The Thing Injustice 2 Gets Right About Harley Quinn That Suicide Squad Got Wrong

Much of Injustice 2's charm stems from how it gives players the ability to make their favourite DC comic book characters beat the crap out of each other. Fighting aside, though, the game also features some pretty solid character development for one of DC's most iconic antiheroes, Harley Quinn.

Warner Bros.

In Injustice 2, Harley finds herself working along with Batman, Black Canary and Green Arrow to take on a cabal of classic villains who, in the wake of Dictator Superman's defeat in Injustice: Gods Among Us, are trying to take over the world. I mean this literally -- Harley is working with the Bat-family in the Batcave, complete with a Bat-logo on the backside of her jacket.

Through an insanely convoluted series of events that began in the original Injustice from 2013, and continued through its (excellent) comic tie-in, Harley comes to realise that the Joker never truly cared for her despite her devotion to him and his memory. It's a realisation that multiple incarnations of Harley have come to in the years since she was first introduced as the Joker's number one girl, including, at this point, DC's actual comics continuity. Her rejection of the Joker has become a central part of her personal canon.

While comics Harley and animated Harley have been busy carving out new, independent identities for themselves, DC's cinematic take on her has relied heavily on her classic dysfunctional relationship with the Joker. To be fair, it's impossible to tell Harley's origin story -- which was a major part of what Suicide Squad was -- without the Joker. They fall in love, he tosses her into a vat of chemicals, and the rest is maniacal history.

But in many ways, Suicide Squad went a step further and glamorised the more toxic, literally abusive elements of Harley and the Joker's dynamic that her comics counterparts have slowly been distanced from over the past decade. The Joker tortures her, offers her to other men like she's property, and at one point damn near drowns her. Throughout the entire movie, the Joker's an absolute arsehole to Harley, and yet in the film's final showdown with Enchantress, Harley's still trying to find a way to get him back. It's a callback to her original relationship with the Joker, when she first debuted in Batman: The Animated Series, but it's one that many fans -- and a significant portion of DC Entertainment -- has moved on from.

It's possible that part of Harley's character growth in the upcoming Gotham City Sirens movie will involve her coming to the realisation that the Joker's a piece of crap, but so far, the movies' DC Expanded Universe seems pretty comfortable with its treatment of Harley as someone oblivious to the fact that she's being treated terribly. Suicide Squad ends with her gleefully joining the Joker after he breaks her out of prison, while a lot of official Harley merchandise emphasises her love for him.

Injustice 2 doesn't shy away from the history that Harley and the Joker have, but rather than relying on old (and problematic) canon to make this Harley feel familiar, the game gives her back her agency to evaluate her life in a realistic way.

One cutscene in particular features Harley going toe to toe with the Scarecrow, who uses his fear toxin to summon the thing that Harley fears the most. After being engulfed in a cloud of the toxin, Harley hears the Joker's familiar laughter and is horrified when he steps out of the shadows. (In the Injustice universe, the Joker's been dead for quite a while now.)

The Joker proceeds to comment on Harley's newfound heroism and fondness for the Batcave before he suggests that Harley's been doubting herself. This new Harley, Joker suggests, isn't the Harley he knew -- that's the real Harley that she's merely trying to run away from. Even though this Joker is just a manifestation of Harley's fears and anxieties, the scene speaks to Harley's struggle to disentangle herself from the person who spent years psychologically and physically abusing her.

For a brief moment, Harley starts to buy into the Joker's words and contemplates slitting a bound Batman's throat. When she chooses not to, Joker calls her a disappointment and Harley has a realisation: She doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to.

"Ain't no slick fella with a cheap suit and cheaper grin telling me who I am ever again," she says, advancing on the Joker. "We had mad love, once upon a time. But now that's over, Mistah J."

From there, you play as Harley and proceed to very satisfyingly kick the Joker's arse in traditional Injustice fashion, and the game's larger plot carries on.

Though the scene's rather insignificant in Injustice's grander scheme, it's the kind of treatment of Harley that perfectly marries her dated origin story with the more progressive depictions of the character that have turned her into a feminist icon.

Harley's still very much the same crazy, semi-murderous jokester that we all know and love, but here she's afforded a level of confidence and self-awareness Suicide Squad so sorely lacked. This is who Harley Quinn is now -- hopefully DC's movies will figure this out.


