Conner and Palmiotti’s version of Harley is difficult to define, because she embodies so many different Harleys. This is visible not only in their stories but also in the artwork. In “Picky Sicky,” Conner and Palmiotti called upon several artists to each create one page of the issue. In a brilliant amalgamation of creative inspiration, Harley becomes a rock star, a robot, a dolphin surfer, a sexy secretary, a ninja, an athlete, a beauty queen, and a Tiny Titan, among others. All these versions of Harley work well and make sense, showing how adaptable she is into any surrounding and how her character can play so many different roles. She may be identifiable by her black-and-red color scheme, but she is not constrained to a specific identity beyond that. In Harley Quinn, Harley’s antics with the Joker are in the past, and she has the opportunity to become whoever she wants to be.
In the first issue of Harley Quinn (“Hot in the City”), Harley moves to Brooklyn, where she becomes the landlord of an apartment building. As a landlord, Harley has a serious responsibility and develops relationships with her tenants. But in order to cover the taxes, insurance, and bills, Harley also needs to get a job. She finds a job as a psychiatrist, which fulfills the role of a working woman in society who can pay her own bills. Harley puts makeup over her white skin and a blonde wig over her red-and-black hair and becomes a professional who cares greatly for her patients—so much so that she even brutally attacks the family of a patient who feels neglected by her family (“Very Old Spice”). Harley even teams up with another patient, Cy Borgman, to help him complete a mission to destroy a gang of underbosses. Harley jumps at the opportunity—she not only gets to help a patient, but she gets to partake in dangerous violence. She tells Sy, “I got energy to burn…or mutilate, or whatever” (“The Hunt for Red Octogenarians”). Harley’s role as a professional working woman doesn’t stop her from her love of violence. And her devotion to her patients and ability to sympathize with them creates connections and provides motivation for aiding them—no matter how dangerous or unsound the situation may be.
As a former victim of domestic violence, Harley sympathizes with those who have been wronged or victimized by others. Even though Harley loves violence, she targets it specifically toward oppressors. She is actually very compassionate, especially toward those under duress. Harley attacks those who insult or offend her, as well. In “Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International: San Diego,” when a truck driver calls her “tater-tush,” she ties him up, hijacks his truck of clothing, and drives to a shelter to give the clothes to the poor. Harley beautifully finds a way to bring charity into committing grand theft auto.
She is also an animal rights activist. In “Hot in the City,” she sees a dog being dragged by its owner and cuts the leash, letting the dog go free, and, instead, ties the owner’s neck and drags the owner by her motorcycle. In “Helter Shelter,” she tries to adopt animals from the pet adoption center that euthanizes animals if no one adopts them, saying, “I’m a real nurturer.” When she is denied, she calls Poison Ivy to help free all of the animals and builds an area in her building for them to live. Even though she breaks the rules, Harley saves the lives of these animals. She is not a villain who is out to cause suffering; she is loving, thoughtful, and generous, just in her own unconventional way.
Other times, Harley uses violence as a way of releasing energy. She joins Skate Club because it apparently has no rules (though she ends up getting kicked out for blowing up another player). She loves the thrill of the game, the freedoms the club affords, and the challenge. She also assumes the role of Power Girl’s sidekick for fun and adventure. Again, Harley’s agenda is not to destroy humanity, like that of so may other Batman villains, especially the Joker. Harley is, instead, a powerful woman who neglects the rules and is driven by passion, sympathy, compassion, and pleasure.
In a few meta-moments, Harley is also aware that she is a comic book character. In “Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International: San Diego,” she is flattered that she has a fan club and joins them for some “chaos and pandemonium.” She is simultaneously real and a character, and she feeds off the world of comic book fandom.
With such an eclectic and varied assortment of roles, Harley is quite a unique specimen. She cannot be categorized or reduced to a prescriptive description. Her character bounces from role to role as she is empowered as an autonomous figure. Harley is an everywoman—a leader, a companion, a sidekick, a professional, an athlete, and a protector. She is compassionate and relentless, loving and violent. And in Harley Quinn, she is not a villain; she’s an unconventional heroine.