Harley Quinn is one of my all-time favorite characters. I have a lot of feelings about Harley Quinn, and it has been one of my greatest wishes ever to see Harley Quinn in a live-action movie. So when I first heard about Suicide Squad becoming a movie, I was very excited. Harley has been a major player in the Suicide Squad comic and it’s always interesting to see the kind of person Harley is away from her evil counterpart and love interest, the Joker. That was always part of the appeal for me. No matter what, the Joker’s character kind of looms over Harley even when he is not present. Through mental, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse, the Joker molded Harley into the villain we see in the comics. But I think Harley is at her most interesting when she is removed from the Joker’s influence. We get to meet something of the real Harley when she is away from the Joker, and Suicide Squad was one of those comics that gave us a rare opportunity to do that.
In the New 52 her story is a little different than the original. She is still a psychiatrist who is seduced by the Joker, but she is seduced more by his ability to show her how to wield power and live freely. The original Harley was very much tricked by the Joker. He makes her think he had a broken home, a bad past, and that he doesn’t mean to be a bad guy but he can’t help it (and somehow it always ends up being all Batman’s fault). Harley falls for it and falls in love with him. The New 52 Harley is not fooled by the Joker trying to play on her emotions. She is only truly seduced by him after he gives her the severed thumb of the man who killed her father. Eventually, however, this new Harley leaves the Joker. While their relationship is still very clearly abusive and codependent, Harley seems more willing to separate from the Joker. And she’s more capable of making her own decisions, though it’s clearly hard on her when the Joker doesn’t care or notice. Though she still loves him and wants to be with him on some level, this Harley seems to be more aware that the Joker is bad for her. Her codependency and psychological issues are still everpresent and very connected to the Joker, but, at the same time, Harley is more willing to leave the Joker and pursue other romantic relationships in the New 52. (For more info about Harley’s history and development click here.)
In the new Suicide Squad movie, I was excited to see what version of Harley would be featured. Or if would be a mix of her various incarnations. But alas, once promo pictures and more news about Harley’s character in the Suicide Squad movie were revealed, I and other fans became dubious about this phenomenal female character’s portrayal. And sadly for me the issue revolves once again around her costume.
Harley’s extremely sexualized costume is again the focus of this debate. Harley’s costume in the movie is modeled after her New 52 look, which also appears in Suicide Squad. So really, her current look in the movie is at least in line with the current comics. However, I was never a fan of Harley’s New 52 look, which I saw just as a ploy by DC Comics to up her sex appeal. My main issue is that Harley was always trying to appeal to the Joker’s tastes, which her original costume reflects, but her New 52 outfit doesn’t. It makes sense, then, that Harley’s original costume before the New 52 makes her look more like a clown rather than stereotypically sexy. Because of this, when I saw her New 52 costume, I found it to be at least mildly out of character for her. Harley’s street clothes have often been very stereotypically sexy, so she definitely likes to show off her body. But wearing basically underwear as her uniform didn’t seem right (or practical). Add to that that there are very few female comic heroes or villains who don’t show any skin (like Harley, who used to not show any skin though her outfit was practically painted on) and you certainly can see the issue many feminists like myself have with female objectification in comics.
Some people made the argument that Harley’s New 52 costume actually showed her as being more independent and breaking away from the Joker. And it is true that the New 52 did portray Harley with more self-esteem and more independence. Though I wasn’t entirely convinced, I can at least buy the argument that her new sexy look is a reflection of her moving on from the Joker and loving herself more. But that whole argument seems to be undone in Harley’s costume in the Suicide Squad movie. The back of her jacket reads “Property of Joker,” her shirt says “Daddy’s Lil Monster”, and her choker says, “Puddin'” in big chunky letters. This new costume spells out the Joker’s claim over Harley’s mind and body more than even her original costume did. This, more than anything, tells me that Harley’s sexed up transformation is just that. Just more male objectification of a female character with no concern over character history or development.
Now, before anyone starts, I am not slut-shaming Harley. First off, Harley’s allowed to wear whatever she wants, but as she’s fictional she actually has no say in the matter, and in this case her outfits are chosen without taking her personality into consideration. Secondly, I wouldn’t mind Harley’s sexualized outfit at all if all the other female comic book characters weren’t almost totally naked. Women are more diverse in their fashion choices than that. And finally, let me say again that I mostly object to what is written on her costume, especially if Harley’s sexualized clothing is supposed to show that she has grown more independent and has moved away from the Joker. I’m not going to lie, while the outfit is not practical for fighting in any way (especially the shoes), I think it’s cute and totally one I would enjoy cosplaying. But I really do not think it is in character for Harley, no matter what stage her relationship with the Joker is at.
All this being said, Harley Quinn’s character doesn’t begin and end with an outfit, and whether this movie is good (for me at least) will depend in large part on Harley’s portrayal. She is an extremely nuanced character, and it would be nice for once to have her costume reflect that and not just have her paraded around as a sex symbol.