As Harley Quinn returns to the big screen this weekend, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner - the comic book creators most credited with Harley’s modern take - not only give the Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) film a thumbs-up, but believe their run on DC's Harley Quinn title directly informed the film.
The Harley Quinn co-writers (and real-life married couple) attended the film’s London premiere on January 29, and they recognized several elements from their run on Harley Quinn - from the movie’s post-Joker-break-up premise to Harley’s appearance in a roller derby.
Birds of Prey stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a reprisal of her Suicide Squad role. As the film begins, Harley breaks up with her villainous boyfriend Joker, and because she’s no longer under his protection, Harley is targeted by bad-guy billionaire Roman Sionis (played by Ewan McGregor). To defend herself, Harley teams up with the “Birds of Prey” (a female team title straight from the comic books), including Cassandra Cain (played by Ella Jay Basco), Huntress/Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary/Dinah Lance (June Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
While primarily billed as a Birds of Prey movie, the film is mostly focused on (and is often narrated by) Harley herself, which explains its subtitle: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
Conner and Palmiotti launched their Harley Quinn series in 2013, and although Harley Quinn had been around for a couple decades as Joker’s girlfriend (initially in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series and later in comic books), Palmiotti and Conner’s run separated her from the Clown of Crime and gave her new life.
The series also surprisingly became one of DC’s best-selling titles - and solo, kick-ass Harley became firmly established as one of the publisher’s most beloved icons - the "fourth pillar" of DC according to DC Chief Creative Officer/Co-Publisher Jim Lee.
Next week, Palmiotti and Conner are reuniting to launch a new four-issue series titled Harley Quinn and The Birds of Prey, a story that picks up right where their four-year run on Harley Quinn left off. The series will be part of DC’s out-of-continuity Black Label line, and Conner is providing the interior art.
Newsarama talked with Conner and Palmiotti about their reaction to the film, whether they think Conner’s art style influenced the film’s visuals, and what they thought of Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn.
Newsarama: Amanda and Jimmy, seeing the trailers for the Birds of Prey film, I was struck by how similar it feels to your run on Harley Quinn. From the “bad break-up” with Joker to the solo trip to the city to many of the visual gags - it seemed very familiar. Have you seen the film, and how much do you think the film is inspired by your work on Harley?
Amanda Conner: We did see the movie!
Jimmy Palmiotti: Yeah! DC was really nice. We went out to London to the premiere. We saw the movie, and then we got to talk to talk to Christina [Hodson], the screenwriter, and Margot afterwards and have a nice conversation about the movie.
And absolutely, there’s so much from the books on the screen.
I mean, just the beginning idea - you know, she left the Joker - all the way until we see her in a roller derby, we see her obsessing about food…
Our first arc had a bunch of assassins that were hired to take her hired, and we see that in the movie.
There’s a lot of stuff.
And the movie’s so much fun.
Conner: It is a lot of fun, yeah.
Palmiotti: A really good girl power movie, which I like.
Nrama: Did it stay fairly true to that source material?
Conner: Yeah, it stayed really true to it. It’s pretty satisfying.
Palmiotti: Yeah, it was just so much fun to see. And Margot is fantastic in it.
Nrama: It’s interesting to hear you say that. I think there are only a few people that comic book readers would call Harley Quinn character experts - and you two are definitely among them - so I wondered about your reaction to the actress’ portrayal. Anything in particular that stood out about it?
Palmiotti: She is just an amazing Harley Quinn. Her facial expressions are so exaggerated and wonderful. She’s just mesmerizing to watch on the screen.
Nrama: Amanda, facial expressions are kind of your forte, and they were an important visual part of your run on Harley Quinn as well. Do you feel like some of Margot Robbie’s portrayal came out of your art?
Conner: I hope so! [Laughs] I’d like to think so!
That is my favorite thing on Earth to do, is facial expressions and body language. It’s like the one thing that keeps me coming back to comics - I get to do all sorts of crazy, fun faces and everything.
Margot really seemed to pull that off on screen.
Palmiotti: Yeah, she told us she researched it. We caught her reading the comics.
She really loved the material - the comic material - and really just did a great translation to screen. I haven’t really seen that many things that were so on-the-nose, from the comics to the screen.
Everybody did a great job on that movie. It’s so much fun.
Nrama: Reviews have emphasized that the film is fast-paced and has fun with its self-conscious riffing on comic books - another thing that seems to harken back to your run.
Palmiotti: Yeah, the tone is definitely like the comic books. It’s dark, but it’s funny. It’s random. It’s highly energized.
And like Amanda established with doing a different costume on Harley all the time - they take advantage of that in the movie as well. We see Harley wearing all different outfits and changing up.
Conner: I have to give credit to [artist] Chad [Hardin] for that too.
Palmiotti: Yeah, Chad and Amanda had that in the comic book. But we see a lot of it in the film. Nobody wears anything for too long.
Again, it’s very much not like superhero movies where Batman’s always in the Batman suit, or this guy’s always in this suit or that suit.
It takes a lot of liberty and has a lot of fun with the characters. And I think that was what we’ve always been trying to do with the comics. So it’s really nice to see it on the big screen.
Check back with Newsarama next week to hear more from Conner and Palmiotti about what’s coming up in Harley Quinn and The Birds of Prey.