It was a warm September afternoon in 1992 when the world was first introduced to the Maiden of Mischief, the Cupid of Crime, or as most know her as, Harley Quinn. First appearing in Batman: The Animated Series, the episode “Joker’s Favor” opens to Harley Quinn, dressed in her red and black jester suit, cheering on the narcissistic Joker as he parades around and shares his latest crime scheme. Harley Quinn was created by DC Comics and adapted into the show by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. These early years of Harley Quinn’s character development had her by the Jokers side, encouraging, supporting, and standing by the Clown Prince of Crime, which had fans calling her, “the Jokers girlfriend.” In the years to come, Harley Quinn would develop into her own and become the main character to her own story. Unlike popular opinions created early on, Harley Quinn and the Jokers love story is not a romantic comedy, but instead, a dark, tormented story of abuse.
There is a strong stigma in the cosplay community that Harley Quinn is tied to and relies upon the Joker regardless of his multiple violent words and actions against her. In earlier depictions of her, she put up with the abuse until enough was enough, and she found the strength in herself to leave the Joker after he tried to blow her up in a rocket. This endless pattern of abuse followed Haley not only through the 1990’s but also into her 2000 comics by author Karl Kesel, her 2011 Suicide Squad comic, New 52 comics, and Rebirth comic runs.
In the 2011 Suicide Squad comic, Harley took a stand against the Joker for the years of torment he put her through, where the Joker ends up throwing her into a vat of chemicals that forcibly turns her into the Harley Quinn that she becomes. The Joker took away her choice and changed her life forever. Once a strong and independent psychiatrist known as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, she was now an empty shell of a woman who the Joker used and controlled.
Harley Quinn and the Jokers relationship came to the big screen for the first time on August 5th, 2016 when Suicide Squad took over the movie world. Suicide Squad normalized the abuse of Harley Quinn, playing it off as the Joker, playing a joke. This film is different from Harley Quinn’s long line of comics in multiple ways, and one of the biggest reasons is because it fails to show the true nature and abuse that Harley Quinn goes through. This was a lot of individuals first exposure to Harley Quinn and brought in a much younger crowd which was when the idolization of the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship skyrocketed.
On February 7th, 2020, Harley Quinn got her first standalone movie: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (later changed to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey). Birds of Prey starts off with Harley Quinn and the Joker being broken up, and how Harley Quinn takes her life back and makes a name for herself. Throughout Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn really comes into her own, and takes back a life that was stolen by the Joker.
Harley Quinn is a survivor, and her strength and endurance not only inspired me to leave an abusive partner but has also given the power of perseverance and vigor to many others who have followed her story through the decades. Many younger fans idolize Harley Quinn and the Joker as what a relationship should look like, and this is caused by the media pushing aside the abuse and pulling an image of a loving relationship to the forefront. The dark truth behind their relationship is a sad tale of Stockholm Syndrome and a woman who was forced into a life she never chose.
As a Harley Quinn cosplayer and a survivor of domestic abuse, it is not only my responsibility to talk about the graphic violence she has endured, but also bring an awareness to younger fans that her relationship is not something to idolize, but something to learn from so we can work towards stopping the cycle of violence and abuse.
Harleen (known as sweetheart.harley) is a published Harley Quinn cosplayer. Harleen sews her own cosplays as well as produces her own props for photoshoots. As a survivor of domestic abuse, Harleen works in the cosplay and comic community to bring awareness of domestic violence and abuse that exists in comics as well as the community itself.