A Cartwheel of Contradictions: Who Is Harley Quinn? Part Three "Her Middle Name is Welcome"

Third in the long-ago  begun series of meta essays exploring the persona and psyche of Harley Quinn!

A Cartwheel of Contradictions: Who Is Harley Quinn?

Part Three: Her Middle Name is Welcome

Co-Authored by:

There is one recurring factor common to Harley's working and personal relationships: she's rarely ever in charge.

That's not to say Harley is incapable of leading or of planning and scheming. When the pressure is on, when she has the impetus and the motivation, Harley can plot, scheme and follow-through with the best of them. Consider, for example, her get-out-of-town plan in Harley's Holiday, her diamond heist in Harley & Ivy or how she subtly tugs strings and directs action in Harlequinade.

But Harley's natural inclination is to be directed.

In her most prominent role as the Joker's girlfriend, henchwench and obsessed former doctor, Harley is most visible as a woman in an abusive relationship, her sanity the price she has paid for love. The undesirable aspects of this relationship are often conflated with Harley's inherently submissive nature, leading to criticism of both as though they are the same. Some fans feel it is in Harley's best interests as a character to become independent and march to the beat of her own drum.

But there's the rub: She already does!

This narrative of achieving self-actualisation through “independence” conflates a naturally submissive personality with a state of victimhood. In a society that very rightly associates female servitude with heteropatriarchal control, it is difficult to acknowledge and recognise agency to select submissiveness as the most natural form of self-expression. From some philosophical and political quarters, there is even the argument that such an agency cannot truly exist as it is shaped and formed within the context of a heteropatriarchal culture from birth; that women are groomed to conform to this role and must consciously break free of it in order to live fully realised lives.

A similar narrative informs the criticism of Harley's relationship with the Joker: she cannot truly be consenting to be submissive to him as he groomed her for such a role during her stint as his doctor in Arkham Asylum.

This concept is often referred to as “false-consciousness” and is utilised aggressively wherever people want to limit the perceived agency of a particular demographic in order to create victims that then need rescuing.

Such a position has sometimes noble intention, but is more often than not corrupted along the way in order to exert further control over the subjects. Whilst it is most definitely vital to comprehend how social context can contribute to shaping us, often unconsciously, so that we must undergo a process of recognition and deconstruction, arguing that individuals lack absolute self-awareness and the freedom to choose is not only prescriptive, it's patronising as hell.

The fact of the matter is that Harley has a naturally submissive personality and a desire to serve and be told how to direct her energies that remains constant across the significant relationships she maintains (few as they are). Harley's nature as the perennial number two has been discussed previously in the essay, The Loneliest Number, but how this desired role relates to her sexuality is also significant. As an active and aware submissive, Harley is one of the only examples of her kind in Western comic books.

Now, the argument against that may be that depicting a woman in a subservient role to a man within comic books is not exactly different or radical; but actually harkens back to the old-fashioned gender roles of the Golden Age. And if Harley were not a willing submissive and her dynamic with the Joker was not based in conscious kink traditions, this would be undeniable.

However, Harley's embodiment of her role is active, consenting and enthusiastic.

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“What The Joker Teaches Us About Creating Great Villains”

An enjoyable article that touches on some awesome points. Excerpted:

Great Nemeses are Soul Mates

In many ways, no one understands Batman better than the Joker. They complete one another. The Dark Knight jumps all over this theory. Take these Joker quotes:

Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me!

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

Villains whose character traits thematically connect to and complement the hero’s own development can work far better than any other kind.

Acts of Evil Can Be Expressions of Love

The Joker clip above suggests that a villain may commit evil in order to attract the hero–purely because the villain wants to spend time with the hero. In this sense, each villainous act that lures the hero to the villain is more an act of love than a crime.

I’ve heard of versions of the Satan myth where Satan rebels because he refuses to serve humans out of love for God. He cannot conceive of serving anyone but God. This sounds far more intriguing to me than your typical ‘quest for power’ version of the story.

It’s All A Great Game

One of my favorite series of Looney Tunes shorts features Wile E. Coyote (or Ralph E. Wolf) fighting Sam Sheepdog for his sheep. At the beginning of each short, the Wolf and Sheepdog clock in for the day’s work and greet each other graciously. At the end of each brutal day on the job, they clock out and politely farewell one another. Their conflict is nothing personal. It’s just what they do.

