Tag: comic books

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Flaw in a Fun Future

The most frustrating kind of artistic failure, at least to me, is not the sort that is a complete wash-out. For me, the most frustrating sort is when a work can be good and touches the edge of good, but one key flaw hobbles it from fully reaching that greatness. For instance, a novel might have a good kernel of an idea but the writing and presentation of it can turn a reader off. A song might have a beat and rhythm that cuts to the core, but its lyrics might be troubling and problematic when actually understood. One such example of this kind of failure is present in filmmaker Luc Besson’s newest movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Written and directed by Besson and based upon the Valerian and Laureline series of French comic books, the film was rife with potential as his big return to sci-fi since The Fifth Element. Indeed, it has all sorts of visual splendor in its futuristic setting, along with an interesting cast of side characters. However, there is a central flaw that knocks down the film from fully becoming the fun, old-school pulp adventure it was meant to be. Namely, it suffers in the writing and its leads.

In the twenty-eighth century, Valerian and Laureline are a pair of special agents who work for the United Human Federation. Valerian is a more libertine rogue while Laureline serves as a more conservative counterpoint, but both work together well in tackling all sorts of dangerous missions. After a risky mission to retrieve a creature known as a Converter from the clutches of an alien criminal, the pair are given a new mission. They are to serve as bodyguards for Commander Filitt during an important meeting on Alpha, a massive space station home to so many species from across the universe that it is regarded as “the city of a thousand planets”. The purpose of this meeting is to reveal a threat laying within the depths of Alpha: a toxic infection from an unknown source, and one that is spreading. Unfortunately, the meeting is cut short when a group of aliens burst in and kidnap the Commander. Valerian and Laureline set out to get the commander back, but find themselves challenged not only by malevolent aliens but also suspicious gaps in Federation records. As time ticks down, they find that there might be more at work here than what they have been told.

Before getting into the faults, it is worth discussing the positive points for this film. For instance, the world of this film is a visual feast. There is a striking variety of locations on display along with tons of alien species, with distinct appearances for all of them. From a desert world home to a multi-dimensional marketplace to a beautiful seaside-inspired planet to a pulp adventure-style ancient temple, the locales and characters work will in conveying the variety within this film’s universe. These locales also serve as home to inventive action sequences, such as a multi-dimensional shoot-out and chase that unfold at the aforementioned marketplace. The side characters also fit in with the fun variety of this film, offering nice slices into the other parts of this world. For instance, there are the Shingouz, a trio of gargoyle-like aliens who serve as information brokers and offer a solid slice of comic relief. Another interesting side character is Bubble, a shapeshifting performer who dreams of being a great actress but is reduced to burlesque performances under the thumb of a controlling pimp. However, even as there are all of these interesting components, their standing is unfortunately knocked down due to the film’s biggest fault: the leads.

Part of the problem with Valerian and Laureline, the movie’s two lead characters, is that they are miscast. With Laureline, Cara Delevingne’s performance comes across as a tad wooden. Despite that, at least she somewhat seems to fit as Laureline. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, does not fit in the role of Valerian. With Valerian, the character is supposed to be this libertine, playful rogue. What would come across as charming in another actor instead reads as somewhat whiny in DeHaan’s delivery. Of course, even if one were to have replaced these actors, there is a greater weakness to these characters: the writing. The writing does no favors to these two leads, giving them generic dialogue and inconsistent personalities. The result is that, in a world that features so many interesting parts, the audience is left following the two dullest characters in the whole movie. That is what is so irritating about it. If they had cast better-suited actors and did a stronger job on writing the two leads, the film would have firmly been good and served as a fun slice of old-school, pulp sci-fi adventure. Instead, it is brought down at the knees because such an important part of the movie is one of its weakest aspects.

One of the worst forms of artistic failure is when everything falls apart, but instead one big flaw takes down a work that would have otherwise been good. Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets is an example of such failure, as its two poorly-written and miscast lead characters drag down a film with wonderful visuals and interesting side characters.

