Friday, March 9, 2012

Lady Joker Week: Harley Quinn and the Harlequins

Harlequin may have been one of Duela Dent's many, many aliases, but there are only so many names to go around to clown-themed characters in comics, and as such Duela is merely one of several DC characters to share the name Harlequin.  Granted, only one other Harlequin besides Duela is at all tied to the Joker, but any time is a good time to shed a little light on an obscure comic character.

Molly Mayne Scott:

The first ever Harlequin was Molly Mayne, a villain of the Green Lantern who first appeared in the 1940s.  Molly was in love with Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern, and committed her crimes solely for his attention. This Harlequin's weapons were a pair of glasses that allowed her to project holograms and fire energy beams, as well as a mandolin with an extending handle. Molly eventually joined forces with the Justice Society of America to aid Alan, and served on government intelligence missions to gain amnesty until she retired.  After Alan's first wife died, he and Molly married.

However, as Molly aged into an old woman while Alan remained youthful, a rift emerged between them.  Molly eventually sold her soul to Neron the demon in exchange for the restoration of her youth.  Her soul remained trapped in the underworld, but her body was rejuvenated and provided with the ability to create nightmares.  Alan Scott, accompanied by the new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, fought his way through hell to rescue Molly and restore her soul to its body.  Molly aged again, but Alan soon returned himself to his true physical age, allowing the couple to live together in peace.  After their reconciliation, the couple appeared in the Green Lantern event Brightest Day.

Marcie Cooper:

Marcie Cooper was the grandfather of Dan Richards, alias Manhunter, and was recruited in her youth to join the Manhunters, working alongside Molly Mayne Scott.  She dated heroes Northwind and Obsidian, respectively,  allowing her to infiltrate the superhero group Infinity, Inc.  When the Manhunters attacked Earth, Marcie stole Molly's holographic glasses, taking up the moniker Harlequin as she attempted to destroy Infinity, Inc.  Marcie tricked super villain Solomon Grundy into killing the hero Skyman for her, and later gathered Grundy and a number of other villains together to kill the rest of the Infinitors.  But things went south for Harlequin when Grundy realized her manipulation and beat her horribly.  Later Marcie was turned over to the authorities, and has not been seen since, apart from a small cameo appearance.

Unknown Harlequin:
A nameless new Harlequin appeared in issues five and six of Green Lantern Quarterly, battling Alan Scott.  Although this Harlequin has not revealed her identity, she did give her back story: realizing her illusion-casting powers at a young age, she decided it was her destiny to be with Alan Scott as Harlequin Molly Mayne had.  Harlequin eventually attacked Molly, causing Alan to to break free from her illusions and attack her in rage.  Harlequin fled, shouting that Alan had ruined everything before she vanished into thin air.  Harlequin's identity remains as of yet undetermined, though some readers have speculated that she is Marcie Cooper.

Male Harlequin:

In the planning for Infinity, Inc., creators Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway planned to introduce a gay male Harlequin to the team.  As Ordway explained, "Northwind is shown--but at his side (see P. 33) is a new, young, male Harlequin, who Jerry's notes suggest might become "comics' first gay character. Or we could just assume it." Not a bad idea, and maybe we should have played it that way; but we were already going to have two Green Lantern-derived heroes in Infinity, Inc."  As such, the male Harlequin was not used.

Kingdom Come Harlequin/Joker's Daughter:

Joker's Daughter II appeared in the miniseries Kingdom Come, identified by creator Alex Ross as both Joker's Daughter and Harlequin in his annotations for the series.  Unconnected to the Joker, Duela Dent, or the other Harlequins, Ross described her as a "riot girl" and "one of many to follow in the Joker's chaotic style."

Harley Quinn (Dr. Harleen Quinzel):

My love for the Joker was stronger than their madhouse walls. - Harley Quinn
I always wanted my dame in lights. - The Joker
Introduced in "Joker's Favor," a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn was originally intended as a one-shot character, conceived simply because the writers wanted someone to jump out of a cake and thought that it would be strange to have the Joker perform the stunt (though he ended up doing it anyway).  However, Harley became both a fan favorite and a regular to the series, eventually working her way into the comics as the Joker's sidekick and girlfriend.

Her origins were explained in the comic Mad Love, eventually adapted into an episode of the cartoon series: An ambitious psychologist more concerned with making a name for herself than doing actual work - her thesis was initially rejected until she bedded her adviser - Harleen Quinzel took on more than she could handle in working with the Joker, eventually falling in love with her patient, freeing him from Arkham Asylum, and taking up her own life of crime, sometimes as his gun moll and sometimes as a partner to her other lover, the toxic and beautiful Poison Ivy.  Harley is also a force to be reckoned with in her own right, acknowledged as the villain who has come closest to killing Batman.  She and Ivy recently joined forces with Catwoman in the antihero team Gotham City Sirens, though the relaunch has removed those events from continuity.

Despite Harley's presence in the DC Universe for twelve years this September, reader response to her is still mixed.  Those who watched her in the animated universe tend to love her, while those who have only seen her in comics tend to have a more lackluster response.  Some find her fun, entertaining, tragic, and a breath of fresh air, while others consider her an endorsement of domestic violence, or an irritating bimbo created solely for the purpose of proving that the Joker and Batman weren't having illicit affairs off panel.  And there is much debate over whether or not she truly understands the Joker and he loves her as she loves him, or if she's just a hopeless pawn in his games.

I love Harley Quinn, as all the photos of myself dressed as her at the first ever Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo can attest.  I could argue for hours on all the things that make Harley a worthwhile, meaningful character, but others have done that far more eloquently than I could ever hope.  So instead, have a few pages from the one-shot story Emperor Joker, in which the Joker gains omnipotence and takes control of the universe, altering all reality to his will - though his only alteration to Harley is making her skin all white, like his own.  After ruling everything for a while, however, the Joker realizes that a universe that allows someone like him to exist is not a universe worth having, and so decides to destroy it, leaving Harley to ask why:

Lady Joker Week concludes tomorrow with a look at the Joker's tendency to cross-dress.

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