Superheroes: How Harley Quinn is Changing the Game

Screenshot of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016). Copyright goes to ‘DC Films’ and ‘Warner Bros. Pictures’.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I have never been the type to participate in those ‘Star Trek’ vs ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Marvel’ vs ‘DC’ debates. I always felt that, though the franchises are comparable, they are still different and there really is no reason to compare them. I will admit that, despite this, I definitely preferred Marvel simply because I liked the movies. Though I still think that they have been a bit better at movies, I have to do the unlikely, and give my favorite superhero title to none other than Harley Quinn. Because why wouldn’t I? Not only is she a badass as a character, but she has completely changed superhero movies for the better when it comes to female portrayals in action films. It’s been a long process, so let’s take a look at how Harley Quinn was able to shove her foot in the door of best superhero characters despite the fact that the title is incredibly male dominated.

Batman: The Animated Series:

For those of you who don’t know, the popularity of Harley Quinn was completely an accident. Harley Quinn was created to be a one-off character in a random episode of this series as a quirky side-kick to the Joker. The creators were not expecting the reaction they got from the fans. It wasn’t long after the episode aired that fans began to complain whenever she wasn’t present. It was instant love between the fans and the red and black jester, and the creators actually listened. Harley Quinn ascended quickly in the show, eventually becoming something equivalent of a main character among the main cast. When the series ended, Harley Quinn had already become one of the most popular characters in all of ‘Batman’ despite the fact that she had never before been in a comic book. This portrayal allowed for her to be featured as a major villain in countless ‘Batman’ games and even inspired DC to give her her own comic book series. Her popularity and relationship with the Joker even started a conversation about domestic abuse against women in media, causing her writers to actually write her dealing with her trauma into the comics. Harley Quinn is quite possibly one of the most popular accidents to ever exist, and it gives me joy to think that any adaptation of Harley Quinn would probably love that description of her.

Suicide Squad:

Harley Quinn was already more than popular when this movie decided to take on the beloved character, so it was only natural that the decision to adapt her was met with both skepticism and excitement from fans. Let’s be honest with ourselves, this movie wasn’t great. The plot was all over the place and it just felt like you were watching a mess. But almost everyone who saw that movie could at least agree on one point. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was absolutely perfect. Even if you thought her costume was way too much or way too little, you couldn’t deny that the acting for this character was absolutely spot on. Margot Robbie did what few others have ever done for the superhero character they portray. She breathed life into Harley Quinn so much that she was Harley Quinn; nobody could imagine anyone else playing that role. Some actors are great in their superhero roles, but others own their roles. Like RDJ as Iron Man. She did that. It was the best thing that could have happened to the character of Harley Quinn and one of the best things that could have happened for female superhero characters.

How Deadpool Helped:

If ‘Deadpool’ starring Ryan Reynolds hadn’t come out, this progression of Harley Quinn might have stopped. Superhero movies for a long time were seen as family movies only. ‘Deadpool’ absolutely destroyed this stigma. It proved that a superhero movies don’t have to be a genre by themselves, but they can be a subject that falls into multiple genres. When ‘Deadpool’ finally got his rightful time to shine without being censored, many Harley Quinn fans began pointing out that she held a similar role for the uncensored ridiculous in DC comics. Margot Robbie immediately took this idea and ran with it. Why couldn’t a female character also be a badass while being uncensored? Hollywood generally tries to stick women into this overly innocent box, but that’s not what’s realistic or what female audiences want to see anymore. If DC wanted to compete with Marvel, ‘Deadpool’ made it so that their only option was to use Harley Quinn to do so.

Birds of Prey:

It doesn’t matter whether or not you liked this movie, you have to admit that it was important. We got a superhero ensemble film where the entire ensemble was made up of women. There is only one main male character to be seen in this film in contrast to the five female characters. Not to mention, that the female characters in this film aren’t really intimidated by the male villain, meaning that very few of their conversations are them even mentioning men. Add on the Asian female director, Cathy Yan, and you’ve got even more for this movie to be proud of. Harley Quinn in this movie isn’t a tomboy. None of the girls are. They are all realistic women with different personalities. At no point are any of the women in this movie devalued for acting feminine. They are. That in itself is badass. Not only that, but it proved that just the name Harley Quinn could garner so much of a frenzy around a movie that even her presence could get a sizable audience to watch it. It was clear after this movie that Harley Quinn might just be the most popular DC character of this generation. This would have never been expected of a female character a few years ago. Everything about ‘Birds of Prey’ was important for female representation in Hollywood, and we’ve had a surge of female ensemble films since it came out.

Margot Robbie Herself:

There is really no other person that could have been cast in this role. Truly. Margot Robbie fell so much in love with this role, that she’s begun taking on a producer role for many of the movies she plays Harley Quinn in. She was one of the driving forces behind the existence of ‘Birds of Prey’. She has a say in much of how Harley Quinn is portrayed, which is why it has only been getting better. As long as she’s pushing for Harley Quinn to be portrayed authentically, we have an iconic female character in Hollywood movies.

The Merchandising:

The year ‘Suicide Squad’ came out, the amount of people who bought costumes to be Harley Quinn for Halloween skyrocketed to the point where it was the most popular costume that year. Unfortunately, this brought out all the male, gate-keeping, comic book fans. Women were almost instantly shamed for wearing this costume for years after; which prompted a different response than these men were probably used to. More women started dressing up as Harley Quinn and those that didn’t fought for those who did. The Harley Quinn costume fiasco brought a shining spotlight to the conversation on how women have always been questioned and scrutinized for liking absolutely anything from a young age. When the ‘Joker’ movie came out and men began buying Joker costumes in mass for Halloween, they were met with instant backlash because of their hypocrisy. This is ongoing, but this was one of the major events that led to this conversation being re-opened permanently.

What exactly is she changing?:

Absolutely everything. We’ve all known about the popularity of characters such as Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and Spider-Man. They are some of the most popular characters to ever be created. Sometimes Wonder Woman was thrown into that mix, but it felt for a long time as though no female comic book character would ever be able to permanently join that list. Harley Quinn is one of the main examples that has proven that idea wrong. She has become an icon in her own right. Superhero movies have always been a pinnacle of the action genre, and it feels like women are finally breaking into that world led by such legendary characters as Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. I can feel badass wearing my pink pastels and bows knowing that Harley Quinn is wearing them in her own television shows and movies and is still massively respected for that femininity. Because femininity has never been and will never be bad or worthy of less respect.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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