Spider-Man – Homecoming: The Boy is Back in Town

Of all of Marvel Comics’s many superheroes, none have had quite the media presence as Spider-Man. Tons of adaptations have been done of the iconic web-swinging, wall-crawling hero. With numerous video games, cartoon shows, and even a Broadway musical, there is no shortage of stories in different media about Peter Parker. In fact, one of the biggest spots where he has held the spotlight is in movies. First, there was director Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films, which helped to show the great potential in good superhero films before suffering with a weak third entry. Following that were the Amazing Spider-Man films, whose first film was alright before being sunk down with a dreadful sequel. Well, the third time has arrived, and it does so with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before getting his own film again, Spider-Man first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland with a masterful capture of the nerdiness of Peter Parker and the wisecracking charm of Spider-Man. Now, Tom Holland turns up again to star in his own film, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This newest film iteration of Spider-Man is one of the strongest done, delivering a good story that captures the core spirit and appeal of the character.

Ever since his part in the battle of Avengers during the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker has been riding high on the idea of being mentored by Tony Stark. Covering up his activities with excuses about being in “the Stark internship”, Peter Parker has been fighting low-level crime and helping out those in need as Spider-Man. In fact, his continuing battle against crime has given some challenges to his own life, as he tries to balance it with his teenage life at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. However, his world gets shaken up when he discovers criminals armed with high-end weaponry. These criminals even turn out to be linked to a bigger threat: Adrian Toomes, whose flight suit and hi-tech wings evoke the image of a vulture. Peter Parker sees this as his big chance to earn a place among the Avengers, but Stark wants him to stand down and leave the threat of the Vulture to the big guys. Tired of being treated like a kid by Stark and his assistant Harold “Happy” Hogan, Peter sets out to stop the Vulture, but he might just end up in over his head.

As the latest film centered around Spider-Man, this particular film proves to be one of the strongest entries about the iconic hero. Firstly, Tom Holland once again delivers a great performance as Peter Parker, but it is more than just his performance that works. The world around Peter Parker is a far richer one that previous films have presented. For instance, Peter’s high school life does not feel chalked up to the classic high school stereotypes. Character have a more believable sense to them, whether in their actions or how they are presented (such as reimagining “Flash” Thompson, a classic jock bully in the comics, into a rich and preppy jerk for this film). In truth, the presentation of teenage life in this film feels akin to a John Hughes movie. Also, Michael Keaton shines as the Vulture, who comes across as one of the best villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though his evil is on a lower-scale compared to some of the other threats in the MCU, his motivations are understandable. In short, Adrian Toomes simply seeks to make money to support his family, now turning to stealing and selling advanced tech after being driven out of legitimate business. With the combination of this relatable motivation along with the menace that Keaton brings to the role, it takes one of the more lesser-known Spider-Man villains and truly makes something out of them. Among these and other strong elements, however, is the key point to it all. Namely, that it captures the overall core of Spider-Man.

In the previous films that had been made about Spider-Man, they tended to capture certain aspects well while dropping the ball in other areas. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, for instance, were able to capture (with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker) the sort of picked-on nerd for whom life uses as a punching bag. However, the version of Spider-Man from those films lacked the quips and sense of fun that come with the web-slinger, who is almost Parker’s pressure valve for all the frustrations in his life. In addition, those films definitely captured elements of the classic Spider-Man comics which, while there is still a definite charm in them, do not feel as natural in today’s world. On the other end of the spectrum, the Amazing Spider-Man films delivered more of that wit to Spider-Man and also made a good attempt at displaying the intelligence of Peter Parker. That said, the actual presentation of Parker himself comes off as too cool, along with complicating his origin in a way where it has to be him getting the powers, instead of it being truly a simple accident. Part of what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so good, then, is that it hits the mark in capturing both sides well. As Peter Parker, he is this smart nerd living in Queens who finds himself put-upon by life. As Spider-Man, he is a thrilling hero ready with quips and an eager sense of excitement. Though the lives of both sides may conflict with each other, both are united in one simple ideal: that with great power, comes great responsibility.

