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Harley and Me

Posted by: Casimir at 4:19 am on Sunday, January 29, 2012

To paraphrase a famous rabbit, “Harley Quinn, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand…”

Seriously, what explains Harley Quinn’s enduring and growing popularity? More importantly, why am I so infatuated with a fictional cartoon character?

My loving and tolerant wife has asked this question more than once. She points out that Harley has few qualities I admire in other characters, fictional or otherwise. First, Harley is not the brightest bulb in the box. She’s a repeat offender when it comes to making poor decisions. And perhaps most offensive is her need to be defined by others, in the form of approval (specifically Joker’s and Ivy’s). To me that’s a sign of weakness, and it’s something I strongly dislike in reality.

And yet, the character is just so darned charming! Maybe that’s the secret. Maybe’s that’s all it takes.

As a member of the prestigious Bat Rogue’s Gallery, she’s not near as dangerous as her fellow villains. Joker is popular because he’s plain crazy, and I think readers enjoy living vicariously but safely through a character that acts on impulse, with a hint of long-game planning. Ra’s is brilliant, and his goals are laudable, even if his means are not. Two-Face, Man-Bat and Freeze, when written well, are subjects of pity. Riddler is out to prove himself superior, which is something I suspect most everyone can relate to from time to time. The same might be said of Penguin, but in his case the motive is driven by his own innate sense of inferiority. (“You think he’s compensatin’ for somethin’?”) Over the years all of these characters have developed some unique complexities that make them compelling, when written well. “Simple” is not a word that describes these crazies.

And yet Harley is different. On many levels she is simple in comparison. She’s not driven by rage, or vengeance, or a need to feel superior. Her character is not defined by some tragic event in her past. She became who she is by pursuing a ethically questionable career of psychiatry, and then fell under the spell of her most dangerous patient. We can all relate, right? (I kid.)

So Harley isn’t very bright, and she has a thing for bad boys. That’s hardly the stuff necessary to become multiple action figures and statues. So what is it about her that draws us into her world? Why do we root for her and want her to succeed?

I think it’s her optimism. Despite her credentials, she’s a bright spot in the dark world of Gotham. As a life-long Batman fan, I love a dark and gritty Gotham best. But a little light can be a welcome respite. Harley’s sunny outlook is all the brighter because she’s surrounded by so much darkness. Maybe it’s that contrast that draws our attention. (Not that Harley doesn’t have bad days, and when she does, watch out!)

Perhaps it’s all of these differences from her fellow rogues that adds up to something greater than the whole. She’s a simple point of light in a complex, dark universe.

This is an oversimplification, of course. But’s as good an answer as any when explaining why I keep making Harley customs.

Honestly, Harley Quinn expert Elise Archer has explored this topic and many more in greater detail than I have time to explore. Check out her websites and essays. Elise has come much closer to cracking the mystery of Harley’s allure than I can.

Oh, one more thing. None of this applies to the “New 52” Harley. The less said about her the better.

 

About the Author: Casimir
Not satisfied with the limited options available at retail, award-winning customizer Cason Pilliod has been crafting his own toys since he was a child. His passion for toys merges with his background as a theatrical prop designer, allowing him to find unique customizing solutions, which he shares with the ever-growing customizing community via Inanimate Objects. Cason is also an armchair pop-culture historian, Swing dancer, DJ, daddy, and was once a Muppet wrangler, so he's got a unique spin on life. He also worked for Microsoft once, but let's just keep that a secret.

 

 

5 Comments »

  • demoncat says:

    nice article after all bat fans do have their really favorite character and rogue. as for harley she has proven in her own way to be smarter then given credit for . after all it takes some brains to one dare to try and cure and fall in love with the joker of all people in bats world. not to mention her personality adds balance to the dark of batmans world.

  • You’re awesome-city Cason! And your love of ol’ Harl is definitely not a unique phenomenon as you well know! I think she’s prob one of the most popular Cosplay costumes to don at Cons – traditional cartoon Harley, Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and all the myriad variations of Harley costumes one can come up with using the basic red/blk checkerboard theme. I myself have spent WAY too much moola on fabric and vinyl/leather paint to create as many Harley costumes and matching footwear – so that my closets are bursting forth in AGONY from all the HARLEY hiding inside!!! And I don’t just wear that stuff at Cons either…but in public! That’s Right-a-roonie! Your obsession is shared and explanation of obsession is fabulous!

  • Casimir Casimir says:

    Laura, I suspect your clothes/costumes closet is a lot like my “parts” closet. Just last night I started to reorganize. There were so many figure and toys and parts waiting to be “processed” I couldn’t get to the normal stock. Ah well. At least we have creative outlets… I can only imagine the reactions you get when wearing your Harley-inspired “normal” clothes. I get compliments just for wearing a Harley t-shirt.

  • vader says:

    Always love seeing parts of your collection, Cason. And this write-up gives us a glimpse at the spirit behind it.

    Thanks for posting.

    • Casimir Casimir says:

      Thanks, V! I’ll tell you what I really like about this set of photos. Almost everything is hand-made, one-of-a-kind, or otherwise extremely limited. I think such things make a collection really unique.


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