Comments

    Harley's still very much the same crazy, semi-murderous jokester that we all know and love

    Yeah, feminist icon...

      Harley is not a feminist icon. She is a fun, quirky and interesting character.
      Anyone that thinks she is a feminist icon, needs to rethink their life style. I'm a big Harley fun, but I know she is not a good role model.

    As i watching the story mode on youtube, i saw the best conclusion ever with that harely v joker fight. the game saved up all his meter and used harely's super to finish him off (joker only have 10% of his bar left).

    it was just so satisfying to watch

    I have to disagree. Although Harley and Joker's backstory is portrayed in a deliberately over-the-top manner in Suicide Squad, her actions (and reactions) later in the movie are surprisingly nuanced. It's unsatisfying to watch, but it's undeniably a moving depiction of a person addicted to an abusive relationship.

    I particularly recall a beat after Joker "dies" where Margot Robbie manages to convey a whole lot of complex emotion in a very brief moment. There's a whole lot going in SS (and BvS for that matter) that few commenters give it credit for. In contrast, Injustice sounds like some very vanilla, survivor fantasy writing, where the victim randomly decides to not be a victim any more (I imagine Helen Reddy playing in the background). More pleasant to watch? Probably. But a lesser story because of it.

      I dont know. Injustice feels a lot more satisfying story than any DC movie ive seen in recent years.

      The harley that was in SS was ok, as far as a origin story as such can go with many different characters. Its just that im tired of harley being the victim to joker, there is no development of the character if she just goes back for more no matter what.

      In injustice atleast we can see her as a sort or recovering addict when the drug of choice is no longer in her life, and her rehabilitation shows that villians such as her can be redeemed. This redemption plays against superman believing no villian can change. It can seem vanilla if you only look at it 1 way, the writing is alot smarter than you give credit.

        I agree 100%. Couldn't stop thinking during Injustice 2 that this is way better than any of the official movies in recent times.

        Fantastic game.

        I'm not sure if it was clear from my post but I haven't played Injustice yet so I'm going to have to take your word for it. I'm more coming from the "SS isn't as shit as everyone thinks it is" camp.

          Yeah i don't think SS is complete garbage, but there was no consistent chemistry with any of the characters (e.g i didnt believe in them).

          The movie could of worked with just Harley, Deadshot, Joker and Waller. When you can just subtract Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo, and Katana with little impact to the narrative its a fail to be honest.

          Play through the first at least, then see what you think. I definitely wouldn't say it seems random at all that she moves on from him.
          She goes through the grief period, the relief when the alternate universe joker finds her and ultimately the "I was better off without him" period.
          Imo it felt very natural.
          But yeah, it's definitely better than the recent dc movies. They really should have just waited and developed the characters in separate films and then adapted Injustice instead of doing BvS.

    I may remembering this incorrectly but I seem to recall that Harley was introduced originally in the animated series not to be the Joker's lovey-dovey plaything to withstand meekly his abuse, but rather as a way to humanise the Joker a bit. They were still messed up together but they were a team and the Joker definitely tolerated her, which might as well be saying that he loved her.

    While Suicide Squad does essentially re-tell the old story of Harley in a horrible, abusive relationship with the Joker (and it's a story DC Comics' fans have moved on from), let's not forget that while many DC fans would have watched Suicide Squad out of fandom, the film makers would have also been trying to attract brand new audiences who may be unfamiliar with the DC stories and lore.

    So yes, fans have seen it all before, but typical movie goers who don't read comics (or check out other DC Comics' media) will not have seen it before.

    I personally think that in Suicide Squad, they did a good job with demonstrating the Joker's and Harley's dysfunctional, abusive relationship. It was difficult to watch at times, especially considering how addicted and forgiving Harley was to the Joker, but I think that was the point. Since Suicide Squad was an introductory film to these villains, they would have needed to showcase this story arc, so to speak.

    Perhaps in Gotham City Sirens, Harley will evolve and grow as a character and do what she's doing in the comics, e.g. escaping Joker's grasp.

    What does annoy me though, is how some fans of the Suicide Squad film run around talking about how they want a relationship like Joker and Harley. "Relationship goals", ugh.

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