Spider-Man has been the subject of all sorts of media over the years. In terms of movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming has done the best job of capturing the character along with delivering a more relatable world and interesting villain.

The Vision: Ultron Made Him, and Therefore Let Him Pass as a Man

In the realm of fiction, the subject of artificial intelligence is one that has a mixed history of interpretations. For instance, there are plenty of stories where robots are a regular part of the world, serving and helping out people. Just as often, however, there are stories of robots becoming violent, turning against their creators and seeking to exterminate mankind. This split of approaches is also something that turns up in the world of Marvel Comics, though there is an interesting line in this conflict. When scientist Hank Pym took a try at creating a robot, the result became Ultron, a classic foe of the Avengers who seeks to destroy all mankind and take over the world. However, when Ultron attempted to create his own robot to kill the Avengers, the resulting creation broke away from him and became the hero known as the Vision. This recurring theme, of robots breaking away from their intended purpose for good or ill, is a fascinating idea to examine. In fact, it serves as an influence on Marvel’s recent comic series The Vision, which explores the idea as part of a sharply-written psychological drama.

Though the Vision has certainly proved his humanity in saving the Earth time and again, there is a part of him that still yearns to feel human. Well, what is more human than family? Returning to the lab where he was once created, the Vision sets upon his plan. First, he creates a wife for himself that he names Virginia. Then, he creates mixed brain patterns from the two of them to use as the templates for their children, a boy named Vin and a girl named Viv. With his family now made, the Vision sets up their new life in Washington D.C. as a liaison between the Avengers and the President. Vin and Viv spend their days like normal teenagers going to school, while Virginia remains at home to fill the role of wife for which she was built. However, there is something the reader learns early on: everything is going to go wrong. Something will happen that will bring ruin upon the family. Now, as they deal with the fears and prejudices of neighbors afraid of their robotic nature and tensions rise in the roles of their family, the Vision does what he can to make this family work…by any means.

This series makes for a gripping read. Tom King’s writing is top-notch as he unfolds his tale of failed intentions. He takes his time to weave his story, building from small moments that add towards the major incident. Small key details are crafted not only for world-building, but to pay off along the way. The atmosphere is tense, not only through the narration which warns of the eventual fate, but also through the growing prejudice and concern aimed squarely at Vision and his family. This mood is complimented by Michael Walsh’s artwork, which offers a clean and clear approach. The clean sketchwork and more natural colors offer a visual that would fit normally for a suburban location like that in this series. However, the approach also lends the series a certain coldness, fitting with its robotic main characters and lending the more horrific moments more punch in their execution. In fact, those horrific moments burst with a pulse of emotion that make them stand out in that clinical art style. It goes along with a central theme that seems to present itself throughout the story: the conflict of being machine and being human.

For the Vision, he sees that what makes humanity human is the “illogical pursuit of the unobtainable”, the drive to bring meaning to a meaningless existence. For instance, his current pursuit of fighting crime as a superhero is something that might be perceived as illogical. After all, crime will still happen and arise time and again. However, that does not stop him from trying to improve the world by battling evil. Likewise, the Vision’s pursuit of becoming human by having this family falls into this illogical pursuit. He believes that having this family, of following the societal idea of what a family is, will help him to be more human. In truth, creating this family will not instantly make him feel more human. For one, they must contend with the hatred from their neighbors that stem from fears about these robots next door. More than that, however, is that the members of the Vision’s family have their own feelings and concerns in all of this. Virginia is stifled in her role as housewife, while Vin and Viv’s schooldays bring them face to face with the prejudices that others have. These factors, along with Vision’s own attempts to maintain this perfect image of family, threaten to bring the series’s ticking time bomb to a frightening reality. Of course, in trying to create this perfect family and coming face to face with its result, the Vision might just be more human than he thinks. After all, the idea of a perfect family is a lovely, but it is just as unobtainable as a world without crime. Still, a good family, if not necessarily a perfect one, might be worth fighting for.

