Banner Art by Amanda Conner
This is the big one. This is the character that, at this moment, I dislike more than any other. Harley frigging Quinn.
All the worst parts of Deadpool and Starfire combined. She is a lol-so-random character who relies on juvenile humor and cheap fourth-wall breaking and she is portrayed as a sex-puppet whose ass is constantly hanging out for the lustful enjoyment of teenage boys. To add to it, she frequently behaves like a little girl, so you have her acting like a prepubescent while having her ass hanging out. What a winning combination.
Now, I do understand that she is an empowering figure to some people. She comes from an abusive relationship with the Joker, and she escaped. You don’t really have any other characters like that in comic books except Jessica Jones with the Purple Man and Carol Danvers with Marcus Immortus (the latter is a really weird and skin-crawling one, and I discuss it in the Captain Marvel entry of my Top 10 Marvel Heroes list if you want to know about it).
I get that Harley can fill the role of the empowered survivor for some people, and I’m not saying that it’s bad to like her. As I’ve said before, if you like any character on this list, that’s fine. You do you.
However, it’s hard for me to see Harley as an empowered character. The hyper-sexualization is off-putting, because I know it’s being done for male audience members, as that is generally the first thing on every marketing department’s mind. Her personality since she has become popular and received her own comic is nakedly mimicking Deadpool. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel and DC rip each other off all of the time, but, frankly, Deadpool sucks. He’s not an interesting character, and Harley could have been a very interesting and compelling character had they split her off from the Joker in a more interesting manner. Instead, DC saw the baffling popularity of Deadpool and said, “We want one.”
To add a little salt to the wound, Harley has never really left the Joker behind, despite the abuse he put her through and the multiple times he has tried to kill her. She is frequently depicted holding some sort of Joker memento, like that doll on the cover of Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 which she cradles. This is compounded by the fact that she still uses the identity and clothes which he gave her.
I am going to say something here to the people who idolize the Joker and Harley Quinn dynamic as some pinnacle of “weirdo” love. Get your head out of your ass. This is not a healthy relationship. This is a horrifically abusive one. It doesn’t go “both ways” and it’s not okay that she’s “into it.” Frankly, if you try to justify it with that latter excuse you can really shut the hell up because you do not know what you’re talking about. This is not a good thing. This is not something to which you should aspire. This isn’t a BDSM dominant-submissive dynamic. This is a monstrous and murderous man who, for a long time, had a mentally unstable woman wrapped around his thumb, and he took advantage of her, brainwashed her, beat her, and frequently tried to kill her. It is no one’s ideal relationship.
I know the Suicide Squad film tried to retcon it [cover DC’s ass] by making it so Harleen willingly followed the Joker, and he didn’t actually treat her that badly in the film, relatively speaking. I didn’t see the film, but I do see where some of those elements could still be problematic. However, I’m not talking about that film here. I’m talking about the insufferable comics.
I do want to make an aside here and say that I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. I’m not an expert on the psychology of it. I have been told by some advocates of Harley Quinn that some of her personality traits are common in women who have recently escaped abusive relationships. I’m not saying that behavior is wrong in a person.
That being said, I want you to understand the importance of context and artistic intent in this case. I truly believe that DC did not consider any of the behavioral commonalities of a domestic abuse survivor when crafting Harley Quinn. DC is a big corporate conglomerate under the corporate mega-giant known as Warner Brothers. Despite the fact that I have dedicated this website to the critique of DC and Marvel’s output, I never forget that they are massive companies with bottom lines and investors who are subsidiaries to the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers. When I see something that is so obviously, so blatantly trying to hop on a trend, in this case the popularity of Deadpool, I’m going to go with my gut instinct and believe that it is riding a trend.
Her frivolously murderous and ultraviolent tendencies do little endear her to me either, and it does add to the Deadpool similarities. I think I would be willing to give her more of the benefit of the doubt if she didn’t frequently beat the tar of a random passerby with a baseball bat. It adds to the unlikability because it is hateful act without reason or intent. She’s not the Joker or Bullseye who are genuinely malicious people with murderous instincts. She’s not Red Skull or Lex Luthor with plans made for ten steps ahead. She and Deadpool are often painted as being “not so bad” despite these murderous tendencies. It’s incongruous. It’s disingenuous. It makes both of them far more hateable.
All of this being said, I find Harley Quinn leaving the Joker’s shadow to be an interesting prospect. I used to like her. There was potential for a really great character here. However, when faced with this opportunity, DC behaved in a very marketing-minded manner. They left artistic expression by the wayside. This is a very “what do the charts say” character. They saw that Deadpool was and still is very popular. They know that T&A always sells. They saw that a portion of the reader base, myself included, were craving more diverse characters. They made a perfect character to fill in those criteria. She behaves like Deadpool. She wears skimpy costumes. She’s a woman just out of an abusive relationship.
I have, do, and will likely continue to say that I hate Harley Quinn. But, upon writing this, I do see that it’s not entirely true. It’s not that I hate Harley Quinn. I mean, I do, but that’s not the crux of the matter. The truth here is that I hate all of the worst, money-hungry, business-minded instincts of the two big comic book companies. Harley Quinn is the epitome of those instincts, and the sad thing is, it worked. Her comics sell gangbusters, and she’s everywhere. The only thing that could have made it worse is if she was born out of a massive Marvel comics crossover event.
I just wished they tried a little harder. She could have still been funny. She still could have been sexy in a manner that wasn’t blatant and pandering to the baser instincts.
So that’s the list. These are my ten most hated characters from Marvel and DC comic books. These are the ten that will likely drive me away from a comic the quickest, and they have had the most negative impact on comic book storytelling and artistic trends.
I don’t currently have any list ideas on deck. I will likely skip next week as I often do at the end of a big list. If any of you fine readers have any ideas which you would like to see made into a list, feel free to leave a comment below this article, give me a shout on Facebook, or Tweet at me. You just may decide my next list.
And, as always, keep reading comics!