Harley Quinn is the wild card that can’t be beat right now. The just-released trailer for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Miss Harley Quinn) is blowing up online and the DC Comics character will be the unofficial queen of New York Comic Con this week with an immersive Harley Quinn pop-up art gallery, a spotlight “Harley Quinn in Comics” panel on Saturday, and a special preview screening of the upcoming Harley Quinn animated TV series (starring Kaley Cuoco) on Sunday.
There’s a major barrage of new Harley toys, merch, comics, and graphic novels, too, all dedicated to a character that DC describes as”delightfully demented.” Not bad for a character who was actually imported from television (Harley, wearing a jester outfit, was introduced as a female henchman of the Joker in a 1992 episode of Batman:The Animated Series).
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What the secret of the character’s appeal? To answer that question Deadline caught up with Stjepan Sejic, the writer-artist behind the DC Black Label series Harleen, which chronicles the transformation of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, criminal psychiatrist, into Harley Quinn, criminal psychotic. The first issue of Harleen just hit store shelves last week and an excerpt appears below.
DEADLINE: Harley Quinn seems different than the other top female DC Comics properties. Is it the hard wiring of the character? Or is it a matter of vintage? Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Catwoman, and Black Canary, were all introduced prior to 1962, three decades before Harley.
STJEPAN SEJIC: Of all of them she always felt the most real. What i mean by that is, Harleen Frances Quinzel is a cautionary tale. She is a mirrored archetype showing a dark and often more realistic side to an old romance movie and novel staple, the beauty and the beast. While many only think of the old fairytale when the concept is brought up, it is in fact an entire section of romance that plays on the same idea. A shy female protagonist falls in love with a dangerous man, and through her love and patience, he regains his humanity. Unfortunately in reality this isn’t always the end result. Sometimes the person you love so much will never change. The effort is one-sided, and your love keeps you trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. You take away the clown makeup, the outfits, and Harleen could be someone you know. A friend you keep telling, “Just leave, they’re not good for you.” The answer they provide is often the same: “You don’t know them the way I do.”
DEADLINE: What’s the biggest challenge posed by handling a Harley Quinn project?
SEJIC: That depends on the kind of story you’re doing. A slapstick kind of take will strain your ability to do visual gag type of humor. An action focused take will challenge your ability to still keep her interesting as a character. For me personally, I am writing a story of a villain. I never forget that. I am not here to make you relate to her, to make you identify with her. If a character is written well enough, people will do that on their own. My priority is to keep you invested. And keeping people invested is a fine balancing act for any writer.
DEADLINE: The character’s backstory is so intertwined with the Joker that she could have remained in the limited roles of story accessory. Can you talk a bit about that relationship and how it shapes Harley’s path?
SEJIC: So to avoid spoilers I’m going to answer this in a bit of an indirect way. I’ve said it before, I see Harleen in the same way I see Michael Corleone in The Godfather. In the beginning of it all, he wants no business with his family business. It is , however his love for his family that pulls him in and we see him change into a ruthless mobster. Harleen is also someone who is dragged into hell by the chains of her own love. But once she is there, just like Michael Corleone, she makes her own place in it all. Point is, this is a story about her primarily. It is a story of a smart woman making bad decisions out of love, and in the end dealing with the consequences of it all.
DEADLINE: As Harley’s popularity has grown there have been different tugs on the character and her portrayal. How evil and violent she should be, for example, are balanced against the character’s bubbly charisma and comedic tone. What have your experience been like on that front?
SEJIC: it truly was a balancing act. Harleen is not a funny person nor is she trying to be. In fact humor in this series first arc is primarily going to be a situational thing. She won’t be telling jokes, but funny things will happen to her as life slapsticks her through the first story arc. This allows me to focus on the serious matter at hand while every now and then giving the audience a break from the intense stuff that unfolds before them. As for how evil she should be, there is an arc to it all. Her first kill is to protect him. Her second kill is to protect herself. Her third kill however… it’s to impress him. Believe me, it only gets worse, before it gets better. Still, i have a few decks of cards up my sleeve to make this an interesting journey.
DEADLINE: Cosplay has been such a big factor in Harley Quinn’s special aura and stature among fans. Is there any downside to that?
SEJIC: Harley is a visually striking character and has had several iconic looks, and cosplayers have done them all by now. Her look is rich in recognizable color coding and recognizable details that enable cosplayers to produce their own variants of her outfit while still being recognizable as Harley.
Personally, I’m a massive fan of the original, but since Harleen is a sort of a life story, I’ll pretty much end up using them all.
DEADLINE: Margot Robbie has played Harley Quinn on the big screen and is returning to the role with Birds of Prey movie with as many as four more on the way, if you count animated projects. She also popped up on the Fox series Gotham earlier this year and will be getting her own animated series on the DC Universe subscription streaming service. What is it about the character that makes her such an in-demand property?
SEJIC: Different aspects appeal to different people for different reasons. I think that, in a nutshell, as a character she is very genre-adaptable. She can be comedic, and she can do action. She can be cruel and relatable, manic and heartbreaking. She can be a pie-in-the-face clown or a smart psychiatrist trapped in her own mind where she can recognize her own psychosis and yet, like an addict, is unable to stop herself. Point is she is one of those characters that lends herself well to creative interpretation and was done in a great way from the beginning by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
DEADLINE: As the team behind Batman: The Animated Series, Dini and Timm fashioned Harley Quinn with a TV cartoon heritage and that has stayed with her in most of her other iterations — the brassy tone, the comedic timing, the slapstick elements, playfulness etc. That makes her unique I’d say…
SEJIC: Her animated origins provided every subsequent writer and artist with more than just inspiration. They provided us with this sense of being a full formed character. A person. It really is the very fact that from the get go she had an actual voice, and even an accent. It’s kinda like, I can’t write Joker without hearing either Mark Hamill or Heath Ledger speaking. Some performances capture the very soul of the character and create an inspirational impact to all of us who follow in these footsteps of creative giants.
An excerpt from Harleen issue No. 1, now on sale from DC Comics. Written and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic
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