Throughout fiction, robots have had a way of working free from their creators, for good or for ill. In the case of The Vision, the titular hero’s encounter with this as he pursues the idea of family helps to show that he is more human than he thinks.

Wonder Woman: Wonderful Idealism Versus Accepted Injustice

In the history of comics, there has been no female superhero that has had a lasting impact on popular culture quite like Wonder Woman. First created by William Moulton Marston back in 1941 as a hero who would fight with love rather than being solely focused on fighting, Wonder Woman has since become a major source of feminist inspiration. Skilled in the art of war but with a mission devoted to peace and love, she stands as one of DC Comics’s greatest heroes, right alongside Superman and Batman. However, even as she has her place in popular culture, Wonder Woman herself has not had a lot of material of her own outside of comic books. Aside from a 1970s television series that starred Lynda Carter and appearances in several cartoons concerning the Justice League, Wonder Woman has not had much to call her own. At long last, she finally has been brought to the big screen as part of the DC Cinematic Universe in her own film. Thankfully, the wait has been worth it. Wonder Woman captures the appeal of its hero, delivering not only on good action but also viewing her idealistic desire to help in the face of grim and commonplace evil.

On the island of Themyscira, the Amazons live hidden away from the rest of the world. Chief among them is Diana, princess and daughter of Queen Hippolyta. She yearns to live like the other Amazons and learn the ways of combat, something Hippolyta is hesitant about. Though she does give in and let Diana learn under the tutelage of their chief general Antiope, something arrives that shakes their peaceful existence: the accidental arrival of Steve Trevor, an American spy. He reveals that the world is consumed in the midst of the Great War, with millions suffering and dying. Believing that Ares (the God of War) is behind this wide-scale slaughter, Diana decides to leave her peaceful home behind so that she can get Steve back to his superiors and hunt down Ares. Thus, Diana finds herself in the world of mankind for the first time, encountering its very different ways. In particular, she finds herself confronted with the sorrows of war and the cruelty inflicted by people like the victory-obsessed General Ludendorff and the psychotic Dr. Poison. Still, even as the suffering seems so widespread and immeasurable, Diana will do what she can to battle against this injustice and bring peace back to mankind.

Wonder Woman’s first film of her own is a very good first entry. In the title role, Gal Gadot delivers an excellent job as Wonder Woman. She captures both the power that she delivers in her fight against evil, but also the heart that cares for people and seeks to bring peace. The rest of the cast also works well, in particular Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He works as a nice complement and counterpoint to Wonder Woman, similarly wanting to bring peace but more beaten down by the war’s cruelty. As for the film itself, it delivers on plenty of elements. For instance, it is able to take Diana’s fish-out-of-water qualities and explore them for both serious and comedic elements, such as showing her serious condemnation of the war in a grave moment or playing with her reaction to societal gender views in a more comedic beat. Along with that, the film delivers on some very good action sequences. In particular, a sequence of Wonder Woman charging through No Man’s Land to save a village from potential destruction not only offers thrilling action as she battles against these military forces, but it also shows her actually being a hero and saving lives. In fact, that brings up a big and interesting point the film explores: her battle against banal evil.

Even though there are specific villains in the film like General Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, it almost feels as if the true enemy is that of banal evil. By this, I mean the cruelties and injustices that occur simply because people accept that is how things are. In the case of this film, it displays the cruelty of war as shown with its setting in World War I. It is widespread and awful, and it is not the sort of evil that can simply be extinguished by taking down one foe. Its sheer scope is enough to wear down most, such as Steve Trevor’s initial insistence on just sticking to a core mission. For Wonder Woman, however, each act of suffering she witnesses breaks her heart and she cannot simply stand by. She must battle this injustice. In turn, her courage in fighting this injustice inspires Steve Trevor and a band of other soldiers to aid her in this fight. True, this banal evil is widespread, even accepted by many as simply part of the more cruel part of mankind. However, Wonder Woman does not simply accept that cruel half. Sure, mankind has the potential for great suffering, but they also possess the capacity for great compassion and love. That is what she fights for, and that is what she stands for: a light of hope, beaming through the darkness of despair and cynicism.