The Joker seems to exist in the same world. The eternal struggle between good and evil is a misnomer to him. It’s all a Great Game–and his job is to play that game. He’s not a villain. He’s just the best player on the other team.

From this we can infer that the most intriguing (and threatening villain) is the one that views the fight between him and the hero as the way things are supposed to be . Rather than hoping to win or for the conflict to end, this kind of villain wants it to keep going on without end.

In Amadeus, though Salieri hopes to kill Mozart, I think that he really hopes that they can play his little games for all eternity.

Geek Out: Joker & Batman - homoerotic or straight out GAY!

Haven't done one of these in a long time! Hell, haven't done anything on this blog in a loooooong time! BUT - let's get discussion kicked up with a topic that's sure to provoke!

The 'Geek Out' feature is when we let ourselves go crazy as fans and get really self-indulgent in the topics we ponder. So, go wild!

The topic is this:

We all know the relationship between Batman & the Joker has a level of homoerotic subtext. But, ponder this: is that ALL it is - or, given the opportunity, do you think the sexy times could actually happen between them?
Does the Joker really want to jump Batman's bones? For that matter, could Batman ever be persuaded to engage in a little hanky panky with his arch enemy?

My personal feeling is: no.

I really don't think SEX or unrequited lust is an element of the dynamic between them. I think Joker gets ample satisfaction from his tormenting and teaisng of Batman through his horrendous crimes - that those are, in themselves, erotic play to a degree for him, the kink of power wars. The Joker's sexuality is a complex and bizarre thing and sex itself is often a simplification of his desires.

As for Batman: I believe his contempt for the Joker is absolutely genuine. I am also personally of the opinion Bats himself is 100% straight, which I know will divide many, but hey what can I say - I calls it like I sees it. But more than that, for all Batman would support Joker's rehabilitation if he were genuine, for all he has a twisted, deeply buried need for the Joker with his exploits, for all their relationship has a genuine fraternal angle to it - I do not feel he has any real positive emotion for the clown, including sexual attraction. LEAST of all sexual attractions.

But: what do you think?

REVIEW #46: GOLDEN OLDIES - "The Joker's Utility Belt" (Batman #73)

Writer: Bob Kane
Artists: Dick Sprang & Charles Paris

So. HOLY GUACAMOLE. It's been closer to a year than not since updates. My life got totally CRAZY last year and I ended up feeling pretty overwhelmed by anything and everything so updating my websites slipped right to the bottom of the pile.

I'm going to resume aiming for a once-monthly update here. Thanks to those of you who've stuck with me!

SO. Another classic of a bygone era, the Joker suffers a serious case of utility envy and mocks up his own really useful belt to aid his crime sprees, resulting in a camp and corny tale of good vs evil in the best Golden-Age style.

After an earlier vanquishing of Batman and Robin goes wrong, he is bemoaning their confounded utility belts when he is struck with the inspiration to create his own. Naturally, the Joker's utility belt is equipped with items of comedic value such as snake pellets, sneezing powder, exploding cigarettes and Mexcian jumping beans.This seemingly innocuous array of gags are used to great effect by the grinning Jackanape, enabling him to wiggle out of various tightspots - confrontations with other mobsters, the cops and even the Batman!

Speaking of, one particular element of the belt has been designed with the ultimate downfall of the Caped Crusader in mind - as always, everything must revolve ultimately around his nemesis!

So how does this story hold up?
Well, like all stories of its time it has dated and the world of Batman and Robin is a very different thing to what it is today. Batman maintains something of a public presence, the Joker is comparatively harmless and no lasting damage is done to anyone, the corny jokes are plentiful and the gimmicks are rampant. It is big on charm and style and carefully plotted for a strong and entertaining story with the overarching theme of constant one upmanship between Batman and Joker told with unmistakeable innuendo - if one cares to look. ;) Certainly the Joker is keen to 'toy' with his 'prize'. And the fun concept of Joker mirroring and distorting elements that define the Batman in order to oppose him, particularly the peculiarities of this era, is one of the great, classic tropes that has shaped their ongoing relationship to this day.

I think it's a great story. Whilst I may not turn to the Golden Age tales to get my personal ideal fix of Jokerly goodness, there's no denying these old stories are full of entertainment value and are immensely enjoyable to read and revisit.

