with Jared Leto’s Joker; Batman: The An­i­mated Se­ries’ red-and-black cre­ation; Cos­play Joker and Har­ley.

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