Though the DC Cinematic Universe may have begun on rocky footing, it at last has a strong entry of its own with Wonder Woman. Not only is it a fun and thrilling ride, it captures the spirit of its hero well with her battle against the banal evils of wartime.

Deadpool – Bad Blood: Party Like It’s 1991

Rob Liefeld is a controversial figure in the world of comic books. A self-taught artist who would propel Marvel titles like New Mutants and X-Force into newfound levels of popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s,  he would also go on to co-found Image Comics, a company that has since grown to become one of the premiere independent comic book companies. However, the man himself has become one of the most divisive figures in his field. On one hand, his work presents an evocative storytelling style, one that grabs the attention and was certainly like lightning in a bottle when he struck in the late ’80s. On the other hand, his art is generally seen as terrible, his character designs suffering from such flaws as over-muscled and with miniscule feet. There are also complaints about his use of multiple splash pages instead of multi-panel sections, leaving a feeling like he is drawing pin-ups instead of truly presenting the story.  Of course, it is not as if he stopped working after the ’90s. He has still been working on plenty of titles. In fact, he has recently teamed up with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers (who had worked on the short but fun X-Men ’92 comic series) to work on a graphic novel, centered around a character that Liefeld co-created. That character is Deadpool and the graphic novel is Deadpool: Bad Blood, a solid story that reads like a better-written title from the ’90s, warts and all.

Ever since going through the experimental procedure that gave him an incredible healing factor yet riddled with tumors, Wade Wilson has been spending his days as the infamous mercenary known as Deadpool. For the right price, he will take on any job and he is ready to face whatever pain might come his way. However, there is a certain thorn in his side that is really beginning to irritate him. It is a huge bruiser by the name of Thumper, and he seems singularly focused on one goal: beat Deadpool into a bloody pulp. After having healed from certain death several times now, Deadpool is ready to finally put this to an end. Of course, he wants to know just how to stop this brute, and he decides to find out just where he came from. However, this pulls on a thread from his own past, one that could make the fight with Thumper tougher and more personal than expected.

This graphic novel reads like a better written comic book from the ’90s. I mean this in both good and bad ways. For instance, Rob Liefeld’s art style does have some quirks and weaknesses that have remained from his early days. His work with feet is still iffy, though better than it had been, and there are portions when he relies a bit much on splash pages. There are even portions where there is a full character on display in front of a blank white background, as if it were an art display and not part of the story. That said, there are definitely improvements to his art. His character design is less exaggerated and unnatural and his costume design is less cluttered, pulling back from his excesses while maintaining the strong appearances he offers. The results are characters that feel more streamlined and naturalistic, while still recognizably drawn by him. That, in turn, helps his own sequential storytelling to be clearer and more concise. Complementing that is Sims and Bowers’s writing, which captures the rhythm and pace of an early ’90s comic book while avoiding a lot of the pitfalls and problems that plagued those stories. Really, the main thing that might turn people off of this story is its version of Deadpool, which hews closer to what Liefeld has co-created.

When most people think of Deadpool, they think of the jokes and the fourth-wall breaking. However, those aspects of Deadpool were not always there. When Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza co-created Deadpool back in 1991, he was envisioned as a character that was somewhat like Spider-Man with swords and guns. True, there were wisecracks and one-liners that he would deliver, but that hardly meant that he was a comedic character. Plenty of action movie heroes from the ’80s were known for one-liners, but their core was still in a serious place. Such was the case for Deadpool. It was not until later writers like Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest got their hands on Deadpool that he was injected with the humorous components that have since become core to his character. Those expecting that more humorous anti-hero, however, might be disappointed. This graphic novel is based moreso on that early version of Deadpool, a more serious assassin who could spit out one-liners while he mowed his foes down. It goes along with the early ’90s feel that permeates this graphic novel, but it is also a factor that might not fit for some people.

