What Margot Robbie's Reading List Could Mean for the Future of Harley Quinn
For some, the portrayal of Harley Quinn in last year's Suicide Squad wasn't everything they had hoped for. Sure, Margot Robbie handled the former sidekick to (and love interest of) the Joker with charm and wit, but despite everything else happening in the movie, she rarely escaped the shadow of the Joker. With the upcoming supervillain team-up movie Gotham City Sirens, though, that might be about to change.
The clue pointing to a new direction is Robbie's recent reading material, which was impressively decoded on Reddit and identified as 2015's Harley Quinn Valentine's Day Special. (It's suggested, however, that Robbie was reading the collection it appeared in, Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab.) With Robbie about to step back into Harley's shoes — and, perhaps importantly, away from the Suicide Squad — this choice of research is a fascinating one and perhaps a telling one, as well.
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The Valentine's Day Special issue, like the majority of Harley Quinn comics since 2013, was written by the husband-wife team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. When it comes to Harley, the importance of these two can't be overstated; from their first monthly title featuring the character, they displayed a particular approach toward her that moved her away from an overly sexualized portrayal — thankfully — but also an overly comedic one. Although their Harley stars in a series of comedies, with outrageous premises and parodies of other characters filling their pages (both Deadpool and Popeye the Sailor have shown up in their stories, under barely disguised new identities), Harley has been given a subtle but necessary overhaul that allows her to more ably anchor her own franchise.
And it is a franchise; the initial Conner/Palmiotti series led to a number of spinoffs, including Harley's Little Black Book, a "team-up" series that co-stars different DC heroes in each issue, and Harley Quinn and Her Gang of Harleys, which features Harley's adoring (and not entirely sane) group of assistants and sidekicks. When DC relaunched its entire superhero line last year, Harley Quinn got a new first issue and an increased frequency — it's now twice-monthly, instead of coming out once every month — but little else needed to be changed. It was already a success.
So what changed? What did Conner and Palmiotti (and artists including Chad Hardin and John Timms) do so right? The short version is that they let Harley grow up. Not too much, not enough to stop her acting on impulse and making poor decisions wherever possible — that's part of her charm — but enough that she could leave the Suicide Squad and the Joker behind, for the most part, and try to start over in Coney Island, building a family of misfits and friends around her that help propel storylines forward.
The Harley that's seen in contemporary comics is smarter and kinder than any seen before; she will do anything for her friends in need, no matter how ridiculous or nonsensical it may be and — through dumb luck, happenstance and genre convention — come out smiling on the other side. If Deadpool is the Bugs Bunny of comic books, then Conner and Palmiotti turned Harley into a slightly homicidal Lucille Ball, and it's a shift that works.
One way to put it is that the contemporary comic book Harley has the smart mouth of Robbie's cinematic version, but better self-preservation instincts. She wouldn't ditch the Squad for the Joker, especially not if it risked her life in the process; indeed, the comic book version has broken ties with her former beau, having identified that theirs was an abusive relationship. Instead, she's entered into an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow villain Poison Ivy — who, coincidentally, also will be a character in the Gotham City Sirens movie.
There's perhaps too much to tie up in Gotham City Sirens to simply launch directly into a movie version of Harley that mirrors the current comic version without explanation. She was, after all, last seen being kidnapped/rescued by the Joker. But if Sirens can do one thing for Harley Quinn as a whole, it's to find some way to bring the cinematic incarnation of the character more in line with her current comic book persona — and, in doing so, guarantee that there's enough there to keep Robbie in the role for years to come.
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