Is Harley Quinn Arkham City's Most Subversive Character?

Plenty of folks have been talking about how Batman: Arkham City handled (or mishandled) the character of Catwoman, but fewer have addressed the character of Harley Quinn.

In a thoughtful post on his personal blog, Girl Parts author John M. Cusick looks at her character, identity, and the possible reasons she acts the way she does.

Cusick points out that there are aspects of Harley's character that aren't often touched on in the Batman lore, (and aren't really addressed by the game), primarily the way that she came to be as crazy as she is. "I don't think the Arkham game creators quite knew what they had with Harley," Cusick writes, "and like Christopher Nolan, I think they've missed a great opportunity."

He goes on:

What is interesting to me about Harley, I guess, is that she isn't empowered. This makes her a terrible role model (in addition to, you know, all the wanton killing), but a wonderful character. As the battle for Gotham rages around her, Harley seems like a confused little kid amidst feuding adults. To me, this makes her, on the surface, oddly sympathetic: this poor, fractured woman who followed a man into madness, and got little in return.

But there's another layer here. Remember, Harley was a doctor when she met the Joker, which means her "aww-shucks B-Man" shtick is all an act. While Cat Woman's sexuality is empowered, Harley chooses to disempower herself, becoming a (dangerous) child. Just as, I think, allowing oneself to "go crazy" is at once empowering and disempowering, i.e. seizing control by losing it.

It's an interesting take on a tragic, broken character, and as he points out, Quinn is certainly one of the more subversive characters in the Batman ouvre.

"My stance is we writers have a responsibility," Cusick concludes. "not necessarily to create empowered characters– but layered ones, to investigate and nuance both our muscly chunkheads, and our scantily clad vixens."

Sounds like Mr. Cusick wonders about why the chicken crossed the road, too.

Oh Harley, My Harley [John M Cusick]


    Yeah. Game designers completely miss chances to make any female character remotely interesting or something other than sex-appeal. Shock horror! Nothing against you Kotaku, just no surprise.

    People tend to pay more attention to somethign bad then to something good.

    Although I do remember people bitching about Harley in the previous Batman game because of her clothing attire (not to mention her redesign in the official comics).

      I agree people tend to over look the good and go for the bad. Good point Neo-Kaiser very good point indeed.

    I've always been interested by her character as well.

    I rewatched the original Batman animated series episode 'Mad Love' - which explains her origin story (it's on the Blu Ray 'Under the Red Hood' that a lot got with Arkham City - under special features).

    It bothers me though, that they don't really go into the 'why' of Harley's madness. Joker obviously manipulates her - but the flaws in Harley's psyche (her suceptability) are either unexplained or more sinister/explicit than allowed for in a Saturday morning cartoon.

      I'm not a comic reader so I don't have the full scope of what's been written, but I always read Harley as someone who suffered from severe Stockholm syndrome which has become more obsessive and psychotic the longer she's been with the Joker.

        she fell in love with him while treating him, so it couldnt be stockholme, as she was never detained by the joker, in fact most of the canon to do with her has shown him wanting her gone more then anything.

        I always assumed its a case of her being a sociopath, as when a sociopath take up these sort of professions (psychiatric, law enforcement etc) they become obsessed with the people they are analyzing often becoming the things they are meant to change or stop. In harley's case she devolved into criminal insanity, although very quickly showing she had a very weak sense of self to begin with. Similar themes are found in some Sherlock stories (the latest miniseries in-particular)

    I'm still sad that we'll never get to see Harley done by Brittany would have matched so perfectly to Heath Ledger's Joker. Sadly ironic that they suffered the same fate.

      One could propose that she's a stand-in for the reader/audience. I mean, c'mon, we all love the Joker, despite his slight tendency for mass murder. Arkham City's ending plays around with this idea as well.

        Whoops, meant to reply to Reign.

    There was a big reason she wasn't capitalized on. I doubt this guy noticed Harley's condition that other eagle eyed detectives would have noticed.

    Hint, go to Joker's Funhouse area in the Steel Mill and look around where her old suit it ;)

      I know, right?? I really wanted to go back and take another look at Harley with Detective Vision turned on...

      After some Googling I found a Youtube video that provides the relevant information for those that have already finished the game and missed this tidbit.

      It should go without saying, but reasonably significant spoilers ahead.

        temptation got the better of me, while i haven't had a chance to play it yet D:

        Oh well, i'll just have to get around to playing it then :P

    Dini wrote the game and co-created Harley. Harley is his character to reinterpret as he saw fit.
    Unless Bruce Timm has any complaints, I'm ok with this.

    why bring this up now arkham asylum came out ages ago and she was in there

    and, she is voice by TWILIGHT SPARKLE!

    yeah... but how awesome is that part where you use the grappling hook?!

    "But there’s another layer here. Remember, Harley was a doctor when she met the Joker, which means her “aww-shucks B-Man” shtick is all an act."

    I don't follow this logic at all, Harley is crazy as fuck.

    Also there is a whole series about her it ran for like 50 issues where she goes from bad to less bad and serves as a sort of prelude to the gotham sirens series.

    "this poor, fractured woman who followed a man into madness, and got little in return"

    Yup that's the best description of Harly. She was broken by the joker and is now bat-crap crazy, and the only thing she gets from the deal is that Joker hasn't killed her (yet), which is unusual for anyone spending any amount of time with the Joker.

    In the Haley Quinn series of comics (partly out now in trade paperback) it reveals just how manipulative and blackmailing she did to get to the Joker.

    Also it's almost said as outright fact but with just a hint of doubt that in College she killed her boyfriend and made it look like a Suicide, and that their may have been other Victims after him.

    Short version, she was broken and possibly a serial killer before the Joker got hold of her. He just pushed her a little. And part of the Harliquin act is to be smart and act dumb for amusement. So she is playing her role. I do like the character but for her insane pursuit of love... however twisted it may be.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now