The Success of Suicide Squad is Holding Harley Quinn Back

Warning: spoilers for Harley Quinn #19 ahead!While the success of Margot Robbie's performance as Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad films has helped the character reach a much wider audience, it has also cast Harley in a particular mold that threatens to turn one of DC's most nuanced characters into a one-dimensional figure. From her debut in Batman: The Animated Series (1992), Harley has served as a fascinating counterpart to The Joker before breaking away and becoming one of DC's marquee stars in her own right. But failure to let the character stand on her own leads to her doing the same shtick again and again.

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In many iterations of Task Force X, from the comics to the films (including Suicide Squad (2016) and The Suicide Squad (2021) Harley Quinn plays a similar role. She is the loose cannon, the one who is impossible to predict; she defies the Suicide Squad’s logical norms yet still survives even as far more serious and savvy characters die off all around her. While her refusal to play by the rules and still come out on top endears her to audiences, it is a routine shared by other characters such as Marvel's Deadpool and falls far short of displaying Harley's full potential.

Related: Harley Quinn And Poison Ivy's Love Has One Huge Flaw

And yet in Harley Quinn #19 by Stephanie Phillips, Georges Duarte, and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., we once again see Harley amidst a group of miscreants. This time, Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost, Dreadbolt, Lashina, Verdict, and Solomon Grundy comprise the squad alongside her, sent by Luke Fox into space to investigate a decommissioned Justice League base. Sure enough, she spends the bulk of the issue snacking on breadsticks and lost in her inner monologue as various team members are picked off one by one.

Harley Quinn delivers a meandering, off-kilter eulogy to the recently deceased Dreadbolt.

Admittedly, this arc is named "Task Force XX" so it makes sense that the tropes of the Suicide Squad would show up here – Harley even references them by name. However, this arc comes right on the heels of Harley building a family of friends in Gotham and the ensuing misadventures. Harley is one of DC's most compelling figures as she constantly walks the line between good and chaos while still being a master psychologist; this makes the moments where she gets to interact with Gotham's personalities even more fascinating. It’s not just about her history with Batman or the Joker, either: her relationship with Poison Ivy brings out new shades in each character as they explore their love and pain together. Once she's picked up for Luke Fox's new ‘Suicide Squad,’ however, all those connections stop. Instead, Harley's new companions simply become a sounding board for jokes instead of people to interact with. This Harley doesn't share her feelings or connect; she runs her inner monologue and cracks jokes while her crew mates attempt to keep the mission on track (and die).

The popularity of the Suicide Squad franchise forces Harley to tread this same role, again and again, to appeal to this audience which has boosted her popularity. But Harley Quinn is a character defined by her growth: being introduced in the shadow of the Joker, realizing his toxic influence, and leaving him to become her own person. Continuously calling for more Suicide Squad Harley Quinn and leaving her as the team’s laugh track just holds her back and obscures the incredible character - and person - she's become.

Harley Quinn #19 is now available from DC Comics.

2022-08-14T20:02:49.000Z

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