Depending on who you talk to, Rob Liefeld is either an eyesore in the comics scene or an artist that was the man for his moment. His artwork definitely shows improvements in the solidly-made graphic novel Deadpool: Bad Blood, but some of the quirks in his artwork and the book’s version of Deadpool might turn some off from it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Playing the Hits

Who would have thought that the Guardians of the Galaxy would become as popular as they are now? First created back in 1969 with a different line-up in an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe, the team is one that had languished in the halls of obscurity. Even a more recent version of the team (created in 2008) set in the main Marvel Universe was still pretty little-known. It is this newer team, though, that would serve as the basis for the hugely successful film Guardians of the Galaxy. Under director James Gunn’s vision, the film was an irreverent spin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, packing the humor with heart in its off-beat characters and packing an excellent soundtrack. Audiences fell in love with the film and its characters, an impressive thing for such odd characters as Rocket (a bipedal violent raccoon) and Groot (a walking, talking tree-being with limited linguistics). Now, the goodwill generated with this irreverent romp has translated into hype for its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Indeed, it delivers on that hype by bringing the humor and heart back in spades, even if this film might be slightly lesser than the first one.

After having taken down Ronan the Accuser and saving the planet Xandar from potential destruction, Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy have now become heroes. More specifically, they have become heroes for hire, offering their services in exchange for a paycheck. Their newest mission had added some danger to their lives, though. It has made them enemies of the Sovereign, a race of genetically engineered beings who consider themselves superior to all others. In trying to escape the Sovereign, though, they cross paths with a more surprising character: Ego, a Celestial who claims to be the father of Star-Lord. Wary of his claims, Star-Lord decides to learn from Ego about the truths of his origins and the incredible power he just might possess. Unfortunately, Sovereign have not given up their hunt for the Guardians. In fact, they have hired the Ravagers, a gang of criminals and thieves, to hunt them down and bring them back for execution. Now, the clock is ticking as the Ravagers come calling and Star-Lord sets out to learn his real parentage, though there may be darker secrets lurking in this pursuit.

As I mentioned, the film is really good, but potentially a bit lesser than the first film. Before I go into my main complaints, though, it is worth noting that the film does deliver on a lot of the strengths from the first film. The humor is still as irreverent as ever, with the laughs landing from broad moments and well-crafted character interactions. That irreverence also shines in how much the film is willing to embrace and run with the craziness that can arise in the cosmic side of Marvel comics, whether featuring cameos from characters like Howard the Duck or featuring kooky concepts like a “quantum asteroid field”. As for the villains, they make for a stronger, more interesting batch of foes than the straight-faced and generic nature of Ronan. For instance, some of the villains have a more humorous touch to them, allowing them to more naturally fit within the tone that the Guardians of the Galaxy films possess. For example, the Sovereign make their claims of being superior to other races and that they seek to achieve their own perfection, but they act like spoiled petulant jerks when things stop going their way. Of course, not everything hits and lands with quite the same impact as the first film.

Though this film has plenty that is good, it feels a bit more unfocused than the previous entry. The multiple plots in the first film were woven together well, kept united in the central issue of a powerful orb and the threat it might possess were it to end up in the wrong hands. For the sequel, however, its multiple plots feel much more separate and only fully tying in once the movie’s gears start turning to the climax. Though there is great character development that unfolds in each of these plot strands, the result is that it still ultimately feels a bit unfocused. In addition, there are a few moments when the irreverence sometimes lands a bit hollow. It is not often, but there is the odd moment when a joke lasts a bit too long or an ’80s pop culture reference feels a little forced. That said, the movie is still ultimately a fun ride. The same heart and sense of fun that were in the first film are on full display here. In fact, because it is passed having to introduce these heroes, the film is able to delve more into their cores and develop them further. It is mostly a case of a few small flaws in an otherwise enjoyable movie.

Sometimes, rich fodder can be mined from the halls of obscurity. The first Guardians of the Galaxy film proved that by delivering on engaging characters and an irreverent sense of fun, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 maintains that shining quality, even if there may be a small flaw or two.

