KEY Harley Quinn Stories — the Killer Clown’s Classic Comics and Cartoons

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Key Question, our new show exclusive to  Alpha,  follows Marisha and Matt on a train of logic to examine and analyze the hidden meanings in some of the most famous pop-culture figures, all on a quest to discover if pop culture is our salvation or our doom and everything in between. In this week’s episode, they tackle the topic of Harley Quinn as the ultimate fictional archetype for surviving cycles of abuse and breaking free to become your own person. 

If Harley Quinn had a playing card like her man the Joker does, it ought to be the Queen of Hearts. She’s captured ours, time and again, and we’ve felt for hers when it gets broken, over and over. Ms. Quinzel’s journey to escape a toxic relationship and become her own person has taken many turns. And there are just as many twists in her journey from TV show supporting character, to solo comics star, to pop culture icon. After you delve deeper into Harley’s psyche, dive down into her striking multi-media history with these titles as your milestones.

Mad Love HQ1

Harley decides the only way to win Mr. J’s love is to kill Batman herself, and she very nearly succeeds at it–a move that unexpectedly enrages her lover! Amid the ping-ponging alliances and affinities here are tragic flashbacks showing how a young criminal psychiatrist’s life went very, very wrong when she fell for her patient.

Within the rogue’s gallery, Harley has an unusual origin, both on the page and behind the scenes. She was created as one-off guest star for Batman: the Animated Series and, as such, went a stretch without any proper backstory. When series architects Bruce Timm and Paul Dini finally got their chance to reveal Harley’s origin, they likely decided the tale was too intense for kids animation. So, they handled it in a standalone graphic novel. While this tale of obsession, abuse, and competition was eventually adapted for TV, it still had to be toned down a bit from the darker bits the comic covered.

Batman: Harley Quinn HQ2

Again, try to keep these bits of trivia straight. While Harley’s first technical comics appearance was in Batman Adventures #12 (which was an ongoing adaptation of Batman: the Animated Series), her first appearance in the DC comics universe was actually in this prestige one-shot.

When an earthquake rattles Gotham, Harley’s finally let loose from the cells of the asylum she once worked at, and she cartwheels straight into the wider DC universe. The hallmarks of Ms. Quinzel’s antics in the cartoon are told again here–her defection from Arkham Asylum’s staff, her on-again/off-again partnership with Poison Ivy, etc–but with flourishes firmly rooting her in the comics’ darker reality. More strikingly: her arc to self-reliance is accelerated, and it’s not long at all after her debut that a Harley “souped up” by Ivy turns the tables on both the Joker and Batman.

Assault on Arkham HQ4

Millions of moviegoers have only ever known Harley to be a founding member of Task Force X, but her inclusion in the Suicide Squad is actually a fairly recent development in the decades-long histories of both her and the team. In fact, this direct-to-video animated flick (not set in the same continuity as Batman: The Animated Series) is the first time she and the Squad are linked on screen, and it only came out a couple years prior to the live-action movie’s release.

In a relatively more down-to-Earth plot, Harley is dispatched with familiars Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, along with comics mainstays Killer Frost and King Shark, to infiltrate Arkham Asylum and retrieve sensitive files hidden inside the Riddler’s cane. Not only does the Squad butt heads with the inmates therein, they also have to contend with the guy who put Riddler in a cell–Batman. Note well: this film features one of the more satisfying scenes of Harley biting back against the Joker in any medium.

Key Question invites fans to dig deep into icons of pop culture and find the hidden meanings their creators intended (or the deeper depths those creators didn’t even realize they were adding)! Tune in on Alpha every week for a mind-expanding, horizon-broadening, brain-blasting headtrip into geekdom. Don’t have an Alpha account? Join for a free 60-day trial with the promo code QUESTION at!

Image Credits: DC Comics

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