In light of the recently released and distressingly mediocre Suicide Squad, there’s been a lot of talk about Harley Quinn’s relationship to The Joker. (To, rather than with, I should note.) People have gone so far as to say that it’s some form of #RelationshipGoals. Because on the outside – it looks fun.
Suicide Squad has gone to great lengths to show this relationship as some kind of wild adrenaline ride. A ride where two people get to be nihilistically crazy with one another. They get to do bad things together. The Joker showers Harley with attention and gifts, while she on the other hand gives him her entire being. What a completely balanced and fair relationship that is!
The movie takes great pains to show the disparity in the ways that Harley and Joker view their relationship. Joker spends most of the movie behaving like someone’s taken his favourite toy. He throws temper tantrums when anyone other than himself is playing with her. Meanwhile, Harley’s view is covered in a saccharine gloss as if to hide from the actual reality – she dearly wishes to be her Puddin’s housewife (complete with child) in a dream sequence after Enchantress promises her whatever her heart desires. She wears a choker with PUDDIN in heavy gold letters which she holds dear. And it is the same with her iconic harlequin suit, which was no doubt a gift from The Joker as well.
This contrasts with the matter-of-fact way that their initial relationship is portrayed – with a very impressionable Dr. Harleen Quinzel jumping at the opportunity to break the Joker out of Arkham Asylum. He repays her by subjecting her to electric shocks straight to her temples, and by making her jump into a vat of acid. Yet he’ll go and pick her up from said vat of acid, remove the chip implanted in her and break her out of prison.
This is the cycle of abuse that The Joker perpetuates to keep Harley in his grasp. He establishes their power imbalance off the bat. He mistreats her and then shows her enough attention so that she will continue to seek it from him. Harley on the other hand, will willingly do anything for that attention and “love.”
This isn’t just some crazy love story. It’s downright manipulative behaviour from a scumbag.
I’m not asking anyone to rewrite The Joker or Harley because this is the essence of their characters: they’re both criminally insane, if decades of Batman media is to be believed. Their relationship is meant to be abusive and all sorts of wrong. Because neither of them are capable of empathy or building meaningful relations with other people.
What I am asking people to stop idolising this kind of relationship. Because it is not #RelationshipGoals in the slightest. In fact, it should be #RelationshipWarningSigns. Being showered with attention and gifts from a psychopath is no substitution for a relationship built on trust and respect.
If you want actual relationship goals from DC, it’s Batman and Catwoman. They’re equally as crazy as the thievery > capture > escape cycle, which is their form of foreplay in light of Bruce Wayne’s neuroses. But they both recognise each other as equals and respect each other’s skills.
It’s a shame that Suicide Squad has now set the standard for Harley Quinn in popular media. Because after the drama that was the Nu 52 DC Reboot, Harley Quinn has a pretty successful solo comic which takes her to a wholly different place. One of the goals of the new comic was to establish her character away from Batman and Joker – two male characters who have steadfastly defined her own. It had taken some great steps such as making her self sufficient as a landlord on Coney Island and her slowly easing back into psychiatry and her civilian identity as Harleen Quinzel. But nothing beats her emancipation from her previous relationship with The Joker.
In Harley Quinn Issue 25, Harley is tasked with breaking out her current boyfriend Mason Macabre. But just as luck has it, Mason is kept near a cell with You Know Who inside of it.
The comic is a good read and completely worth picking up from your local comic book store or a download from Comixology. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner navigate this thorny area with a deftness that doesn’t romanticise the abuse or flanderises anybody’s characters – least of all Harley’s. And it brings out that yes, she’s ultimately better off without him.
Surrounded by an environment where she can put herself to good use, people who make her feel valued rather than simply using her and a lot of blood and violence on her own terms, Harley comes full circle into being herself and not simply The Joker’s Girlfriend. In fact, DC has gone so far to say that monogamy isn’t really Harley’s style.
Now that’s #RelationshipGoals.
Hopefully the movies catch up to the comics. A Harley who recognises that The Joker is a piece of shit is the kind of Harley I’d love to see Margot Robbie play. Jared Leto’s Joker has the world’s most punchable face, and it would mean the world to me if Harley were the one who got first dibs to punching it into the ground.