Whilst reading to prepare for the review, I think the thing that I noticed most is the economy used with regards to the storytelling. Naturally the art of comic book storytelling has evolved much over the years, with standard issues now being around twenty-one pages in length.

But in the past there was often more than one story per issue, meaning a story's pacing had to be effective whilst also confined. Narrative captions played a critical part consequently and contributed a lot to the particular tonal quality of golden & silver age stories. Panel layout itself was very straightforward, based around a basic six per page. Storytelling therefore was reader friendly and successful in its simplicity. Although there is much to be said for the experimentation and evolution of comics storytelling over the years - and it has resulted in many amazing stories visionary in their technique - the classic style of the emerging age of comics remains a pleasure.

This story is considered one of the great classic Joker tales and with good reason - it's fun, whacky, larger than life and tightly plotted with incredibly enjoyable interaction between the Joker and Batman. What's not to like?
devil's advocate

Coming Soon: The Joker: A Visual History of the Clown Prince of Crime

This'll be one to get, for sure! The Joker is a character who has taken on zillions of intriguing looks and attitudes over the years - this'll be a fantastic book to flip through!

A comprehensive look at the greatest comic book villain . . . ever. Since his first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1, the Joker stands alone as the most hated, feared, and loved villain in the DC Universe. Though his true origins may be unknown, the Clown Prince of Crime’s psychotic appearances in hundreds of comic books has shaped the way we look at Batman, comic books, and ourselves. Indeed, a hero is only as good as his nemesis, so the Joker’s heinous crimes, including murdering the second Robin and paralyzing Batgirl, have elevated Batman to the highest levels of crime-fighting, and we, the readers, to the finest levels of quality pop-culture entertainment.
The Joker is the first retrospective chronicling one of the most groundbreaking and game-changing villains of all time, and contains images from his more than seventy years in comics by comic book artists and writers such as Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, Geoff Johns, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini. Also included are images from his various film, television, animated, and video game incarnations, such as the timeless interpretations by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger, who won his posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. This book is a must-have for fans and anyone who wants to die laughing.

About the Author
Daniel Wallace is a comic book expert and author or coauthor of more than two dozen books.
See all Editorial Reviews

Product Details
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Universe (October 11, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0789322471
ISBN-13: 978-0789322470
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REVIEW #45: "The King of Comedy/Tears of a Clown" (Shadow of the Bat #38 & #39)

Writer: Alan Grant
Artist: Bary Kitson & John Stokes & Scott Hanna

WOW. It sure has been a long time inbetween updates. Time just slipped away, as it does. I kept making plans to update and then something would come up and well... as you can see, it never quite worked out. I think I partly needed a break – have been very busy and coping with a bunch of stuff “in real life” - and once you take a break and get out of a habit, it can be SUPER difficult to get back into it. But I really want to sustain this blog and so I'm going to make a really big effort going forward.

So, to recommence the Joker reviews! This old story was part of the Shadow of the Bat series, an ongoing comic that eventually wrapped up at 96 issues and was aimed at examining in greater depth the cast of the Batman mythos. The stories took place in the then-current continuity, so long arc cross-overs such as No Man's Land would take place in some of the later issues, but the earlier issues were really quite devoted to the villains, making effort to get into their heads and explore their psyches on more complex levels.

The Joker is one of the trickier characters to do this with because striking a balance between his reprehensible murderousness and the bizarre tragedy of his unknown past without wandering simply into the maudlin and contrived is exceedingly difficult. I have spoken before about how often I feel like the concocted tragic pasts for the Joker begin to read as some sort of 'excuse' for his current behaviour. Speaking personally, I prefer the mystery – the horror in the idea of an individual being more or less 'marooned' in a current reality with no sense of connection or resonance with a personal history. Just a really warped worldview to guide his actions and philosophies.

Unfortunately, the art of storytelling, whether in comics or any other media, is often plagued by cliche rather than what is innovative or creative – devices that are obvious and therefore easy – simple to use. But that doesn't make them good.

