It’s not what you expect. That’s for sure.
Harley Quinn is a rare and fantastic character. Through the years she went from being Joker’s lovesick punching bag (try to school us all you want, we’ve got receipts), to being an incredible character who stands on her own. It’s wild to think she’s been a fan favorite for as long as she has. What’s strange is how she got her start. Harley wasn’t created for comics. So what was the first appearance of Harley Quinn?
Our favorite villain was created for Batman: The Animated Series. That’s right — this starlet got her start on the big screen! It was originally only going to be a one time appearance, but Harley quickly became a fan favorite and DC decided she should stick around. Her character became a sidekick of the Joker — and a love interest (even if that interest was not very healthy for her). She is a character who went from tv show to comics to movie, and we don’t see her rise to fame stopping any time soon.
She showed up petty regularly on the animated show and was almost always heavily entwined with the Joker. If you’re a comic purist, we can understand why you haven’t watched The Animated Series. It’s a bit lighter than the comic canon, but it’s worth a watch. If you’re looking for Harley Quinn’s debut episode, it’s “The Joker’s Favor” (season 1, episode 22). Harley acts as the Joker’s henchman and sidekick, and it kickstarts her rise to glory.
What’s her Tragic Backstory?
After all, every major comic book character has a tragic backstory. Anyone who knows Harley knows this, but a refresher never hurt. Harley Quinn was born Harleen Quinzel. She came from a really dysfunctional family, and went into psychology to understand them better. She ends up working at Arkham Asylum (bad choice) and gets assigned to the Joker (worse choice). That’s where everything sort of goes wrong for her. She ends up falling for the Joker (even worse choice) and helps him escape Arkham Asylum (probably the worst choice of all).
She takes up the name Harley Quinn, a play on both her name and the Harlequin, a character from Commedia Dell’arte. The Harlequin in Commedia Dell’arte is a character who is known as the “astute servant.” They are lighthearted and nimble. These are traits that fall onto Harley Quinn, as she serves as the sidekick of Joker (there’s a fancy bit of history for you Harley fans).
Her relationship with the Joker has always been on-again, off-again, but lately it has been a lot more off again. It’s an abusive relationship, with the Joker often controlling when and how affection is shown. More recently, Harley has entered into an open relationship with Poison Ivy, her close friend and all-around much more “stable” love interest. Sure, everyone involved is pretty violent and evil, but we prefer the relationship which doesn’t revolve around domestic violence. It’s weird to us that so many people want to be “the Harley Quinn to someone’s Joker.” We just don’t get it — But Harley’s rather tumultuous love life is not the point of this article (maybe we’ll write another one all about that later). Relationships aside, it’s time to talk about how she broke into comics.
First Appearance of Harley Quinn in Comics
Harley was such a fan favorite, she transitioned into comics — where she eventually got her own self-titled series. That’s because Harley Quinn is awesome. It’s pretty common for a comic character to translate to screen (look at all the movies and animated shows that have spawned from Batman alone), but it’s much rarer for the opposite to happen in an established franchise. Sure you get comic versions of popular TV shows and movies, but that’s a different beast all together.
Harley Quinn made the jump to The Batman Adventures #12, and it’s become a hot comic to own because of her rising popularity. A first edition with a CGC score of 9.6 sold for an amazing $687 in April of 2018, and we expect that amount to go up as more movies with Harley keep coming out. In the issue, Barbra Gordon dresses up as Batgirl for a costume party, which Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and (you guessed it) Harley Quinn crash. If it weren’t for this being her first appearance, this book wouldn’t be very notable. Yet thanks to Harley clowning around — and her breakout role in the comics — we can put this issue down as an investment comic.
Like almost all of the villains in the comic book universe, Harley is much more sinister and much less quirky than she was in the animated show. The comics have a darker tone overall, making this transition a fascinating one. Usually characters have to be toned down for cartoons, so the transition in opposite is interesting to watch. She does, however, show mercy more often than some of her counterparts, and has been portrayed as an anti-hero in several of her comics. Don’t expect her to be a “good guy” though — she’s still out for a few laughs, and more than happy to lead a gang.