How Harley Quinn's newest comic explains the best moment in Birds of Prey
“We tend to write Harley like she thinks, like her brain works."
The best moment in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey comes early.
A hungover Harley saunters over to her local bodega and orders up a New York/Gotham City classic: a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. It’s an uncharacteristically relatable moment from one of the DC universe’s most manic characters, but if you’ve been keeping up with comics, this moment shouldn’t come as a surprise.
As the architects behind the Harley Quinn comic’s recent run from 2013-2018, which helped turn “Daddy's Lil Monster” into the fourth pillar of DC Comics, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have their finger on the erratic pulse of the rambunctious vixen — and that includes her love of greasy breakfasts.
“We tend to write Harley like she thinks, like her brain works,” Palmiotti tells Inverse. “Randomly, she'll stop and do something or she'll obsess over food, and it's kinda fun to write a character that doesn't have to play by the rules of the rest of the superhero and supervillain characters.”
After wrapping their work on Harley Quinn, the married dynamic duo (words by Palmiotti, artwork from Conner) is teaming up again for a miniseries debuting on February 12 from the edgier DC Black Label titled Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey. Envisioned as a companion piece to the R-rated movie, the comic features Harley and her heroic gal pals bopping back to Gotham City after Quinn finds herself homeless when her Coney Island hangout is torched.
Ahead of the release, we caught up with Palmiotti and Conner to discuss the genesis of their latest Harley book under DC’s mature content imprint, why they love their version of the character so much, and what rabid comic book readers can expect from her latest unruly hijinks.
You attended the world premiere of Birds of Prey. What were your impressions, considering you know her so intimately?
AMANDA CONNER: The premiere was fantastic, all the way from before when we got to walk down the big bright yellow carpet, to the movie itself, which was just too fun. It was just such a blast. We loved it and thought the characters were great and Margot Robbie absolutely has Harley Quinn down pat.
JIMMY PALMIOTTI: Look, we had a great time. DC spoiled us and we got to see Margot Robbie and the screenwriter and Rosie Perez and all these celebrities which was a lot of fun. We got to tell them what we thought, and thank God it was great, because that would have been uncomfortable. (laughs). We had a blast and we're probably going to go see the movie again this week once Amanda is feeling a little better. Her portrayal of Harley is right on the nose from what we've been working on for years, so we just loved it.
How did this Black Label miniseries project come about and what will readers experience in the first issue?
JP: The guys at DC, Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] and those guys wanted to get us on something new and we were talking about Harley and we told them we had some unfinished Harley business. Yeah, the book is like a movie continuation in a weird way. If people saw the movie over the weekend, then pick up our book this week, they're going to be really caught up. But we made sure it was approachable for somebody that's never even read the character.
AC: It started out as being like a movie adaptation but then it went into its own direction. We got to do a whole lot more than we were allowed to do in the regular books. We took things a little too far and had to rein it in.
JP: Having it on Black Label, Amanda got to use her foul language in the comic. She curses like you wouldn't believe. She's a monster. (laughs) So we got to have some fun and we have Harley interact with Power Girl, Poison Ivy, Red Tool, and all the usual suspects. The story takes us from Coney Island to Gotham and that's what the series is about. Harley heads back to Gotham to take care of some business and creates a lot of chaos behind her.
Hey, our job is to push things as far as we want, and then it's DC's job to tell us we can't do that and that we've gone too far. It shouldn't feel safe. Black Label only lets us get into the violence and language more, but it's actually nice to see Amanda's art a little bigger on the page, so the larger format was something exciting as well.
It’s awesome seeing Bernie The Stuffed Beaver in Book One. Was that something you absolutely wanted in and what’s your affection for the taxidermied rodent?
JP: We were very happy seeing Bernie the Beaver in the movie as well. We were laughing out loud when Bernie was in it a couple of times. He holds a special place in our hearts and yes, the obvious beaver jokes will always be there, but he's a great tool for Harley to kind of work out her problems when she's by herself.
AC: He reflects Harley's inner dialog.
JP: And Amanda loves drawing the beaver. (laughs) She really has a good grasp on what the beaver should look like.
AC: I do.
What can fans anticipate in the crossover between this new miniseries and the film?
AC: It's basically Harley getting together with those characters from the movie. She knows them from before, but now that they're her friends from the movie you can sort of run with that.
“It's basically Harley getting together with those characters from the movie.”
JP: We didn't plan it, but when you see the movie, and then get this comic, it does feels like it continues on. We did our own thing, but it does feel like Harley's back to mess everything up and screw with the Birds of Prey a little bit more. There’s a lot of stuff in there that’s established in the film, and lots of things established in the film are taken from the books we wrote, so there is this back and forth with a lot of material. Our job as comics people is to inspire the film people. The secret to Harley is that when Amanda and I work on it, we're trying to make each other laugh and entertain each other, and then we hope everyone else likes it.
How do colorist Paul Mount’s vivid hues help bring the words and artwork to life?
AC: Yes, Paul did the coloring on this project and he is amazing. He has such an eye for color and really making things bounce off the page.
JP: There's a lot of storytelling in the color, which we like. It's very important to the story. And John J. Hill lettered the book and the lettering has a life of its own too. This is a book where everybody was firing on all cylinders.
How does it feel reflecting back on the eruption of Harley Quinn these past seven years, and what was the moment you realized she'd arrived?
JP: My moment was when we were working on the book, I think it was the second year in, and the Harley Quinn costume was the number one Halloween costume in the United States. I thought, "Oh, my god, that's insane." Two years before that she wasn't even on the radar. That's when I realized we'd done something really special. THAT, and the lines at conventions.
AC: Yeah, when our lines got really big at conventions I thought okay, there's something going on here with Harley that everybody is really, really into. That and seeing so many Harley Quinn t-shirts when we were walking around, people wearing them on the street any old day, it didn't even have to be at a convention. There's a LOT of Harley out there.
JP: The licensing went crazy. And the other thing is seeing so much Harley cosplay at the conventions and everyone doing whatever they wanted to. Amanda and Chad [Hardin] established that Harley can change her outfits every issue, and still remain very Harley-ish. So all of a sudden we saw tons of creative Harley cosplay. One year at San Diego we had like three or four hundred Harley cosplayers in a costume contest, and it was all Harley!
What is it about the quirky character of Harley Quinn that keeps you inspired and strikes your creative chords?
AC: It's probably just the sheer amount of fun that goes along with writing and drawing Harley. There's so much angst-ridden characterization out there, but when you get your hands on a character that's driven by pure joy, it makes you want to come back to it all the time.
JP: I feel the same way. I love writing the dark humor and the unpredictability. The great thing about the character is that the stories don't have to be as structured as other comic book stories. We tend to write Harley like she thinks. Like her brain works. Randomly she'll stop and do something or she'll obsess over food, and it's kinda fun to write a character that doesn't have to play by the rules of the rest of the superhero and supervillain characters. I think that's always keeping her fresh in my eyes.
Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey #1 drops February 12.