The Neglected Nemeses: Harley Quinn
While Batman arguably has some of the best rogues out there, they are also some of the hardest to portray on the big screen in such a way that both does the character justice and makes them believable and relevant. Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are perfect examples of that. In Batman & Robin, both these characters, along with Bane, were the main baddies featured and needless to say, it failed. Badly. Granted, a lot of that had to do with a horribly written script, but both were terrible representations of characters that have a great back-story and pose a credible threat to the Dark Knight. Now, we’ve seen two different versions of the Joker in modern Batman films, and both of them were very different from one another, but they both were done very well, each having their own style of crazy and depth to them. I think a lot of that could be credited to the great actors who portrayed them: Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger. Now, having said that, let me introduce my next nemeses that I think deserves a bit of the big screen treatment: Harley Quinn.But before I get into the “why,” lets’ start with the who, shall we?
Harley is one of the few characters that gained popularity not from the comic pages, but from the small screen. The character was created for the wildly popular Batman: The Animated Series by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. She first appeared in the episode “The Joker’s Favor,” in which several police officers were to be taken hostage by someone jumping out of a cake. It was decided that having the Joker do this was a bit odd (though, he ended up doing it anyway), so Dini created the Harley Quinn character. Originally, the character was voiced by soap opera actress Arlene Sorkin. During an episode of Days of Our Lives, Sorkin appeared in a jester’s costume during a dream sequence, which Dini used as an inspiration for the Quinn character. Dini had known Sorkin since college and was able to incorporate some of Sorkin’s personality traits into the Harley Quinn character.
In the 1994 graphic novel “Mad Love,” Harley’s origins are layed out in the style and continuity of Batman: The Animated Series, and was written and drawn by Dini and Timm. In this book, Quinn, whose real name is Dr. Harleen Quinzel, worked as a psychologist in the famed Arkham Asylum. She falls for the off-centered Joker and appears as his accomplice and on-off sidekick. While serving as an intern, Quinzel volunteers to analyze Joker. She instantly falls in love with Joker and more than once, she helped him escape the asylum. After being returned to Arkham after a vicious battle with Batman, Quinzel literally goes insane after seeing how badly her love had been beaten. Soon after, she quit her job as a psychiatrist, put on the jester costume and named herself Joker’s side kick. She later becomes friends with Poison Ivy, who injects her with an anti-toxin that givers her heightened strength and agilty and the immunity to toxins. The graphic novel went on to win much praise and numerous awards, such as the Eisner Award and Harvey Awards for Best Single Comic Issue of the Year.
The character proved to be so popular, she was added to Batman comics and canon. Like Joker’s comic counter part, the Harley from comic pages is a much more violent and less humorously quirky version than the one portrayed in the animated series. However, she has, from time to time, shown compassion and mercy towards her foes. Her comic origin, “Batman: Harley Quinn” is fairly similar to that in the previously mentioned “Mad Love.” From 2001 to 2003, an ongoing comic run was published in which Quinn goes solo and starting a gang of her own, fleeing Gotham for a life in Metropolis with her new friend Poison Ivy. Quinn is killed at one point, only to be resurrected and return to Gotham. The series comes to a close after Quinn realizes that she is truly disturbed and seeks help by turning herself into the Arkham Asylum. She also has an appearance in Batman #663, in which she helps Joker with a plan to kill all of his former henchmen, completely unaware that the “punchline” of the scheme is her own death. Upon discovering this, she shoots Joker in the shoulder and escapes.
Quinn later appears in “Detective Comics #831″, which was written by her creator Paul Dini. Harley had spent the previous year trying to get paroled, but it was continuously denied by the layman member of Arkham’s medical commission, Bruce Wayne. She is kidnapped by Peyton Riley, the new female Ventriloquist, who offers her a job. However, out of respect for Arnold Wesker, the original Ventriloquist who attempted to cheer her up during the first week of her stay at Arkham Asylum, she turned it down. She ends up helping Batman and Commissioner foil Riley’s plans. In doing so, Batman…er…Bruce Wayne was impressed by her attempt at redemption and agrees to grant her parole. In the series “Gotham City Sirens,” Harley teams up with Catwoman and Poison Ivy. The trio moved in with Pamela Isley at the Riddler’s apartment. Boneblaster, a new villain who was out to get Selina Kyle, broke into the apartment and after defeating him, the three ladies were forced to move. Later on, after a chance encounter with Hush, Joker makes an attempt to kill Quinn out of jealousy, but Ivy and Catwoman stop the attempt. It turns out, however, that he was not the Joker, but one of his former stooges posing as the Clown Prince.
After numerous adventures with Catwoman and Poison Ivy, Quinn betrays them and busts into Arkham Asylum with the purpose of killing Joker for all the abuse he laid upon her over the years. But, after a change of heart, she releases Joker and the pair orchestrate a massive take-over of the asylum, resulting in all of the guards and staff being killed or taken hostage. With the help of Catwoman, Batman re-captured the Asylum. Quinn was last seen being wheeled away in a straight jacket and a muzzle. Not long after these events, Poison Ivy broke into Arkham to put an end to Harley for her earlier betrayal. Instead, she helps Quinn escape in exchange for helping her kill Selina Kyle. Of course, she agrees and the duo sets a trap for Catwoman. During the battle, Catwoman explains herself by saying that she saw good in them and only wanted to help. Just as Batman was about to arrest the pair, Catwoman releases them and allows them to escape.
Now, I recognise the fact that Harley probably couldn’t hold a film as the one and only baddie and the only way it’d be worth having her in a film would be with the Joker involved. It was originally planned that Nolan would have the Joker return for the third film, but after the untimely death of Heath Ledger, he had to change his plans, as he didn’t want to recast the Joker character out of respect to Ledger. It would have been interesting to see how Nolan would have handled the Harley Quinn character, as he could have made her just as, if not more psychotic than the Joker and pull it off pretty well. Now that Nolan’s Batman franchise is done, it’s likely that we will have a new series head our way and with that, a whole new vision and despite the love for Ledger’s Joker, you can bet they will include a new version of the Clown Prince and with him, I hope they bring in Harley. I don’t think it’d be too difficult to bring the character to life, especially if you add a “Bonnie & Clyde” type relationship to them, I would almost say you could have Harley be the character that is more vicious and heartless and use Joker to reign her in at times, but you’d need to be careful not to let Joker lose his persona at the same time.
I think there is only one person who could pull of Arley Quinn in all her psychotic glory and that is the late Brittany Murphy. Her look, her sound, her style and her quirkiness would have made her the perfect candidate for the role. Sadly, she passed, much like Heath Ledger, oddly enough. So, we must look elsewhere. If she were a few years younger, I’d suggest Parker Posey for the role. But I think there is another actress who would do the role justice and she has even stated she’d “kill to play Harley Quinn” in interviews. Kristen Bell, the lovely blonde bombshell from Veronica Mars and Heroes would be a great fit. She’s funny and can have a bit of darkness to her as well. The very fact that she is so passionate about wanting the role is a great sign, as she knows what fans would want and expect from the character.