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Why Are We Romanticizing the Relationship Between Harley Quinn & The Joker?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at JMU chapter.

Every Halloween couples come dressed up in matching costumes and often there are more than a few dressed up as Harley Quinn and the Joker. But why do people romanticize this relationship? If you’ve ever consumed any piece of DC comics media, you’ll see that the relationship between these two characters is anything but romantic. When paired comparatively to Harley Quinn’s other notable relationship with Poison Ivy, it’s clear which relationship is healthier, and it isn’t the one with the Clown Prince of Crime.

Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist turned anti-hero, was first introduced as a background character in the show Batman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures in the episode “Joker’s Favor”. Harley was just intended to be this background character, until creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm brought her into the spotlight, devoting the entirety of the episode “Mad Love” to Harley and her backstory. The episode “Mad Love” centers around Harley being kicked out of the Joker’s house after trying to assist him in plotting the death of Batman. As revealed in the episode, Harley was the Joker’s Arkham psychiatrist, listening to his tragic backstory and twisted past, she falls in love, breaking the Joker out of Arkham. This leads to her adopting the moniker ‘Harley Quinn’ and becomes his partner in crime. Notably, towards the end of the episode, Batman reveals that the Joker’s sob story is a lie crafted to manipulate her, trying to convince her to stop serving him. However, when she calls the Joker to witness Batman’s death, instead of being proud of thwarting his nemesis, he pushes her out of a third-story window, putting her in the Arkham Hospital.

This violent act from someone Harley claims loves her has her questioning her relationship saying “I finally see that slime for what he is. A murderous, manipulative, irredeemable…angel.” (“Mad Love” 20:38) Harley is gifted a single rose with a “feel better soon” note from Mr. J, and suddenly she forgets that she is hospitalized due to his actions. Why would this be a relationship that people would want to emulate? The entire episode revolves around her emotional and physical abuse at the hands of the Joker, and yet there are couples costumes devoted to the pair.

In the movie Suicide Squad, Harley and the Joker’s relationship is twisted and hinted at, showing the different aspects of their relationship that Harley views as romantic but are in reality, not. Notable scenes are the car chase between Batman and the pair, Harley’s transformation from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn, and Harley’s electroshock treatment During the car chase, the Joker steers their getaway car onto a dead-end bridge, one that will lead to them plummeting into the water below. Harley warns him of this, and yet he follows anyway, throwing them both into the water and knocking Harley out. The Joker escapes, leaving Harley unconscious and rescued by Batman, who then puts her in Arkham Asylum. The other two scenes couple hand-in-hand, representing the physical pain Joker has subjected Harley to. After breaking out of Arkham Asylum, Joker straps a then Harleen Quinzel to a medical table and shocks her to make her just as unstable as him. Later, after this electroshock, Harley is pushed into a vat of chemicals by the Joker- his final bid to undo any of the sanity she had left. This torment and degradation come at the hands of someone Harley claims that she loves and who loves her, painting a tormented relationship that shouldn’t be idolized.

This dynamic is explored more in both the movie Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and the animated series Harley Quinn. Both explore the dynamic of the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker, and the extensive process of undoing the entanglement between her mental health and the Joker’s hold on her. However, even in Birds of Prey Harley’s driving force in the beginning is to prove that she can make it on her own without the Joker. Similarly, in “Harley Quinn” the show opens with Harley deciding to make it into the Legion of Doom to prove that she is more than a sidekick after the Joker frames her for his crime and abandons her in Arkham Asylum for a year. It isn’t until meeting Poison Ivy in Harley Quinn and working with Renee Montoya, Cassandra Cain, and Diana Price in Birds of Prey does Harley realize she can exist outside of being “the Joker’s girlfriend”. Even then there are still moments where she goes back to him, with simple “apologies” from Joker, only for him to yell at her and leave her again. When paired with her romantic relationship with Poison Ivy in “Harley Quinn”, a relationship that encourages growth and communication on both sides, it’s curious as to why people insist on commemorating the Clown Prince and Princess of Crime.

“Mad Love” The New Batman Adventures, written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, directed by Butch Lukic, Warner Bros. Animation, 1999

Isabel is currently an English major at JMU who loves dancing, crocheting, and reading romance novels. You can find her working on a new project, trying to make a dent in her TBR, or rolling dice at her weekly D&D sessions.