The Harley Quinn we’ve all fallen in love with doesn’t know exactly who she is, and that’s okay. DC creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have been writing Harley Quinn’s comics for years, and their version of Harley, who lives in Coney Island and is no longer obsessed with the Joker, has been thrust into the spotlight lately. Her solo title was the best-selling comic in the country in August, and she’s featured in many of the other best-selling titles, including Suicide Squad. At New York Comic Con, Palmiotti and Conner sat with Inverse and confessed it felt good to have Harley outsell Batman.
“Harley wasn’t as important to DC Comics when we got the title, so it was sort of given to us, like, eh, go ahead, do what you want,” Palmiotti says. “We did come back and say, ‘We want to do it our way. We want to take her out of Gotham and build her up’, and he was all for that. We didn’t know if it was going to fly, to be honest. Taking any DC character, like Batman, out of Gotham is tough.”
Taking Harley out of Gotham proved to be a smart move for Palmiotti and Conner, who were succeeding with Harley’s comics even before Suicide Squad hit theaters and turned Harley’s popularity into a full-blown phenomenon. Conner says part of the reason both men and women adore Harley is because she’s a “fantasy fulfillment character.” Her ethical standards are looser than the average person’s, Conner says, so she does what many of us would like to do in real-life conflicts. Harley tracks down folks who have wronged her, and she hurts them.
Although she’s more brutal than the average superhero, Conner says that Harley believes she’s no different than Wonder Woman. Conner and Palmiotti’s comics, of course, revealed in a previous issue that Harley keeps a secret closet of Wonder Woman paraphernalia and is Diana’s number one fan.
Conner says perceiving herself as a hero, rather than a villain, shapes the way Harley interacts with other women in Gotham. When asked if the complex dynamic between heroes and villains might inform Margot Robbie’s upcoming Harley film — rumored to involve the Batgirl and Birds of Prey — Conner answered simply: “Right.”
“Wonder Woman and Batgirl have certain standards they live up, whereas Harley’s standards are a little looser. In her head, she is a superhero. Even though people get killed, and limbs go flying, she sees herself as making the world a better place.” Palmiotti adds, “Her relationship with Ivy is very healthy, and with Catwoman. She knows her boundaries, most of the time, but she is the one at a party who gets a little wild first, and the others think, ‘I can either let her go, and it’ll be a better party, or we should shut her down.’ Her supporting cast has learned to just let her go.”
Harley’s wild nature might be what makes her DC’s most exciting, and popular, superhero. Palmiotti even adds that Harley is recognizable across the many costumes she wears, and that’s part of her charm. “In upcoming issues, we’ve got her in a punk band with a mohawk,” he says, assuring us that whether she’s sporting Margot Robbie’s pink and blue pigtails, or DC Comics’s red and black get-up, Harley remains the same inside: a chaotic neutral character who desperately wants to be chaotic good.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.