Paul Dini reflects on 25 years of Harley Quinn

We thought it would be really fun and twisted if she was not who she appeared to be. The fact that Harley might have gone from this intelligent, cool therapist to this crazed clown woman was both very interesting and very tragic to us. The idea occurred to me, let’s put in a female henchperson, because that seemed like a fun variation on the regular big thug guys. She was wearing this Pied Piper outfit, and I was like, “Well, there she is. We showed she wasn’t just going to be a cartoon sidekick; she had some emotional investment in the Joker, and that’s what made her interesting. It’s interesting to me that they could be criminals and bank robbers but also have this friendship. That’s just over the last 10 years. Arleen and I had been friends. Created by Paul Dini, voiced by Arleen Sorkin, and animated by Bruce Timm, Harley became one of the series’ most recognizable elements — not just for her red-and-black harlequin outfit, but also for her bubbly personality and strange attachment to the Joker. But actually, in the process, she lost hers. What was Arleen Sorkin’s role in shaping the character? Before she knew it she had fallen head-over-heels in love with him. I think the audience just began to expect her. Then there were some who thought she was cute and funny and wouldn’t mind seeing her come back. It showed she was more than just the cartoon jester, and people reacted to that in a big way too. Like she’s kind of mine, and now she’s growing in a different direction. There’s a sort of eternal, indefinable 20th century quality to BTAS. Also around that time I’d been writing her in video games, which I think was a big boost to her popularity. It’s great to see the character have that adaptability. DC Comics
Another of Harley’s important relationships that evolves over the course of the series, and which fans have really responded to, is her friendship with Poison Ivy. That’s when the big changes in her appearance came about, when we put her in the naughty nurse’s outfit and then the leather pants and “street” look. The most famous of these was Harley Quinn, the Joker’s loyal partner in crime. There was some “Oh, I hope she’s not around too much.” When you do an animated series and add characters who are not from the canon, you really have to win over the hardcore fans. I was thinking of the female henchwomen they had in the ’60s Adam West series. And then once we started featuring her, Bruce Timm and I decided we should come up with some sort of origin for her. Harley seems to have this innate appeal that people love, and as time progresses Harley will change too, but there will always be something twisted and sweet about her personality. She is a very funny talent, kind of a live wire. I think there are sparks and intensity and weird passion of a sort to their relationship, but I would not call it a loving relationship in the traditional sense. PAUL DINI: I was writing a script about the Joker menacing a regular person who had strayed into his path, and I needed to give him a gang of henchmen to work with him. I think he finds that, in some ways, very sexy and attractive. I thought what would be fun would be a Judy Holliday type, somebody snappy and a “girl gone wrong” type of character. I felt a great sense of propriety toward the character early on, and when she grew in popularity I didn’t always like it. Check out that interview below, along with some exclusive posters featuring Harley crashing the covers of famous Batman comics (namely, Batman: The Killing Joke   and   Detective Comics No. But once we worked on her character a little bit, once we deepened and gave her that twisted attraction to the Joker, people were more interested. In 2015, Vulture‘s Abraham Reitman noted that Harley had become “the best-selling female character in comics,” and that was before Margot Robbie took her to the big screen in last year’s Suicide Squad. Initially it was split. What do you remember about how the idea for her first came about? We really liked how the episode came out. DC Comics
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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Today is the 25th   anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series,   where   Harley Quinn made her debut. We never really pegged the decade but it’s anytime in the 20th century, so I often harkened back to things from the ’40s or ’50s. EW caught up with Dini to reflect on how Harley first came to be, and how she’s changed since. Harley   may be a crazed clown in love with a maniac, but there’s something about her that people connect with, even as she’s grown over the years. How did that develop? She should run around with the Joker dressed like that.” So all these ideas came together when I was writing that first episode. I liked the idea of someone kind of fun and funny that he could have a back-and-forth with. Not only was the main story a lot of fun, but Harley was a character who really seemed to pop, so the next time we did a Joker story and he needed a big gang of henchpeople, there was Harley. They met at a low point in Harley’s relationship with Joker. As one of the most acclaimed Batman franchises of the last few decades, the show gave new life to the Dark Knight and his foes like the Joker — but perhaps even more importantly, the series introduced some new characters to the Batman canon. The video games gave her this great second life. In the quarter-century since, Harley has evolved as a character and expanded into many genres, from video games to blockbuster films. They care bout each other a lot, they fight a lot, but they also like to hang out together and just get a pizza or watch a movie. It’s been gratifying for me. You can also read EW’s ranking of the 25 best   BTAS   episodes here. She came roaring back as part of Suicide Squad and her own book. Ivy needs a friend too occasionally; her world can’t just be plants. It was a time when she needed a friend, and in comes this dominant female personality who doesn’t suffer any abuse from anybody, much less a bullying man. I think initially he was looking to play her and get what he could out of her, and then realized he had opened Pandora’s box and this woman in her madness could match him at just about anything he does. Twenty-five years ago today, Batman: The Animated Series debuted on Fox. So then I was shooting around names and I just came up with the name Harley Quinn. With Harley, thinking about that character, I was like, “Gosh, she sounds like Arleen.” Around that time [Sorkin] had appeared as a wacky jester on Days of Our Lives in a costume series. She was lying unused for a few years, she was basically benched until the New 52 [relaunch]. But I realized people liked the character, and I started to move beyond Batman too. So Harley in her earlier incarnation really felt like she was the one for the Joker, that she could catch him and cure him and bring him back to humanity. Arleen Sorkin’s voice certainly gave a great deal of life and dazzle to the character. We thought that had the makings of a great Batman villain — like Batman himself, his villains start off human but then some tragedy happens and warps them into what they are today. Arleen’s voice, my script, Bruce’s drawing, and the direction of the episode — a lot of things came together. It’s a happy coincidence that it all worked out. In the years since you created Harley, what’s it been like to watch her grow and evolve as a character? What do you remember about the initial fan response to her? 38, the first appearance of Robin). Often the Joker or Penguin would have a moll, so I thought, let’s go back and give a nod to that. They liked her, they thought she was funny. It’s also changed my view on her over the years, because when she appeared in BTAS I was the only one who ever wrote her. She found something kind of innocent and sweet in Harley. She can do that snappy blonde Judy Holliday persona very easily, and that was part of her performance style when I came up with the character. Show Full Article We came up with the idea of people who are attracted to criminals, especially those who might write to a criminal in jail saying, “I understand you, I sympathize with what you’re going through,” and they just sort of pin all their hopes and dreams on somebody who they think is misunderstood but who is in fact rather dangerous. Harley has become this really beloved character over the years. I put her into the Arkham games, and from that she just became this incredible presence. But he’s not really set up to love in the way a regular person is. Mickey Mouse did not stay the little squeaky guy in Steamboat Willie, he went on to have many different versions. Originally she was just a henchperson. How would you describe her relationship with the Joker? I pitched it to Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, and Bruce was like, “That sounds like fun.” So I wrote the script and Bruce did the design of her in the classic jester outfit, and everything just clicked.