It's hard not to like Harley Quinn. The sweet talking, totally vicious, occasionally heartsick, and always badass anti-hero has a fascinating history, and her rise to popularity was fated from her inception. Harley was introduced as the Joker's put-upon sidekick in Batman: The Animated Series. Modeled on gangsters' molls, Harley's relationship with the Joker was always intended to be an allegory for domestic abuse, and this is one of the reasons the character became so popular.
Harley's slow liberation from the Joker was difficult, as her feverish infatuation with the Clown Prince of Crime prevented her from ever truly getting away. But eventually, with a little help from her close friend — and later girlfriend — Poison Ivy, Harley broke away from the Joker, and her journey has been compelling to follow.
But the most fascinating thing about Harley Quinn is the impact she's had on fans — it's this very popularity that brought Harley back from the brink of obscurity after The Animated Series ended, and it's the reason she's now one of DC's biggest sellers.
A Pillar Of DC Comics
For the longest time, DC's success has rested on their most recognizable properties: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. These iconic heroes have played a huge role in pop culture since their creation back in the 1930s and '40s. But now, DC's Holy Trinity have a new contender in their midst, as DC's chief co-publisher Jim Lee revealed to Vulture.
"I refer to [Harley Quinn] as the fourth pillar in our publishing line, behind Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman."
Outselling Wonder Woman by the hundreds, Harley Quinn is currently appearing in five different comic series, soon to be six when her Rebirth solo series debuts later in August.
That makes her DC's biggest selling female character, and with Superman's sales flagging, Harley Quinn's chief rival is the Dark Knight himself. Without DC releasing the figures exactly, it's difficult to deduce who's on top, but the smart money's on the Clown Princess being close to outstripping the very hero she was invented to be a foil for.
So how did this happen? It's all to do with merchandizing, and Harley is the perfect storm of marketability. Even before she returned in the popular video game Arkham Asylum, Harley's action figures flew off the shelves, according to DC Collectibles vice-president Kevin Kiniry. This was a major factor in her inclusion in the comics, and the publishers immediately saw an effect: Harley was introduced in Suicide Squad, and the issues featuring the Clown Princess on the cover sold incrementally better than other issues in the same series.
So why is Harley so popular? Well, a huge factor is her sex appeal, and the publishers have always used this to great effect — Harley's outfits are characteristically skimpy and skin tight. But she's not just a pin-up babe. Harley's story has chimed with many people because of her indomitable sense of humor, and her romantic relationship with Poison Ivy doesn't hurt either, making her an icon of queer representation in a universe that is so far rather lacking in LGBT characters.
What's On The Cards For Harley?
With her New 52 solo series still ongoing, along with several other titles, Harley is soon to take the Rebirth continuity by storm, with a redesign that lines up with her DCEU incarnation.
As for her personal journey, Harley is an anti-hero on the path to redemption — even returning to her day job as a psychiatrist — or an all-out villain, depending on which continuity you're following. On the whole she has definitely made the transition from sidekick to her own person, and the only time the Joker drops in is to remind us all how much better off she is without him.
In the real world, Harley's position as one of the biggest sellers of DC Comics means we're bound to see a lot more from her soon. Warner Brothers are already considering a solo Harley Quinn movie set after Suicide Squad, and there are plans in motion to inundate stores with more Harley merch than you could ever buy (but maybe not as much as you'd want).
But we have to wonder what this means for the bigger crossover stories in DC Comics. Although she wasn't a major player in Flashpoint, Harley had a much bigger role in the AU series Injustice.
So will Harley's role in Rebirth be more than just another solo series? Could her talent for fourth wall breaking mean that she can start to see beyond the continuities (a la Deadpool)? For now, Harley's Rebirth series will deal with the hordes of zombies infesting Coney Island, but it won't be long before her inevitable clash with Batman, and who knows where that will lead.
If the publishers play their cards right, Harley Quinn could become every bit as influential as her fellow "pillars" of DC. As she breaks the fourth wall with increasing regularity, it looks like Harley is close to becoming DC's answer to Marvel's Deadpool. But it's difficult to directly compare Harley Quinn to any other character, as there's never been anyone like her before. From maligned sidekick-slash-paramour of an iconic villain, to a hugely influential character in her own right, it's no wonder that Harley Quinn just goes from strength to strength. Whatever's next for the Clown Princess, we can't wait to see it.