ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Suicide Squad, in case the title didn't make that completely obvious.

If you've read even two comic books, you'll know that the countless number of alternate universes, side stories and rewrites makes it difficult to even pinpoint what exactly it is that movie adaptations should be faithful to. Add to that every reader's individual interpretation of what a character on the page should act and sound like, and there's clearly no definitive answer to that burning question that follows every comic book movie release: "Did they get it right?"

Still, the faithfulness of the silver screen adaptation to the source material is the one thing that comic book fans look for when going to see a movie about their favorite heroes. And there might not be an official description of each character that trumps all other interpretations, but there's enough of a feel to each of them to discuss whether the movie adaptation strayed too far from it or not.

Harley Quinn's poster for 'Suicide Squad' / DC/Warner Bros.
Harley Quinn's poster for 'Suicide Squad' / DC/Warner Bros.

Following the fresh release of Suicide Squad, then, the debates that aren't bent on determining whether the movie was even any good are mostly centered around the portrayal of the characters. And two of the most important characters to the story are arguably Harley Quinn and the Joker, even if the latter didn't have nearly as much screen time as expected.

Harley Quinn's Rightfully Badass And Independent

In the comics (and the shows), Harley Quinn has a truly complex history, most of which is intertwined with the Joker's. While her first origin story in Mad Love sees her liberating the Joker from Arkham Asylum before attempting to kill Batman — the latter provocatively telling the Joker that "she came closer to killing me than you ever did" — DC's New 52 saw her getting kidnapped by him and thrown into a vat of acid, until the fans' disappointment with her passivity in the whole relationship saw her story rewritten slightly, so that she'd decide for herself to turn into Harley Quinn.

Check out her greatest hits in The Animated Series:

The idea of leaving a minimum of power and will to Harley is there in Suicide Squad — sure, she's manipulated by the Joker, but you could argue that her infatuation for him in the comics is all down to a manipulation. Instead of being taken away, she provides the tools to his escape, and the dip in the acid vat happens at a point where you could say she's already in too deep. Later, her status as valued partner of the Clown Prince of Crime, with both of them ruling as pimps of the underworld, continues to honor the comics' idea that she's one powerful lady as much as the Joker's sidekick.

Harley And Joker's Suicide Squad Romance Is Almost Too Sweet To Be True

Harley Quinn in 'Suicide Squad' / DC/Warner Bros.
Harley Quinn in 'Suicide Squad' / DC/Warner Bros.

But there's two aspects that might raise the eyebrows of comic book aficionados, the first one being that Suicide Squad makes sure not to touch on the difficult topic of domestic abuse that's been brought up by certain versions of the Joker-Harley relationship in the comics. While a lot of fans tend to romanticize the puddin' couple as some kind of beautiful mad love, a good part of the story isn't nearly as sweet as the cotton candy colors of the movie's posters.

Despite Harley's fascination for him, the Joker is an awful life partner, beating her, manipulating her and pushing her to her limits. In the newest comics, she eventually realizes this and actually moves on after the satisfaction of beating the crap out of him in Arkham Asylum. DC even confirmed she was in an open relationship with Poison Ivy, proving that she could experience love without the deadly obsession she had for the green-haired madman.

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The movie doesn't really show any of that pain (assuming we're not counting the scenes that were reportedly removed from the final version, including a cut where the Joker tries to kill Harley). Obviously, it had a PG-13 rating to respect, and it arguably makes Harley more badass in the process, but without the Joker's abuse, there's also no reason for her to seek liberation from him. Where is that redemption director David Ayer teased in the run-up to the movie's release? Wasn't the plan that Harley would learn to walk away from the Joker, regaining full control over her life in the process? Now we've got an ending teasing a Bonnie and Clyde-style adventure for the two, and it feels like we couldn't be further from the current comic book Harley Quinn.

Can The Joker Really Be A Sweetheart?

Which brings us to the second way in which Suicide Squad seems to diverge strongly from the comics: If the Joker isn't shown abusing Harley Quinn, instead running after her because he can't stand the idea of not having her by his side, that affects Harley's DCEU storyline as much as his own. And Jared Leto summed up this new side of the Joker himself on the set of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

"I really think, underneath it all, he's kind of a sweetheart."

Is he really? It used to be that despite Harley and Joker's mad love, the Clown's number one obsession was still Batman. That they might be completely hooked, but that the Joker's madness made it impossible that he'd ever feel as dependent as Harley did on him. And while he's far from dependent on Harley in Suicide Squad, he does seem to need her an awful lot. It's up to you to decide if you can imagine a balance in this relationship, as unhealthy as it might be, but it surely feels like a big step away from the Joker's comic book legacy.

Not exactly a sweetheart is he? / DC Comics
Not exactly a sweetheart is he? / DC Comics

Maybe we'll have to wait for that R-rated movie made of all the Joker scenes that were cut from Suicide Squad, just like we could get to see Harley's redemption in her solo movie. After all, Margot Robbie had started by hating her character's dependance on the Joker, even if she ended up exploring the concept of co-dependence more. Since it was her who pitched this stand-alone chapter to the studio, she might just have stuck to her original guts as she explained them to the Washington Post.

"I just didn't understand how she could be such a badass and then fall to pieces over some guy. I found that really frustrating. Fans seem to really love that about her, that she has this complete devotion to a guy that treats her badly."

Or this was all just a build-up to Suicide Squad 2, the calm before the storm in the Joker-Harley couple? In that case we should be glad to have seen a little bit of that passionately deranged love story.

Do you feel like Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn and Joker were true to the comics? Where do you hope to see them next?

[Source: The Washington Post]


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