Is Harley Quinn Arkham City's Most Subversive Character?

Plenty of folks have been talking about how Batman: Arkham City handled (or mishandled) the character of Catwoman, but fewer have addressed the character of Harley Quinn.

In a thoughtful post on his personal blog, Girl Parts author John M. Cusick looks at her character, identity, and the possible reasons she acts the way she does.

Cusick points out that there are aspects of Harley's character that aren't often touched on in the Batman lore, (and aren't really addressed by the game), primarily the way that she came to be as crazy as she is. "I don't think the Arkham game creators quite knew what they had with Harley," Cusick writes, "and like Christopher Nolan, I think they've missed a great opportunity."

He goes on:

What is interesting to me about Harley, I guess, is that she isn't empowered. This makes her a terrible role model (in addition to, you know, all the wanton killing), but a wonderful character. As the battle for Gotham rages around her, Harley seems like a confused little kid amidst feuding adults. To me, this makes her, on the surface, oddly sympathetic: this poor, fractured woman who followed a man into maddness, and got little in return.

But there's another layer here. Remember, Harley was a doctor when she met the Joker, which means her "aww-shucks B-Man" shtick is all an act. While Cat Woman's sexuality is empowered, Harley chooses to disempower herself, becoming a (dangerous) child. Just as, I think, allowing oneself to "go crazy" is at once empowering and disempowering, i.e. seizing control by losing it.

It's an interesting take on a tragic, broken character, and as he points out, Quinn is certainly one of the more subversive characters in the Batman ouvre.

"My stance is we writers have a responsibility," Cusick concludes. "not necessarily to create empowered characters– but layered ones, to investigate and nuance both our muscly chunkheads, and our scantily clad vixens."

Sounds like Mr. Cusick wonders about why the chicken crossed the road, too.

Oh Harley, My Harley [John M Cusick]


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