Comics on Film: Everything You Need to Know About the Love Affair Between Joker and Harley Quinn

Comics on Film: Everything You Need to Know About the Love Affair Between Joker and Harley Quinn

Aug 03, 2016

With Suicide Squad in theaters this weekend, many are zeroing in on one of the film’s key storylines: the fractured, highly dysfunctional relationship between Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker.

These two characters have a rich history going back just over 20 years. While that amount of time is relatively minimal when compared with other comics characters – some of whom have passed their 50th, 60th, or 75th anniversaries recently – comic book readers and other audiences just can’t seem to get enough of the complicated dynamic between Gotham City’s “Harlequin of Hate” and his “main squeeze.”

Because of that, let’s take a look at the history behind the relationship of the Joker and Harley Quinn


Unusual Beginnings

Originally designed as a nameless henchwoman of the Joker’s in the “Batman: The Animated Series” September 1992 episode “Joker’s Favor,” show creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini quickly started featuring her more and more as the series went on. Greatly inspired by the woman who gave her the trademark voice -- actress Arleen Sorkin -- Harley Quinn quickly became a mainstay of "BTAS" and would be by Joker's side for nearly all of his appearances on the show.

This culminated in 1994, when Dini and Timm collaborated on a comic book entitled The Batman Adventures: Mad Love. In this one-shot, Paul Dini wrote an extremely resonant and somewhat tragic origin story for Harley, detailing her promising start of a career as a psychiatrist within the walls of the infamous Arkham Asylum.

Even with her training, though, nothing could prepare her for the conniving manipulation of the Joker, who she immediately became taken with upon setting eyes on him for the first time. It was in Mad Love that we first got a greater idea of Harley’s own psychological complexity due to her obsession with the Joker, as well as a greater idea of just how manipulative and dismissive the Joker can be of people who admire him. He sees those people, in many cases, as disposable pawns that are only useful for a limited time.

Harley’s popularity on the animated series eventually led DC Comics to officially incorporate her into the DC Comics Universe. In 1999, she was introduced in an original graphic novel simply called Batman: Harley Quinn while the Gotham City-shattering event No Man’s Land was taking place. Since then, she’s been a constant fixture of the comic book universe, often appearing at the Joker’s side in familiar capacity. Although her modern incarnation after “the New 52” has been a bit more independent, Joker’s sporadic appearances largely always lead Harley to submit to him once again, even contemplating removing her face as the Joker did when he appeared in 2012’s “Death of the Family” story by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.


Outside of the Comics

Harley’s popularity has also invariably led her to appear in other media as well. In 2002, actress Mia Sara portrayed Harleen Quinzel as the primary antagonist in the WB’s short-lived “Birds of Prey” TV series. While the Joker only had a cameo appearance in that show’s first episode, Harley is still very much smitten with her “sweet Mr. J,” and seeks revenge on Gotham and any of Batman’s remaining allies for incarcerating him.

In 2009, Arleen Sorkin reprised her role as Harley from the animated series in Rocksteady Studios’ influential video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. Very much a spiritual successor to the series – featuring the vocal talents of Sorkin, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Kevin Conroy as Batman – Arkham Asylum took the perspective of many recent comics and animated appearances by making Harley a formidable physical presence in this world.

Harley appeared in both of the follow-up games: 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, and the 2013 prequel Batman: Arkham Origins, portrayed by voice actress Tara Strong. In Arkham City, Harley is left alone by the end of the game due to the death of the Joker, and subsequently blames Batman for “murdering” him. This is fleshed out further with the downloadable story mission “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” where Harley kidnaps Batman, forcing Robin to enter the remains of Arkham City to render aid to his senior partner.

Arkham Origins shows Harleen Quinzel as one of the psychiatrists working at Blackgate Penitentiary, who becomes charmed and enamored with the Joker after he explains his first encounter with Batman to her. From there, Harley appears in the fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us as the resident of an alternate universe where the Joker was brutally murdered by Superman, leading to the Man of Steel taking control of the planet. When the Joker of “our” universe shows up in the alternate world, Harley immediately abandons all other concerns and gleefully reunites with her “puddin’.”



Suicide Squad

This leads us to the first portrayal of the relationship between Harley and the Joker to be featured in a live-action film. David Ayer’s film is following on at least one major tenet of the Joker/Harley relationship as established in the animated series, and given a harder edge in the comics.

Joker seems to have little reservation in physically mistreating Harley, which is just the kind of reprehensible behavior that you would expect from DC Comics’ most iconic and sadistic villain. Still, Harley’s status as a member of the Suicide Squad seems to show that she has something of a life outside of her association with the Joker, and the film will be exploring the Joker more as an aberration to the events revolving around the titular characters than as somebody who’s going to actively be a part of the team. Joker’s not much of a “joiner,” anyway.

Either way, it looks like the storied relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker is about to take another interesting turn, which could reverberate through future DC Cinematic Universe films, eventually leading to a showdown with Batman himself.

What would you like to see for these characters next?


Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, the Junior Editor at, and a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek, Editorials
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