We move on to everyone's favorite clown girl Trickster, Harley Quinn.
Tricksters are vital to many myths. They ignore the normal rules of behavior, but often see some things more clearly than others, especially if it's about someone in authority. For a little on Tricksters in Myth and culture, see here...
"Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies for fear that they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise. The trickster in most native traditions is essential to creation, to birth."
Tricksters often get themselves in trouble, but cleverly, and humorously, use their wits and manipulative skills to get out of it.
Harley, contrary girl that she is, couldn't even enter the Batman Mythos in the usual way. She wasn't introduced in the comics, but in the 1990s animated series. The episode Joker's Favor required a woman working for the Joker, so Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created Harley, voiced by and modelled on Dini's friend Arleen Soren. Harley went over so well she was brought back in The Laughing Fish and expanded on. From there, she became one of the most popular characters in the series, getting her own episodes centered around her, and sometimes teamed with Poison Ivy, which whom she had a subtexty relationship. She was also a regular in the comics based on the animated series, and was given an origin story in a special, the Eisner Award winning Mad Love.
So, it was inevitable that she would be brought into the mainstream DCU. But, this would be a challenge. How to fit her into the main DCU, with it's versions of Batman, the Joker, and Ivy, and still have her recognizably Harley?
Working that out would be her co-creator, Paul Dini, during the No Man's Land storyline.
In No Man's Land, Gotham City was hit by an earthquake that wrecked the city. The U.S. Government sealed it off, leaving whoever couldn't be evacuated to fend for themselves, with some heroes staying behind to protect as best they could. This was made more difficult since the inmates of Arkham were released. Ivy claimed Robinson Park, which she made into her own Garden of Eden, and cared for orphans from the quake. Batman made a deal where she'd supply Gotham with food. One night, something crashed into the park.
Sifting through the wreckage, Ivy pulls out a woman with white face paint and a red and black costume who's very much worse for wear. Thw woman stumbles, and mutters, "Try to blow me up, will ya? Well, get ready to kiss your chalk-white butt good-bye, clown. I'm comin' for ya..." before passing out.
Deciding she "has to take her fun where she can find it," Ivy takes the woman home to her lab, that being a mini-Batcave Bruce Wayne had built beneath the park, and bandages her up. She recognizes the woman as Dr. Quinzel, who'd been a psychiatrist at Arkham. She tells Harley that's reason enough to kill her, to which Harley responds to be her guest, since she has nothing more to live for. Harley grabs a beaker, figuring what's inside has to be poisonous.
Months passed. Then, one day, the door to her cell opened. The entire Asylum was without power and abandoned. She made it into the city, and found misery and destruction, everywhere. So, she decided to track down the Joker. She broke into a costume shop, figured out the perfect outfit, then worked out where her Puddin' would be. He'd need supplies, so to find him, one just needed to go to the Penguin. Sure enough, that's where he is, but the bargaining isn't going well, and everyone's about to start shooting.
So now, it's finding them a hideout. Harley figures the Tunnel of Love at the old amusement park is perfect, so she evicts the people, there. Then, she gets to work redecorating, unveiling it two week later.
While the days were spent planning...
Then, while they're eliminating someone trying to move in on the Joker's territory at the docks, Batman arrives. The Joker sends Harley to lure him away, adding "Now that's a girl after my own heart... with a razor!" Batman hears a voice behind him saying "Hey there! Hi there! Ho there!" and Bat Meets Girl.
Batman's best at planning and preparing. Problem is, with Harley, as is traditional with Tricksters, all that goes out the window, because she's genuinely unpredictable. As they're running to their car, the Joker tells his henchmen to remind him to send Harley some flowers after Bats is done using her as a punching bag... only to find her waiting for them at the car. As she says, "The score: Clown Girl, One, Batguy, Zip!"
Harley describes the night as the orphans in Ivy's care are repairing her costume, how magical it was, how they drank a toast, and she was fainting, swooning, everything a blissful blur. Ivy: "Drugged you, huh?"
Next morning, she woke up, with her Puddin' nowhere to be found, but with a note on his pillow instructing her to meet him at the park's rocket ride. She entered the rocket, only to have it close and lock behind her, and blast off.
She pulls out some wires, which allows her to steer the thing, though not well. It's enough for a crash landing in the park, where Ivy found her.
Ivy figures Harley would like to get even, so she gives her a drink, "a necessary precaution if we're going to hang out together." This will make her immune to Ivy's poisons (touching Ivy will infect you if you're not immunized), as well as most anybody else's. The formula is also doing something else, and Harley's finding it painful.
Ivy can sympathise, given her own origin with what Woodrue did to her. Ivy also knows a little something about putting on a costume and doing things out of obsessive love, with her thing for Batman.
Harley gets Batman's attention with a homemade Bat Signal that flaps it's wings. Batman isn't amused. He tells her he's turning her over to Gordon. She replies that he could do that, but he'd miss out on the deal she's offering: to lead him to the Joker. He tried to kill her, and she wants him to pay. She also knows what the Joker has planned. He's smuggled a shipment of medical supplies into Gotham, and is putting the word on the street of it's location. Naturally, relief workers will want the supplies. As soon as they begin dispensing, he'll blow it up by remote from his hideout. "Just a little giggle to remind people he's still alive."
