When Harley Met Joker: A History of the Twisted 'Suicide Squad' Love Story

If Jared Leto's villain wants to win back Margot Robbie's anti-hero in the new movie, he's got a lot to make up for.
Amanda Connor/DC Entertainment

According to a new plot synopsis of the upcoming Suicide Squad, Jared Leto's Joker comes into the movie with a mission: to win back Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. It's the latest step in a complicated relationship that bears more than a little weight in the hearts and minds of fans of the characters, but is there really a happy ending to be had for the couple?

The new plot synopsis, which broke in Entertainment Weekly, confirms long-held fan speculation about David Ayer's movie — namely, that the true threat in the movie is a mysterious "powerful mystical enemy," and that the Joker is there to complicate the team's mission with "his laser-like plan to reunite with his true love, Harley."

For longtime followers of both the Joker and Harley Quinn, the notion that Harley is the Joker's "true love" rings somewhat false, not least of all because the very idea of the sociopathic Joker having a true love seems unlikely at best, if not downright impossible, especially given the relationship the two characters have shared in their animated and comic book incarnations to date.

Harley is a relatively late addition to the DC mythology; created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for a 1993 episode of Batman: The Animated Series (By contrast, the Joker debuted in more than half a century earlier, in 1940's Batman No. 1). She was a bit-part that captured the imaginations of everyone, viewers and creators alike, thanks in large part to the vocal performance of soap actor Arleen Sorkin, who gave the character a charm all of her own.

The character quickly crossed over into comics in addition to additional animated appearances, with Dini and Timm collaborating on the 1994 The Batman Adventures: Mad Love graphic novel, which revealed her secret origin: that she had been the Joker's psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum before falling under his spell and turning to crime.

If there was one constant in the portrayal of the relationship between the two characters in both comic books and animation, it was that Harley loved the Joker more than he did her. Actually, it could be argued that the Joker didn't love Harley at all — that his occasional sweetness and attempts to woo her were merely manipulative attempts to keep her from being too much of a nuisance. Certainly, there would be countless appearances by the Joker without Harley in which she wouldn't be mentioned at all, and when the two did share scenes, it was as common for him to be cruel as to be affectionate.

In recent years, this has been addressed in the comics themselves. As Harley has slowly transitioned from supporting player to solo star — the Harley Quinn comic book being a surprise hit for DC Entertainment, leading to multiple spinoff titles in the last few years — her relationship with the Joker has gone from awkward, uncomfortable comic relief to a problem that needed to be solved.

The turning point was arguably 2012's Batman No. 13, which made the abuse and power dynamic all-too-clear; the issue features Quinn crying and saying, "He's not my Mr. J anymore …" The most recent meeting between the two characters in comics, in this year's Harley Quinn No. 25, separated the two characters even further, empowering Harley in the process; an attempt by the Joker to woo her ends in a fight between the two characters that Harley wins easily, telling the Joker in the process, "I hate ya fer what ya bring out in me."

Suicide Squad offers an alternate take on the characters, however — one where the abusive relationship could live again, playing against the redemptive arc the movie sets up for its villains-turned-anti-heroes. Of course, there's every possibility that the cinematic Harley will reject the Joker in the same way the comic version learned to, but in the meantime, any time anyone tries to suggest that Harley Quinn is the Joker's true love, experience and history would suggest that there's more to it than that.

Suicide Squad will be released Aug. 5.

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