For the last four years, Sept. 23 has been celebrated by DC Comics and its fans as Batman Day.
But not this year, folks. It’s 2017 and they’re sending in the clown.
It was 25 years ago this month that Harley Quinn made her debut in Batman: The Animated Series, so she’s taken over the bat’s special day. DC Comics has released three free comics for the occasion (the covers for which are all featured here), along with in-store signings and other events to celebrate this zany fan-favorite.
It’s important to acknowledge how far Harley has come. She’s gone from a one-off henchwoman to bona fide pop-culture phenomenon and movie star in the past 25 years. But I’d also like to tell the story of how she affected one fan — me.
It was maybe 1996 or 1997 when I first became aware of Harley. At the time, I was about five years old and obsessed with Batman: The Animated Series. The show had concluded, but you could catch the reruns on the WB Network, which was still a thing.
Even at that age, Harley captivated me. Initially, I just thought she was funny. But what we really remember as kids are characters who break all the rules while making you smile. For my parents it was Bugs Bunny, for me it was Harley.
Though she appeared in a number of animated features and comics over the years (such as The Batman Adventures: Mad Love and Batman: Harley Quinn), she really started to come into my life in a major way when the Arkham series of videogames started to come out in 2009.
After seeing and falling in love with The Dark Knight the year before, this grittier, darker version of Harley fascinated me. I began to write my own version of my beloved character. (Yes, I wrote fan fiction. Don’t even try to find it online; I covered my tracks.) It was a turning point in my life: the first time I put my ideas down on paper was the moment I became a writer.
If that was the only thing that Harley did for me, it’d be enough. But it was just the beginning.
In my first semester in college, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I was very lucky to have a friend who noticed what was happening, approached me about it, and helped me leave this person.
But the aftermath was tough. I never thought someone could manipulate me the way this guy had. And that’s when the abusive nature of Harley’s relationship with the Joker, which I didn’t understand when I saw it in childhood cartoons, began to ring true.
Over the years, I had watched and read as Harley distanced herself from the Joker. She came to realize who he really was and put an end to their romance. That journey was not easy for her, and she is still recovering in the current run of her comic series.
That is what makes Harley so real to me. She’s been though sadness, regret, rage, and trauma as a result of this relationship, but she comes through stronger with every turn of the page. It’s there that I found the inspiration to work through my own experience.
Granted, Harley is a fictional character and there are many stories of actual survivors that make much more of an impact than a comic book anti-hero ever could. I found strength in those stories as well, and I do to this day.
But there is something to be said about seeing a character you grew up with go through something you relate to, and coming out the other end stronger than before. About knowing that a character you love has been through a painful relationship, but refuses to be defined by it.
She’s here. She’s queer
Harley is funny, endearing, intelligent, and fearless. If she sees something she disagrees with, she attacks it with all her might. If she supports something, she is the best cheerleader you could ask for.
She is empathetic yet opinionated, kind-hearted yet relentless — a complex character who does not always make the right decisions, but who is always empowered to make those decisions for herself.
She shows us the importance of female friendship and support, and understanding of those who have different lived experiences than we do.
She is a visibly queer character who is helping to improve representation of the LGBTQI+ community in mainstream comics.
She’s teaching young girls that it’s okay to be quirky and different, as long as you’re true to yourself.
She puts a smile on my face on the worst of days, and encourages me to appreciate my best ones.
So for me, this is more than just a nerdy holiday. This is confirmation that people value an odd, goofy woman who is a survivor of trauma. That’s an idea that I find power in.
Harley Quinn is not perfect. And neither am I. And she helped me to believe that that’s okay.