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Why Harley Quinn Is Batman's Most Tragic Character

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There's certainly no shortage of tragic characters roaming the streets of Gotham — from the orphaned, crime-fighting socialite with a penchant for spelunking to the once-promising DA with a now visible dark side. But does Batman's grimmest story actually belong to Gotham's (other) psychotic clown?

After reading this piece on the flaws in (the mostly marvelous) Batman: The Animated Series, a discussion began about the troubling case of Harley Quinn. She went from the enamored sidekick of Batman's super-foil, to a criminal hatching plots without him to, finally, a character actively working on her own rehabilitation. And then, somehow slid right back to the very beginning.


That path, noted some commenters — while it hid itself behind puns, slapstick comedy, and a few well-chosen punchlines — is one of the darkest storylines Batman ever covered:

Hot Burning Diaper Garbage

I think the issue is that they couldn't decide if she were a person or a cartoon. The Joker's obviously a cartoon, and when she's treated as one as well their Punch and Judy antics don't really rankle.

But if she's not Harley Quinn, she's Harleen Quinzel, with like, an actual personality and some degree of depth to her, what seems funny suddenly isn't.


The Harley thing is especially weird because she's one of the few characters created by Dini and Timm specifically for B:TAS who's popularity has far surpassed anyone's expectations. Maybe her de-evolution is due to the diminished involvement of Dini and/or Timm in her other animated iterations?


The storyline, with all its accompanying darkness, didn't play out just on-screen, though. One commenter noticed a particularly-interesting trend in Harley Quinn comic appearances, one that hinted at some of the behind-the-scenes psychology of the character:


The comics dealt with this sort of thing in a cool way. In the original "Harley Quinn" series sometimes suddenly the art would get way more toony and zany. I didn't get why when I first read it but a something I read later (I think it was a letters page left out of the collection or something, my first issues were in a trade) stated that it was "Harleyvision" and sort of how Harley justified (to herself) doing awful things and also a sign of her breaks with reality. Whenever Harley is about to do something really bad, like say, murder a mook who betrayed her, suddenly it's all cartoony and the mook just looks dazed after the explosion. When a normal person comes across it later there's blood and it's realistically grim. It gets a really tragic twist later when one of the major secondary characters dies and Harley's not even aware he's dead. It's her type of insanity, essentially.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments where you wish you'd seen the character go.