Batman gives her a tracking device so he'll know where she is at all times, refusing to be tricked into going anywhere with her. If her story checks out, he'll deal with the Joker. She is not to interfere. She tells him he has some serious issues with intimacy, but he's gone before she can continue her diagnosis.
The Joker, meanwhile, is thinking about women, "the eternal mystery." He has one of his henchmen talk about his girlfriend. The henchman talks about her, his jealousy issues, how they have something special but it's compromised... before the Joker kills him over "Too much information."
Harley has made it to the hideout, and sees Batman following. "Gotta hand it to ya, Harl, ya really know how to push a guy's buttons." Batman takes down the guards, outside, while Harley sneaks in. The Joker is still talking to the henchman he just killed, explaining that he thinks women like men who listen to them.
The Joker tries to fight, but she's too fast. "Daddy can't kill you if you keep jumping around!"
Abusive jerk that she loves and wants to win the approval of = "Daddy".
Harley not only alive but trading punches with Batman is too much for the Joker. He runs, Batman pursues. So, he makes a stand, very angry at Bats, telling him that he's been ignoring him since the earthquake, and picks "the night my chick decides to dump a load of guano on my head" to show up. Batman demands to know where the medical supplies are. The Joker is confused, so Batman presses him about his plan to blow the medical supplies up. It's the first the Joker has heard of it. It's not something he's planned... though it's not a bad idea. Batman realizes he's been tricked... just as the hammer falls and knocks him out. It's a really big hammer.
He really doesn't get why she's mad at him.
Needless to say, he's outmatched, and gets knocked off an observation platform.
Batman recovers, only to see them leaving on one of the boats. Harley tells him to be sure to read the note she left.
Later, after Gotham is reopened, we come to the Kesel run, which introduces us to Harley Vision, how she sees things. She literally is not guilty by reason of insanity, as everything looks like a certain cartoon, to her. She doesn't realize she's actually killing people. Kesel starts things with her breaking the Joker out of Arkham. She'd gotten in disguised as Ivy, so the guards were thinking how to defend against Ivy instead of her. The Joker was slightly hurt, but led her to think he was in worse shape.
Jack Happi is opening a new amusement park, based on Batman and his foes (The attractions look suspiciously like the Bat-themed attractions at Six Flags), the highlight being a Joker themed roller coaster. The Joker isn't amused, so Harley takes on another guise as someone hired by Happi to improve the roller coaster, conning her way into having complete access with her own crew.
This'll be one of Harley's gimmicks, her various identities. She's so good at playing these different parts that, among other things, she's gotten a columnist job at the Daily Planet, and regularly is able to get in and out of Arkham without any staffers recognizing her. Tricksters in Myth are often shape shifters, so it's fitting that Harley takes so many identities, wears so many masks. Grant Morrison would eventually tie her to the Trickster Gods of Myth directly with one of her identities, Dr. Jane Wisakedjak, Wisakedjak being a Cree Trickster.
However, a problem develops, the Joker's need to be the star at all times. He really doesn't like sharing the spotlight.
Ivy intends just that. Also, something Harley said to Lewis will be important, later. Oh, the quote was from Casablanca. Harley loves classic films.
Harley, at this point, lacked self esteem, never thinking she was good enough. That worked very nicely for the Joker. Of course, from the "Daddy" role he took with her, we have a very good idea where her issues came from.
It's the big night. The Joker arrives at the park and forces Happi and his wife onto the coaster. Then, he shoots Harley, or so he thinks. The box he had placed beside the roller coaster is to set off a big Joker themed fireworks display. It's set off... and the fireworks go off on the other side of town. The Joker is angry. The fireworks were supposed to draw Batman there. "I didn't think you had to be crazy to understand that!"
And this time, she quotes Love Story. Ivy gets patched up, and Harley strikes out on her own, but keeps Red close, often as her partner. Happi, meanwhile, wants Harley taken alive, and puts together a team of detectives to do it.
They go over her recent activities, and current henchmen, while waiting for word of another crime.
This time, the movie quote was from Freaks. Oh, remember the "a little blackmail" comment. They encounter Harley at the Finger Warehouse, and, of course, fail to catch her.
Her ability to read people, get into their heads, figure out what makes them tick, and push the right buttons, is one of her most dangerous assets. For example, a very brief encounter at a party with one of Gotham's leading citizens told her a lot.
The detectives decide to set a trap at Gotham State University, with her old instructor, Professor Markus. While they won't let him be armed, he insists on keeping a specific pen. The trap involves Markus receiving the Wertham Award (ahem) for a theory that was Harley's in her college days, that there are two circumstances in which people disregard the rules of society; when they commit a crime, or when they're in love.
We flashback to when she was first telling Markus her theory that she wants to be the basis of her graduate thesis. But, her grades aren't high enough. She suggests they meet later in her dorm room to discuss things further, or maybe they won't do much talking. He decides she has "uncommon initiative", and she should test her theory, with his supervision. What she wants to test is what's the worst thing someone can do and still be loved. But, who to test it on?
