CLOWN PRINCESS OF CRIME1 of 12
Heavy accent. Defender of the downtrodden. Penchant for shaking up the status quo. No, I’m not talking about a certain Presidential hopeful. (Sorry for getting political.) As you’ve likely gathered from clicking the link to this piece, we’re talking about the Clown Princess of Crime herself, Harley Quinn.
Inspired by a scene from an episode of Days of Our Lives that featured Arleen Sorkin in a costume that bears some resemblance to Harley’s original look, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm never intended for the character to explode in popularity. But she did, first making a successful jump from animation to comic books and now to the silver screen and even one celebrity kid’s name.
In honor of her longstanding legacy, we thought it would be a great time to count down Harley Quinn’s top 10 comic book stories.
POWER OUTAGE2 of 12
Power Outage features the the situational comedy that Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have made a trademark of Harley Quinn during their time with her but with a greater focus on superheroics than their previous arc. Power Girl features heavily into this volume and slowly becomes one of the more endearing members of Harley’s supporting cast.
Conner and Plamiotti use Harley’s role in the DCU to do a send-up of comics in general, making fun of Marvel’s Thanos or Power Girl’s costume. While the Harley-Quinn-as-Ambush-Bug vibe isn’t for everyone, it’s clear that DC recognized Harley’s potential to be that sort of character.
HOT IN THE CITY3 of 12
Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have become two creators probably most associated with the character outside of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and Hot in the City established their new direction for Harley Quinn.
Similar to Lobo in the 1990s or Deadpool in the 2000s, the creators primed Harley for a humor first, superheroics second approach. In effect, they aimed to age up some of the slapstick elements of Harley’s animated appearances. Conner’s ability to balance the comedic elements of the script with Harley’s rising status as a comic book sex symbol lead the book to take on a sort of sexy Looney Tunes tone that has stuck with the character.
MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD4 of 12
So many creators have had the opportunity to play in the world of Batman: The Animated Series because of the comic book tie-ins and Ty Templeton’s “Mightier Than The Sword” from Batman: Gotham Adventures #10 is such an enjoyable riff on the show.
Harley is out of Arkham with a clean bill of mental health and she’s going to write a tell-all memoir about her time with the Joker. Obviously he’s got a problem with that and Robin and Nightwing have to step in to help Harley. This might not have the same weight as the Dini/Timm stories but it does a great job playing with the humor inherent to a character like Harley.
HARLEY'S LITTLE BLACK BOOK5 of 12
This might be one of the sillier entries on the list but Harley is one of the most fun characters on DC’s roster. Little Black Book sees her having a series of unlikely adventures with a variety of DC heroes including Wonder Woman, Lobo and Zatanna.
Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have definitely tested the limits of Harley’s elasticity as a character throughout their run with her. This series of one-shots goes even further by teaming the writing duo with a variety of different artists including Neal Adams, Simon Bisley, Billy Tucci and more. The result is a storytelling experiment that has fairly low stakes but shows Harley’s range.
KISS KISS BANG STAB6 of 12
Kiss Kiss Bang Stab is a collection that essentially contains another series of one-shots. As Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti settled into the character they realized just how much people show up for Harley as a character as opposed to whatever larger universe hijinks she could be getting up to.
This collection includes a couple of annuals,a Valentine’s Day special and three issues of the main series and they all focus on Harley’s will to do some good even if her methods mean that she’s not totally on the side of light. These issues are light on plot but they are a great example of Conner and Palmiotti’s sex- and pun-fueled direction for the character.
BREAKING GLASS7 of 12
Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh’s vision of Harley Quinn’s origins are a somewhat radical departure for the character but they manage to give the character a real world grounding that brings depth to the character.
Some might take issue with the “remix” nature of the work as it attempts to fit a lot of familiar characters in a high school setting. But when Tamaki is able to avoid tropes and tackle issues that people face everyday, Breaking Glass is thoughtful and relatable in a way that many superhero comics aren’t able to be.
BATMAN: HARLEY & IVY8 of 12
As much as Harley Quinn is defined by her time with the Joker, her relationship with Poison Ivy is just as if not more important. While Joker is directly responsible for Harley’s trauma, Ivy has been a more healing presence. She’s been a friend, confidant and eventually a lover who has generally stood by Harley despite the ups and downs of their profession.
Batman: Harley & Ivy breaks Harley and Ivy out of Arkham and sets them on a Thelma & Louise-style adventure that takes them pretty far from home. It may be set within the continuity of the animated series but writers in the main DCU line have definitely taken notes from the work Dini and Timm have done here.
PRELUDES & KNOCK KNOCK JOKES9 of 12
It didn’t take too long for Harley to get her first solo series once she was part of the main DCU. Karl Kesel with artists Terry and Rachel Dodson brought the haphazard harlequin to life for 38 issues but it’s their first arc that might have had the longest lasting effect.
Much like the recent film iteration, Harley is trying to find out who she is now that she is without Mistah J. This leads her on a whirlwind tour of Gotham’s underground, coming face to face with the worst Gotham has to offer and dealing with everything they throw her way.
BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN10 of 12
Similar to the #1 story on this list, Batman: Harley Quinn is an origin story for Harley Quinn. But writer Paul Dini didn’t have the Gotham of his own design to fall back on. Instead, DC tapped him to introduce Harley to the DCU proper and weave her into the continuity that had already been established.
Thankfully, Dini was up to the challenge and despite having to include some ties to the larger Batman event “No Man’s Land,” the writer, with artist Yvel Guichet, almost effortlessly makes her a part of the world while taking time to carry over elements from her cartoon counterpart like her relationship with Ivy.
MAD LOVE11 of 12
Mad Love is without a doubt the heart of Harley Quinn on the printed page. Other creators have stretched Harley’s potential as a character and how she works in the modern DCU but they are all building on a foundation laid by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm here.
Mad Love is the origin story that by the point, everyone likely knows. Harleen Quinzel was an intern psychologist at Arkham Asylum. Multiple interviews with the Joker led her to fall in love with the criminal madman and she decides that Batman is the source of Joker’s unhappiness. This leads her on a path to kill Batman to prove her love to Joker which her egomaniac paramour doesn’t take kindly to.
Dini and Timm set up everything audiences need to know about Joker and Harley’s cycle of abuse. It’s a simple and straightforward set-up but the story possibilities it opens up are endless, as evidenced by the stories on this list.
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