The run-up to #SuicideSquad made it clear that DC Film felt Harley Quinn had a lot of promise. Before the film was even released, DC had commissioned a sequel and a spin-off to be directed by Margot Robbie. Fans approached the film with an eager sense of expectation, anticipating that Harley would be the breakout character. Fortunately, for all the controversy surrounding Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie's performance was top-rate; the character won even the critics' hearts.
Over in the comics, Harley Quinn is growing in importance. Although Harley originated in the classic Batman Animated Series, earlier this year, DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee described her as DC's "Fourth Pillar" (the other three being the classic Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman).
But is this anarchic character a hero or a villain? Is she good or evil? Let's work it out...
How Do You Judge 'Good or Evil' in Fiction?
In 1977, Dungeons & Dragons made history. The game introduced a complex tool known as 'alignment', that allowed players to position their characters in relation to two axes; good versus evil, law versus chaos. It's become a basic idea for interpreting the motivations and character of countless fictional beings, and it's been applied to franchises as wide-ranging as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars! Let's try using this technique in relation to Harley Quinn.
Law Versus Chaos
What is it that Harley Quinn sees in the #Joker? When they first met, she was a straight-laced psychologist, driven by personal ambition and with a desire for success. All versions of Harleen Quinzel have shown that original woman as structured and precise, a dedicated career woman who - in a startling twist - chooses to live the life of an abused sidekick. She's unique in Batman lore; most of #Batman's enemies adopt their criminal identity as a result of personal trauma. Harley Quinn, however, chooses madness.
It's not hard to see this as a matter of 'law versus chaos'. Harleen Quinzel had repressed her true chaotic nature, and it's the freedom to express herself that most attracted her to the Joker. In the Joker, she saw freedom to live for the moment, to indulge her every impulse, and to ignore the consequences of life. Harley Quinn is a creature of chaos, pure and simple.
This holds true for every version of the character. Harley will do what she wants, when she wants. She'll beat up the bad guy because she feels like it; she'll break a shop window for jewellery she likes the look of; she'll take on anyone who disrespects her "puddin'". This is the simplest part of the 'alignment' test; Harley is chaos personified.
That's why she's so popular. She represents a character who cheerfully indulges in her every desire, and who does so without any real awareness of the consequences. In the comics, she lives in a sort of 'Looney Tunes' world, where there are unlimited bullets, where no blood is shed, and where violence is always slapstick. She's the ultimate expression of the self-indulgence our society encourages so much, unrestrained by cultural norms or laws.
Good Versus Evil
I've structured this article quite deliberately, because it would be too easy to look at Harley's unbridled, chaotic nature and classify her as 'Evil' without a second thought. After all, as she famously observed in Suicide Squad, "We're the bad guys!"
Ironically, though, the same film explains why she's not so easy to classify. Where Will Smith's Deadshot is the head of Task Force X - giving leadership and direction to the rest of the Suicide Squad - Harley is the heart. Cara Delevingne's Enchantress tempts her with everything she ever dreamed of, but Harley rejects this vision in favor of her 'family'. In a scene that didn't make the final cut (but is detailed in the movie's novelization), the Joker revealed that he'd survived the helicopter crash and offered Harley a chance to come with him again. This second time, she rejected him, choosing instead to stay with Task Force X.
Over in the comics, Harley has gathered a "Gang of Harleys" around herself - a scatter-brained bunch of wounded people who seek to have the freedom she enjoys. Her relationship with the Harleys is fascinatingly complex; it takes advantage of her psychological background as much as her insane perspective, and you get the strange sense that she's genuinely trying to guide them towards a sort of 'wholeness'. More interestingly, we've been introduced to a character who's dubbed herself 'Harley Sinn'. She's a twisted version of Harley Quinn who tried to join the gang, obsessed with the original Harley. The contrast between the two characters underscores the fact that there's actually a lot of good in Harley Quinn.
The difference between Harley Quinn and most other characters is that she indulges her every whim, whether good or bad. As a result, she'll shift from a heroic role to a villainous one in the time it takes to blink; she'll shoot joyously at Batman and steal from a store, then go on to save the world. She can't be definitively positioned on the axis of good or evil, because her alignment will change depending on her latest impulse. My instinct is to view her as 'Chaotic Neutral,' but in reality she's the character who defies Dungeons & Dragons - she doesn't fit neatly into any one of those boxes.
Again, I think that's a reason Harley Quinn is so popular. In the real world, we human beings are a complicated mixture of good and bad; Harley simply has more in common with us than any other superhero or supervillain, in that she's beyond such simple classifications. It makes her a tremendously complex character, and means that some writers really struggle to give the character a consistent tone and voice. But it also makes her great fun.
- Will Harley Quinn Be The Breakout Character of 'Suicide Squad'?
- How Harley Quinn Became DC's "Fourth Pillar"
- A.R.G.U.S. and More: What 'Suicide Squad' Adds to the DC Extended Universe
So, is Harley Quinn good or evil? I don't think she's either. She's chaos personified, obeying her every impulse without a shred of concern for the consequences. And that's the way she likes it.
Do you view Harley as a hero or a villain? Let me know in the comments — and check out our compilation of Harley's best moments below!