The answer is "No", since it's a secret formula Guy intends to market, some day. So, they work out the details.
In the present, Harley locks up the detectives because she wants her reunion with her old mentor to be private. She attaxks Markus, demanding to know why he's cooperating with the detectives, since he was so glad to have her gone from there. Why do the one thing that would bring her back? He wants to know what happened, that night, what went wrong with the experiment. She replies that nothing went wrong, that it just all became chaos.
Note the change on the TV screen, the beginning of Harley Vision. Markus poured out Guy's Think Drink, telling Harley she needed to remove everything that reminded her of Guy. In the present, she wants to know the real reason. As it turned out, Markus had obtained some Joker Venom on the black market, and was looking into it's use as a psycotropic drug, adding a deluted version to Guy's drink, to see if it would counter the stress Harley's test would put him under. Of course, it just made Guy more irrational. Markus needed to destroy all evidence of what he'd done, the pen he's carrying containing the last of the Joker Venom, which he hits Harley with. "Mmm, kiwi flavor," says Harley. Markus figures the Venom must have lost it's potency. Harley tells him that's lucky, since he cut his hand when he broke the pen. He laughs about this, saying it's lucky the Venom is harmless. Harley laughs, as well, saying "Or maybe I'm just immune to the stuff! Wouldn't that be a riot?" As Markus dies with the familiar grin, she adds "If it wasn't true."
So, we know why she was interested in the Joker. The Joker's feelings for her are... mixed. As Chuck Dixon established in The Last Laugh, sometimes he wants to marry her, sometimes murder her. He was back to pursuing her in this scene, where Dixon established that it isn't just Ivy; Harley likes redheads, in general.
The unanswered question is how Harley knew who Oracle was.
During the Lieberman run, she'd gotten into a situation involving some discs she was stealing for someone that got her framed for a cop's death. Tracking down who set her up, she learned that who hired her was a proxy, that it was the Joker behind her being hired for the job. She went after him, and called him while he was in an elevator with a couple of henchmen, telling him to hold on to something. He asks what he should hold on to.
Thing is, he was actually telling the truth. She eventually finds the guy who set her up and killed the cop and clears her name (of the cop killing, since that's about all she didn't do), but there's a consequence to doing that to the Joker. He finds it really attractive.
At this point, she's tired of the life. She's even considering slipping into one her aliases, Dr. Jessica Seaborn, permanently. As Jessica, she's dating a cop. The Joker, however, is in pursuit, and explains to her why she can never stop being a criminal.
Eventually, she was back in the hands of her creator, Paul Dini. She decides she wants to be sane, again, and is facing her issues and recovering. Bruce Wayne, the civilian on Arkham's board, votes down her release, though. She winds up out of Arkham in a way she didn't intend when she's kidnapped by the new Ventriloquist, who needs someone to break into a place that's described as a fortress, and retrieve money. Harley was picked because there isn't any place she can't get in and out of. She goes along and does it... but calls Gordon, who contacts Batman. She also prevents the Ventriloquist's plan to eliminate her.
Sugar kicks the dummy to a police car and blows it up, making her escape. As we learn more about Sugar, we see Harley had her pegged. Sugar has been abused her entire life, to where even her other personality hits her.
On the way back to Arkham...
So, she sets out to start anew. Enter Holly Robinson, protege and sidekick of another famous Gotham rogue, Catwoman. Holly's on the run for the murder of Black Mask, a crime Selina actually committed. He did more than have it coming. Holly winds up in Metropolis, at the Athenian Women's Shelter, where she's told one of the Directors will be seeing her.
Yeah, you go all the way to Metropolis to escape Gotham's distracting redheads and they just follow you, there. All you can do under those circumstances is take the redhead as your partner and be subtexty with her, which is much easier in Holly's case since she's already a lesbian. :)
Holly's on a Journey, and one of the roles of the Trickster in Myth is as Guide. As Harley tells her over the course of this, this is about them, doing what they choose to do, instead of "being defined by someone else." Lots of adventures follow, including entering the service of Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira, hunting down Granny Goodness on her homeworld, and bouncing around the Multiverse before finally returning to Gotham, and getting an apartment, contemplating the impending Final Crisis.
Some in the Fandom thought Holly would keep Harley on the straight and narrow (in the "not being a criminal" sense). Holly Robinson? Catwoman's protege Holly Robinson? One of Harley's pathologies is the rush she gets from committing the perfect crime, at least according to the Joker. Being with Holly places Harley under the influence of Selina Kyle, who embodies that pathology.
So, one day, Selina needed help getting revenge on Hush, with a hefty payday as part of the deal.
But that's another story...
Scans from Batman: Harley Quinn; Harley Quinn #1, 5, 6, 8, 25, & 32; Joker: The Last Laugh #3; Detective Comics #831; and Countdown #43 & 1. Batman: Harley Quinn is 48 pages, and Harley Quinn #1 39 pages.