Sexiest Harley Quinn Comic Book Covers
A Clinically-Challenged Psychologist Becomes a Wildly Criminal Sex Symbol
Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, is unquestionably DC Comic’s most popular female villain and anti-hero. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created the character as a foil for the Joker, DC’s most popular villain, for Batman: The Animated Series, Episode #22, “Joker’s Favor”, which aired on September 11, 1992. Originally intended to appear in just one episode, Harley quickly became a recurring character in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) as Joker’s sidekick and love interest. She moved to comics a year later in September 1993 in Batman Adventures #12, and in October 1999 made her first in-canon appearance in Batman: Harley Quinn #1. She has starred in two self-titled animated series, appeared in several animated films (alongside Batman, of course), and headlined three live-action features.
Harley Quinn is the perfect criminal alias for Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s character.
Harley Quinn is a play on Harlequin, a 16th-century stock comedic character from the Italian commedia dell’arte. A Harlequin was a zanni character – an astute servant and trickster. A Harlequin was 1) a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal; 2) one who acts the buffoon to amuse others; and 3) a foolish, eccentric, unpredictable or crazy person. A Harlequin often wore a checkered costume, was light-hearted, nimble, and astute as a servant, but often acted to thwart the master’s plans. The English word zany is derived from the Italian zanni., as in “My brother’s friends are zany!”
Harley Quinn’s thematic red and black checker-themed costumes, comically super-sized mallet, world-class gymnastic abilities, and questionably requited early role alongside Joker are, thus, appropriate. In her first appearances, she was completely devoted to the Joker while totally oblivious to his psychotic nature and obvious lack of affection. This characterization has remained more or less consistent since she first graced the small silver screen.
But there's more to Harley's creation...
than borrowed elements from the 16th-century Harlequin character from Italian theater. Paul Dini, a budding television writer, desired a female character as a foil to the Joker for his script for “Joker’s Favor.” He was having difficulty deciding on details for the character. Should she be a tough-as-nails street thug? Maybe a henchman? Should she be street-wise? Smart? Pliant? Creating a character such as Harley, though intended for just a single episode at the outset, is decidedly difficult if she will have any depth, any personality.
The inspiration for Harley, however, came to Dini in near full bloom in the guise of his college friend, Arleen Sorkin, and was several years in the making. Sorkin was a regular comic-relief actress on the popular daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. She was also a skilled and experienced comedy writer, and developed a fairy tale dream sequence for an episode for the soap opera. For the episode, she plays a court jester who roller-skated into a throne room and performed hackneyed gags for the royal court. Sick at home in 1991, struggling with scripts for Batman: The Animated Series, Dini popped in a VHS tape Sorkin had given her friend years earlier. Harley Quinn as a silly little sidekick suddenly fell into place and he sketched out an idea for her appearance for the series’ lead artist, Bruce Timm. Timm, a perfectionist, researched traditional harlequin costumes and in the end provided the simple but satisfying super-villain version of a harlequin who would appear in Episode #22: a red-and-black full-body jumpsuit adorned with playing card diamonds, ruffled cutts and a two-pronged jester’s cap.
Dini’s friend Arleen likewise inspired the voice of Harley Quinn as well. A few hours in a recording studio, using a voice which came easily – essentially, her own natural voice – she produced the high, nasally, sing-songy dialogue with a heavy, Brooklynesque accent viewers have now long associated with the character. As Harley says in her first line in Episode #22: “It’s to laugh, huh, Mistah J?” Her recording for the episode became the iconic voice of Harley Quinn and she continued to voice the Joker’s love interest throughout Batman: The Animated Series.
One might also suggest that Harlequin well-known romance novels influenced Harley’s otherwise-appropriate alias as well. By the time of Harley’s debut, Harlequin romances were very successful, i.e. lucrative and formulaic paperback novels available at newsstands, book stores, drug stores and groceries across the U.S. and Canada. The layman or laywoman might believe that Harlequin romances are, as defined by the MacMillan dictionary, “any of a series of romantic novels with simple stories about romantic relationships between men and women.”
