While promoting I, Tonya, star Margot Robbie has also hinted at there being a lot of Harley Quinn stories in our cinematic future. Specifically, she said there’s a separate movie she’s developing that would be in addition to 1) the Suicide Squad sequel, 2) the “Gotham City Sirens” movie that would presumably also feature Poison Ivy and other female characters and 3) a Harley/Joker movie that would reteam her with Squad costar Jared Leto.
Nerdist News responded with a headline many were probably thinking: Do we need four Harley Quinn movies? That sentiment has been echoed elsewhere and I find the thinking curious.
First, we’re never asked similar questions when there are plans for male-starring franchises. Or if that question is asked, it’s usually discarded pretty quickly because whatever hesitation there might be gives way easily to fan-driven anticipation. Yeah, we were all wondering what Warner Bros. could possibly be thinking with its announcement of five Fantastic Beasts films, and Universal’s Dark Universe plans were met with more than a few “skeptical eyeball emoji” reactions. But then there were more substantive discussions about them. Let’s just be careful we’re not applying a sexist double-standard here.
Second, that kind of skepticism shows a lack of understanding of how popular this character is.
I don’t think I’m betraying any trade secrets when I say that in my time working with DC Entertainment on its social media marketing program I got a first-hand look at the wild and passionate fandom that exists around Harley Quinn. In my first experience at San Diego Comic-Con, I was taken aback by just how popular the character was with fans. With a few exceptions, she was one of the most common cosplay subjects I encountered.
What struck me was that no two Harleys were alike. There were a few cosplayers that took “traditional” approaches to their outfits, modeling the look seen in “Batman: The Animated Series” or in her 2011 Suicide Squad incarnation or something otherwise rooted in an existing design. But the vast majority, it seemed to me, were making Harley their own. There were steampunk, biker, Victorian and countless other variations on the theme that had never been seen anywhere before. She was being used, it seemed, as a blank slate for women to use to express themselves in some way while also attaching themselves to the core tenets and characteristics of what made Harley, Harley.
As I became more familiar with the fandom and the business I learned there was tremendous demand for Harley merchandise. That’s evident in how DC has published more books starring her in the last four or five years as well as increasing the number of collectibles and consumer products for her, as well as her presence in more of the animated features released by Warner Home Video.
That experience leads me to believe there’s an audience out there for as much Harley Quinn material as can be produced. There are caveats to that, though, that need to be taken into account.
The Right Harley
Yes, there are a lot of fans. But as I said, there’s a drive among fans to make Harley their own. Amanda Conner’s book from a few years ago did a great job of presenting a Harley that was instantly recognizable and popular because if combined elements of many of the character’s incarnations. Activating the demand that’s out there will depend largely on how well different sections of the audience feel that the Harley on screen is the “true” Harley, or the one they identify most with.
So much of Harley’s character is defined by her relationship to others, particularly Joker. One of the great parts of Conner’s book is that it featured her truly on her own (or at least with her own new set of supporting characters). Most of the teamups in that book were with other female characters, especially Poison Ivy. There was even a spinoff book called Harley Quinn & Power Girl that was almost too much fun to be legal. And some of the weaker issues of that series were where Joker was shoehorned in. While the Harley/Joker movie seems to make sense on paper, it could undermine much of what has proven to work so well in the comics in recent years.
Don’t Overdo It…But Overdo It
When I watched Suicide Squad I kept waiting for Harley to really show up. Again, the character’s dependency in that movie on Joker for motivation and actions kept her from really cutting loose. The whole point of Harley is that she’s a wild card, never doing what’s expected because she’s 100% insane. My hope is that in future films she’s allowed to cut loose and really be herself, without the connections to Joker that come with more than a few icky overtones of violence against women being somehow “entertainment.”
Do we *need* four Harley Quinn movies? No. Do we *need* three more Spider-Man movies? No. Do we *need* four more Fantastic Beasts movies? No. We don’t need any of this. But if we’re going to get them, my hope is that the character can stand on her own two feet and be the empowering agent of chaos unbeholden to any man that her most successful incarnations show her to be.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.