The Evolution of Harley Quinn: From Abuse Victim to Vivacious Anti-Hero

If one were to examine the numerous rogues galleries and collections of villains throughout comic books, it would be easy to say that Batman has one of the greatest rogues galleries in the realm of superhero stories. Over the years, plenty of memorable villains would arrive in the comics and capture the attention of readers. One of these villains, however, was a foe who had first appeared in the cartoon Batman: the Animated Series. That villain’s name is Harley Quinn. First appearing in the episode “Joker’s Favor” as a mere henchman, Quinn would grow in prominence with future appearances, becoming the right-hand woman of the Joker. However, something interesting began to happen when she began to appear in comics. She would not simply be limited to a villain that served the needs of another. Though she has not gone full-on hero, Harley Quinn has gone on to develop into more of an anti-hero. Not only that, she’s even grown to be able to stand on her own and not simply lean on the Joker. How did this happen? What was the path of evolution for her? Well, let us first begin with a graphic novel called Mad Love and the origin it presents for Quinn.

Once, Harley Quinn was better known by her real name of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. An aspiring psychologist, Harleen leapt at the opportunity to try to understand the criminal mind. Her subject: the Joker. Thus began their sessions at Arkham, with her trying to understand him. However, something began to happen. Harleen began to fall in love with him. She was twisted by his words, growing more and more attached to him while unaware of his manipulation. Eventually, she busted him out of Arkham Asylum. Not only that, she took his word about her name sounding like “harlequin” to heart. She got herself a harlequin costume and began calling herself Harley Quinn, becoming a major accomplice to the Joker. With that laid out, part of the appeal of the character does come through. Though she possesses a bubbly and fun personality, she is also a victim of abuse. Their relationship has no true tenderness to it, with the Joker treating her as nothing more than a tool for his schemes. The result is a tragic character lurking beneath the vim and vigor. However, Harley Quinn would not simply spend her time as a suffering pawn of the Joker. She would make a change that would expand her. She would get a friend, and that friend was Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy is a character who serves as an excellent foil to Harley Quinn. Ivy is a character with a serious edge who hates men and their abuses, while Harley is a more easygoing character who was utterly obedient to the Joker. They were a comic match to be made, though certainly an odd couple pair. However, this pair helped Harley to grow as a character. Though she would have moments where she reverted when around the Joker, she began to take more stock in her self-worth. Her confidence grew as she hung around with Poison Ivy. This confidence and self-reliance would grow as she began to have her own adventures, even forming a team with Poison Ivy and Catwoman as the Gotham City Sirens. Throughout this time, Harley herself showed more initiative in turning over a new leaf, improving herself and even making parole. However, the next big step and current phase of Harley would not arise until a major event known as the New 52.

As part of the New 52’s new roll-out of comics, Harley Quinn received a new title of her own, one written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. In this new series, Harley finds that an old patient of hers had a surprise set aside in their will: that Harley would gain ownership of an apartment building at Coney Island. Now serving as a landlord in Coney Island and as a member of a roller derby team, Harley seeks to improve her neighborhood and fight crime. No more is Harley Quinn just the abused pawn of the Joker. Now, she stands tall as an anti-hero, certainly just as quirky and rough as before but now saving lives from threats like a zombie outbreak or a super-strong sailor addicted to weird seaweed. Free from the shadows of Gotham, she blossoms as her own character, becoming an irreverent but good-hearted anti-hero. In a way, it is understandable how Harley Quinn could develop like she has. In the dark and shadowy world of Batman, she was a foe with a lighter personality than most that was twinged with tragic corruption and a good heart beneath. Now, written as more of an anti-hero, she stands out as a more irreverent face in the crowd among the many more serious-minded heroes of the DC Universe. In short, her quirky antics and gray yet benevolent morality stand out against the more black and white nature of the classic DC heroes and villains.

Ever since her first appearance on Batman: the Animated Series, Harley Quinn has grown fast in her popularity. Along with that growth has been a growth of character, evolving her from the abused pawn of the Joker into the quirky anti-hero that calls Coney Island her home.