During my free time, I've bee re-watching a lot of Batman: The Animated Series because it's a great show to just have in the background and I find it oddly comforting. I've long said - and will probably continue to say so for many more years to come - that this is the best version of Batman that has ever been made. It has it all - it's fun and savvy, with an emotional complexity that appeals to kids and adults alike, with absurd villains as well as moral questions that don't always come with easy, spoon-fed answers. Yes there is the typical good guy/bad guy narrative that you'll see in just about any comic book/superhero story but it's actually kind of surprising how many times I'd get to the end of an episode and feel torn about an outcome - or the lack of one. It's the kind of smart show I don't even feel like they make for kids anymore (but please tell me if I'm wrong).
Now, with all that being said.... I'm worried about Harley in the Suicide Squad movie, which is set to premiere in August. But I guess I have to explain her as a character a little bit in order to be clear about why I'm worried.
Harley is, without a doubt, one of the best comic creations I've ever come across. She was introduced towards the beginning of season one of the animated series and was intended as a one-shot character to never be seen again. However, she tested so well and was so immediately popular that they brought her back as Joker's permanent sidekick/on again-off again girlfriend. Her popularity and cult following grew so much that over time she was written into the DC Comics canon and was even given her own comic book series - having adventures separate from the Joker often times. What is so great about Harley is her penchant for fun above all things and her almost childlike joy when causing chaos. Her bubbly personality is infectious and it's hard not to like her even when she's doing some very, very bad things. There are characters that are firmly grounded as heroes or villains but she doesn't truly fall under either of those categories. She's alarmingly complex. Which brings me to her relationship to the Joker....
Now keep in mind when I first started watching this show, I was about 9 years old. And throughout my life, I've periodically gone back to it. And sometimes when you grow up with something, you get caught in what I like to call a "nostalgia cloud" and certain things that are troubling don't really hit you the way that they should. I stand by the statement that the animated series is fantastic but it's not without its problems. Also, I have read an extensive amount of Harley Quinn story lines in comics throughout the years and she's really been fully fleshed in this really interesting, human way. I say all this because as I have been rewatching the TV series, I've realized that the relationship depicted between herself and the Joker is.... really really hard to watch.
I'm older, I'm wiser and I've met and worked with women who are victims of abuse. And Harley Quinn is a deeply damaged and mentally ill person who is in a really horrifically abusive relationship. Now I don't think there's anything wrong with showing a person in an abusive relationship - in fact I support that 100%. Brings light to uncomfortable truths that people find difficult to face. But there's a light-heartedness to Joker's abuse of Harley that makes me feel queasy. I mean, it's very clear that the Joker is "wrong' in treating her the way he does and they even go into the background of how the relationship began (Harley was his psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum) but I'm not sure the show really made it clear how messed up that relationship actually was and why. And that "why" is very very important for young impressionable children. Even the Harley and Joker merchandising sends mixed messages. Why are they being treated like star-crossed lovers or soul mates or something? Essentially, Joker drove her to madness and then continues to mentally and physically beat her throughout their partnership. Why has that been romanticized?
Again, the comics really flesh out Harley, her story and her illness in a way that I think is real unlike almost any other character I can think of. She's very relatable and it's hard not to empathize with her (and to feel the frustration when she inevitably goes back to the Joker every time for reasons varying from wanting the change him to not feeling she's worthwhile without him). It's actually incredibly heartbreaking but it's also such an honest representation.
But.... I digress. Back to Suicide Squad. I'm really looking forward to this movie for a lot of reasons - I think this will finally be a DC Comics film I can get behind (since I loathed Man of Steel and cannot bring myself to watch its ill-reviewed sequel). I think DC Comics is doing their best with this next movie to lighten the tone and to "de-grimify" their franchise, which I fully support. It's just going to be difficult to navigate a film which is going to focus very much on Harley and the Joker and their complicated relationship. Based on the trailers, everything I've read about the story being depicted and some leaked footage that has made its way onto the interwebs, it appears that Joker is very much going to be portrayed as Harley's abuser but I am concerned about how that will be written. It can be done very well (as I think the Netflix original Jessica Jones proved in spades) but it'll be a very fine line and if they miss the mark, everything will fall apart.
Though at the same time.... the movie has to try to find a way to be fun.
I'm very interested to see if the director, David Ayer, is able to pull it off. I'm a big fan of Street Kings and End of Watch and both featured very complex characters but these were also very dark movies.
Here's hoping for the best in this new Nerd Girl Golden Age.