As a Joker fan, I just do not buy the reasoning that some horrid tragedy turned him into what he is. I don't need it to be convinced by his character because his nature and purpose is to be larger than life, an extreme, a chaotic force. This requires no explanation. Ultimately, the tragic past just isn't that convincing anyway, because none of the tragic pasts thus far concocted for him have actually been at a level that could convincingly create such a gleeful, remorseless murdering madman. I don't mind the exploration and the consideration of ideas and options – I just balk at the idea of any of them being set in stone and certainly I am long weary of them serving as character development.

I feel 'insert one tragic past here' can often be a very poor and lazy way to build character, particularly where the Joker is concerned. The challenge is in rounding him out as a character in exactly what he IS, not what he WAS. It can be done. It has been done. And it's wonderfully rewarding when it is done well.

To this story's detriment, in its efforts to round out the Joker as a character, it inevitably dips back into the old tortured past schtick – a trope so old hat and tired the Joker himself would be insulted. Yet this story has great potential in terms of other elements incorporated in it – some of which are actually excellent.

This stoy arc came out during the early 90s, a time when the concept of exploring the Joker on a more complex level was a fairly exciting one in the wake of stories like The Killing Joke - but really, the greater degree of nuance had begun in the 70s. TKJ marked the first time anyone delved into the Joker's actual past (beyond the camp classic Red Hood story of the 60s) and was such a blistering success that the idea of building on it – drawing inspiration from it – emulating the success even – must've been a titillating one to many writers. Whilst the tortured past falls very flat in this story, from other elements in it the reader can tell the writer was interested in what he was doing and wanted to do it well. No small surprise considering the author of this story is Alan Grant.

As a consequence, the story is well-written and excellently paced with great characterisation and, as noted, a lot of really good and interesting plot elements.

The tale told has varying threads running throughout it – the Joker is on the loose and kidnapping people without seeming rhyme or reason. Meanwhile, Dr Arkham has secured a mysterious bounty hunter to chase down the madman. We follow Batman and the hunter – Wilde – as they each persue their own chase. An ongoing plot thread featuring Bullock, Gordon & Essen-Gordon also features to follow on from previous issue's events, but is not key to the Joker plotline.

The first issue does not feature the Joker at all, but does feature a lot of excellent insight into him as a character – from some almost-comedic musings by his goons as they go about the kidnappings, to Batman's reflections on his driven hunt – to perhaps the most delicious and beautiful element of this story: Wilde's persuing of Joker's own writings from his Arkham file as he fights against memories not yet revealed to us.

I always loved those files with a passion. To read them now, some of Joker's answers seem a little contrived, but that isn't entirely out of place anyway as it's known he loves to fuck with his doctors. I always found this aspect of this story to be really interesting and innovative and I still think it's awesome. I can't think of another Joker story in which such a device exists so prominently and I think it's actually a really excellent story-telling technique very much in keeping with the show-don't-tell guideline to good writing.

What's also enjoyable about the first part of the story is the individual detective hunts taken by Batman and Wilde – how they both track the Joker in sometimes similar but ultimately very different ways.

Wilde's family, of course, were killed by the Joker and his is a vengeance mission with his ultimate objective to kill the Joker.

The Joker, meanwhile, has kidnapped this group of people because once, in a lifetime long ago, they booed him off the stage when he was still a regular schmoe trying to make it as a stand-up comic. He's put them in a deliciously Jokery-conundrum: he wants them to laugh at his jokes finally or he'll kill them – but he's got exploding collars around their necks that will be detonated by laughter. Either way, they lose. He's exacting his own vengeance.

Of course, Batman swoops in before Joker can kill ALL of them (he manages at least three) and so does Wilde and there's a showdown – and a tragic ending, though for who I won't say.

As well-told as this story is, it is ultimately let down by the inclusion of the tragic past – written to fit into The Killing Joke continuity. For one thing, it's wholly unconvincing – yes the Joker's an egotistical narcissist, but actually being anguished over a very small failure from a life that he himself would consider pitiful and best left behind? Petty vengeance is really not the Joker's style, and it is petty. He's got his pride, but this doesn't really seem to fit into what he would consider worthy of his attention.
And that's all just if you buy the idea he even remembers his past and, if he does, that the 'failed comedian' is even it. Neither of which I do. Especially as it's set up IN TKJ that his 'memories' of his past change.