In actuality, though formulaic, a Harlequin romance is quite sophisticated with nearly scientific selection and follows very specific rules and guidelines. Harlequins for decades, for example, were quite prim and for most of their pages practiced unconsummated love between the hero and heroine. A situation which creates tension pseudo-suitable for children’s cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series, one might say. Harlequin in the 1980s finally evolved and began to relax the rule concerning unconsummated pre-marital love to keep pace with the times and the advance of feminism. Like Harlequin romances, Harley’s film and animation appearances have become increasingly mature and sophisticated, keeping pace with social norms as well. The 2019 animated series, for example, is rated Mature for an adult audience.
One omnipressent rule from Harlequin romances reverberates with audiences even today: the “Alphaman,” a rule which insists that heroes be strong, top-of-the-heap types, paragons of stereotypical masculinity. In the case of Joker and Harley, that might in fact be “criminality.” There’s no doubt that the Alphaman for Harley for a long time was simply Mistah J.
Harley continued to be Joker’s sidekick and love interest for some time – both on screen and in the comics – but the character would eventually stand on her own and leave her relationship with the Joker behind to become a super-villainess in her own right. Over the course of time, Dini, Timm and Sorkin, along with the early comics which featured the character, built Harley into a rich, provocative, powerful character. That is no mean feat on its own, and certainly not in the shade of Batman’s 50-year-long shadow full of other noteworthy villains. Along the way, Harley builds friendships and romantic interests with other DC characters such as Catwoman and perhaps most notably Poison Ivy, who replaces Mistah J as Harley’s primary love interest – acquaintances which become a shaky alliance in 2009’s Gotham City Sirens. In 2011, Harley would join the new Suicide Squad as part of DC’s New 52 line-wide reboot of comics and thereafter become a frequent anti-hero, á la Marvel’s Deadpool.
Harley immediately captured the hearts of viewers of Batman: The Animated Series. Harley’s origins, however, are only hinted at during the show. The answer to how Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn is finally answered in February 1994 in the unassuming 68-page one-shot comic, The Batman Adventures: Mad Love #1. The book would be reprinted three times in 1994 alone, and the tale would be reprinted again in Batman: Mad Love & Other Stories in May 2009. Readers – and viewers – are now more than familiar with Harleen Quinzel’s troubled life. Harley’s origin story proved to be so popular that The Batman Adventures: Mad Love would be republished in a deluxe hardcover edition in April 2015, which features exclusive extras and bonus material related to the villainess. Harley’s origin story would also be published in novel form by Paul Dini (with Pat Cadigan) in both hardback and paperback as simply Mad Love in 2018.
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HARLEY”S ORIGIN SUMMARY
NOTES ON CHANGES IN APPEARANCE
story features her as a former psychiatrist at Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum named Dr. Harleen Quinzel who fell in love with the Joker, her patient, eventually becoming his accomplice and lover.
Harley Quinn’s abilities include expert gymnastic skills, proficiency in weapons and hand-to-hand combat, complete unpredictability, immunity to toxins, and enhanced strength, agility, and durability. Quinn often wields clown-themed gag weapons, with an oversized mallet being her signature weapon. The character has a pair of pet hyenas, Bud and Lou, which sometimes serve as her attack dogs. As a trained psychiatrist with a genius-level intellect, she is adept at deception and psychological manipulation.
Harley Quinn has become one of DC Comics’ most popular and profitable characters, and has been featured in many of DC’s comic books and adapted in various other media and merchandise. DC Comics Publisher Jim Lee considers Harley Quinn the fourth pillar of DC Comics’ publishing line, behind Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
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Popular artists who have rendered some of Harley’s most memorable covers:
Sources: Wikipedia (Harlequin); Jezebel.com (“How Harlequin Became the Most Famous Name in Romance‘); AllAboutRomance.com (“??“); Vulture.com (The Hidden Story of Harley Quinn and How She Became the Superhero World’s Most Successful Woman)