When Harley Quinn co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were looking for someone to help with back-up stories featuring the Joker, they decided to go for broke. They called the character's co-creator Paul Dini. And he said yes.
Now readers are being delighted by stories of "Harley Loves Joker" by Dini, Palmiotti, and artist Brett Blevins, set within the era of Harley's life when she and the Joker were still together.
And the back-up stories have become so popular according to the writers - and they're enjoying writing them so much that readers could see the stories breaking out into a "different direction" and format.
The character was introduced by Dini and Bruce Timm during their tenure of Batman: The Animated Series. Eventually making her way to comic books, Harley has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the Suicide Squad movie and the ongoing Harley Quinn series by Conner and Palmiotti, and various artists.
Newsarama talked to Dini and Palmiotti about Harley, their plans for the back-up story, and why they think the character is so much fun for readers and writers alike.
Newsarama: Paul, what got you interested in coming back to this character and working with Jimmy on her?
Paul Dini: Well, Jimmy called me! [Laughs.] The End!
He was like, "You want to write some Harley?" And I was like, "Yeah." And that was that.
He put it out there that they were looking to do some back-up stories in the book that were more of Harley's early days, and that sounded like a lot of fun to me, to go and revisit that version of the character.
And also, I just loved what Jimmy and Amanda were doing in the book anyway, and I thought it would be fun to join in on that.
It's pure pleasure more than anything.
Nrama: So Jimmy, when you were coming up with someone to do these back-up stories with you, you just decided to go for the person most associated with Harley?
Jimmy Palmiotti: The guy who created Harley – part of the team who created her.
Just, when we were talking about the back-ups, Amanda and I, I just said, "You know, it would be great to get Paul and Bruce Timm." We figured we couldn't get Bruce because he's busy with the animation. But I thought I'd reach out to Paul. I mean, maybe he might be interested.
It was like that thing where if you don't ask, you don't know. And for a while, we were just like, "No, he wouldn't want - he's got so much..."
But he was our 'perfect guy,' you know? And I said, "Well, let me reach out. The worst he can say is no."
And Paul said "Yes." And I was like, "Damn! OK! This is perfect!"
For me, personally, I still feel like I have a long way to go on the writing department, so I'm learning a lot from Paul on it.
Dini: You actually brought the inception for the series to the table! We start chatting back and forth and laughing each other sick, making each other laugh over the story we came up with.
Jimmy had this great idea of Harley trying to do - first ruining the Joker's hide-out and then trying to get him another one. And once you put him in a situation like that, which is sort of like a domestic sit-com, you realize that it's these characters and you can still have the danger and excitement of Batman's world, but with these characters taking domesticity to an extreme.
It's really a lot of fun, working out the story beats and coming up with the ideas and the character beats. We go back and forth, like, how about we open it this way? And it's like, that's a great gag, but I'm going to keep it until oage 3.
I find it's a very organic way of working. When we worked in animation, we'd just shoot idea around and then somebody would write it up. Like that. Work until you make yourself laugh.
And the story is a nod to how strong Paul's original work is because we're re-visiting the time when I was a fan and buying the book that Paul wrote. So we're revisiting that.
Plus, knowing what we know, where we've taken Harley now, it's even more fun. We kind of know what the future holds in some respect.
And these are characters that, as much as you have the story laid out, you can still go to the right and the left of the story and create another 30 pages of story.
The one problem we have is that we have to keep it a certain amount of pages, otherwise we'd be going insane with this stuff right now.
Dini: We have to keep in mind that there's a continuity and there's an overall story, but when we started talking about this story, we decided to approach it like really vintage Sunday comic pages, where they had a lot more room and where they maybe told a completely different story than what was running in the main story during the week. So there's some of that in there as well.
Nrama: Paul, helping to create this character and Jimmy, seeing her really take off over the last couple years, what do you think is so unique about this character that has caused the fascination people have with her?
Dini: I credit Jimmy and Amanda with 90% of that. They've done such a wonderful job of keeping the character fresh, exciting and relevant. Everything they've done with her has felt like a natural extension of where she could go.
If either I had been doing, or Bruce and I had been doing, like, the Mad Love version of her all these years, I don't think it would have lasted. The character has to evolve and has to go different places, just as her readership and her viewership has changed.
I'm grateful that there's a generation of readers and fans who embraced the character 25 years ago, and have stuck with her, and now their kids or younger fans have grown up and find something that's relatable in her. I credit Jimmy and Amanda with that, because the book is so fresh and so funny and so unexpected.
Palmiotti: Paul's being excessively generous. It's the original character. What you guys set up - this complicated individual that, just when you think you know her, there's a little bit more about her to discover.
Not a lot of characters have that. After 25 years of Harley, we're still just getting to know things about her. In the front story for the next couple issues, we have her parents there. And she's talking about her brothers and things like that.
It's amazing that you can still do that kind of stuff, because with most characters, that would have been beaten into you already. We would have had all the beats of her life known.
And this is a character who's still around and you still don't know about her. And I think that's fascinating. And it's what makes it so much fun.
What we hope the back-ups do is, we hope people go, hey, this is fun - where's this from? Then they can discover the animated series, they can discover Mad Love. What's great is DC has these collections out now that have the "best of" of stuff Paul's done.
We're just trying to give as much Harley as we can to everybody, and it's bi-weekly, which is… basically, my fingertips are gone at this point.
But I have to say, of all characters I've ever worked on, there's no lack of material for this characters going forward. There's always something interesting.
Dini: Yes, I can always come up with a Harley story. A part of my brain thinks on Harley - like when I'm in an absurd situation, I think, what would she do or what would she say? It's fun to have that little voice in the head that can say the things I won't.
Nrama: Jimmy, what's coming up in the main story? She'll be dealing with Red Tool, right?
Dini: For the next couple of issues, as I said, Harley's parents are in tow, so Harley's doing everything she can to keep every insane person in her life away from her life and parents. And it's not working out too well.
Red Tool's on his own crusade. He's putting together something, and I think in issue #22 or #23, he goes and visits Poison Ivy.
And it's all leading to issue #25. We have a giant-sized issue for #25, front- and back-stories. We'll have a lot of room to breathe in that one.
There's a lot of madness coming for the character, as usual, and we get to see the character in a different light with her parents around. And yet at the same time, we get to see where Harley gets a lot of her stuff, because we see her mom and dad. We talk about the brothers, which is kind of funny. And we get to see where Harley comes from, and I think it's something a little different for the readers.
I never feel the book's about the villain or the bad guy. I just feel like we're watching Harley go. Like a top. We just pulled the cord and it just spins out of control. It's always been a book where you open it up and you don't know what you're going to get, and that's kind of the fun of it.
Nrama: Are the back-ups going to continue for a while?
Dini: Well, for the immediate future. And then we're going to think about the format and if we want to continue in that format or take it in a different direction. We love that version of the character and love telling stories about her in that universe, so right now we're just going to see to what degree we're going to tell those stories.
Palmiotti: We're scheming. We're scheming right now about what comes next.