This story simply doesn't need the tortured memories. It is not served by them. It could easily be a really excellent, insightful and well-told story by adjusting the purpose behind Joker kidnapping these men and torturing them in the name of 'comedy'. The trap he puts them in is in keeping with his style. But the reason? I feel like it detracts from the good elements of the plot – that it suddenly demands us to have this emotional response to a blatantly flimsy and contrivedly-sentimental device that fails to convince.

I feel like even if an adjustment as simple as making it clear the men have no idea what the hell Joker is even talking about, that they're not even who he's saying they are – indicating that Joker has once again remembered his past falsely – could add a new dimension of interest to it not to mention further insight into Joker's character – that he would actually believe his own false memories to the point of enacting vengeance for them.

Beyond that, this story is really enjoyable and very well told. I feel like the contrast between Wilde & Batman is well-executed and I believe it was pretty fresh at the time to consider the impact Joker's actions would have had on survivors of his crimes (though it really still isn't something done enough) as well as the difference between how individuals will persue their personal vengeance.

I feel the visual story-telling is truly excellent in this two-parter; well-laid out, clear and dynamic. Largely traditional, it does utilise some interesting arrangements to convey atmosphere and transition. And, in general, it's just damn good art – beautiful and clear. The Joker looks really hot.

On the whole, I DO highly recommend this story, with the reservations as detailed above. I'm fairly sure it's never been collected into a TPB, but as of this point, it's still pretty inexpensive to get as single issues on eBay or other places you can find lots of back issues!

WHEW! Now that I've finally got another review done it feels SO GOOD and was so much simpler than I was making it out to be in my head. Must make a mental note of this to spur me forward for next month!
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I'm two months behind on this blog, for which I apologise. Life's just been pretty crazy of late.

I'm planning to get back on track this month though, so stay tuned! This year I'm planning to do a few more regular features, follow on from some older ones and such!

In the meantime, please check out the Haven for some updates, including a video interview with me!
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Crazy Duo

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you all the very, very best for the festive season - thanks for sticking with LDJ over this last year! Next year LDJ will be THREE YEARS OLD, OMG! So exciting! Even though I don't update as much as I would like, I am still reasonably happy with how things progress here and I love all the comments and contributions you guys make as well! So thanks heaps and I hope you'll stick with me over the next year too!

I hope you all have a wonderful, peaceful and festive time with your loved ones, celebrating in whichever method and manner that you do. Take care of yourselves!

And finally - as part of my cosplay, I've put together a Christmas video greeting from Harley - her entreaty to Santa Claus! I hope you will watch it!

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REVIEW #44: GRAB-BAG - Little of This, Little of That

Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Mike Mignola

Joker's appearance in this is pretty much 'blink and you'll miss it' – there's really not a lot to comment on at all.
While I got stupidly excited at the thought of a Batman & Hellboy team-up, and even though this was a two-parter, I felt like the story was over with pretty quickly and without a lot of depth though it was illustrated in Mike Mignola's incomparably beautiful style. Basically it felt like a pretty flimsy excuse to have the three characters team up (Batman's barely in the second one himself) but without much of a plot. Though there were a couple of good moments here and there! It wasn't awful, just failed to excite.

Joker's Holiday (Flash #33)
Writer: William Messner-Loebs
Penciller: Greg LaRocque

This frankly surreal little story trades on Mistah J's image only! He is not actually in the comic! I won't give it away (well, I suppose I just did, really...) but it was a bit disappointing to be expecting to read a Joker story and be DENIED! That probably tainted my reaction to it. It's an okay story.

Li'l Leaguers (Batman/Superman #51 & #52)
Writers: Michael Green, Mike Johnson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque

The Joker isn't really in this (well...) but a miniature version of him is and boy, this whole story is just soooo gooooood!
Basically, 'miniatures' of the Justice League and their villains come through an alternate dimension providing for a great deal of deliciously delightful crack and good times – with an interesting premise beneath it all. Even a little drama and elevated emotion for good measure. You have to read it for all the hilarious goodness.

The Cat and the Bat (Gotham Confidential #21)
Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Kevin Maguire

Joker appears only in the final chapter of the multi-issue arc, focusing on a young Barbara Gordon as Batgirl's first encounter with Catwoman.
With lush art, a good, fast-paced story and plenty of cheesy yet strangely unoffensive fan service, it's very enjoyable.
Joker's little cameo appearance is quite creepy and deliciously foreshadows his and Babs' entwined futures, placing weight on the encounter...