The main story in Harley Quinn #21 features a lovesick Red Tool ready to make his move on the titular troublemaker, but he’s not the only one looking for love in all the wrong places.
The “Harley Loves Joker” backup feature debuts its fifth chapter, and CBR connected with Jimmy Palmiotti and Paul Dini to discuss the storyline’s biggest developments to date. Of course, Palmiotti has been telling Harley Quinn stories alongside co-writer Amanda Conner for the past four years, while Dini, who co-created the popular character in 1992 with Bruce Timm for Batman: The Animated Series, joined the current ongoing comic book recently to co-write the backup features.
It’s been seven years since Dini last scripted a comic, and nww that he’s back, he’s loving every minute of it. As for Palmiotti, the writer/artist says it’s like going back to school as he learns from the man he calls an industry superstar.
CBR: Paul, let me start by putting you on the spot. How do you think Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Amanda [Conner] have been handling Harley the past few years?
Jimmy Palmiotti: [Laughs]
Paul Dini: Excellent. Harley Quinn is one of the few books that I still run to the store to get every other week. The job that he and Amanda have been doing has been a tremendous amount of fun. That includes the regular title, as well as Harley’s Little Black Book and League of Harleys. Jimmy and Amanda have come up with a great version of Harley that keeps her relevant for today’s readership. It keeps her fun. It keeps her funny. It’s always true to the character, and it’s always new. I really enjoy being surprised with everyone else each issue to see what they are coming up with.
Jimmy, we’ve talked about Paul joining the series, but now that we have him with us, do you mind sharing your thoughts about sharing a byline with one of Harley’s co-creators?
Palmiotti: Paul is a superstar. At first it was intimidating, and then Amanda and I talked about it and I said, “It’s like me going to school.”
Dini: It’s more like the Traveling Wilburys. It’s like a bunch of guys who have their own incredible bands and come together to jam. It’s like joining the Rolling Stones, and because we all have a reasonable amount of experience and other ongoing commitments, we are all fond of each other’s works. I think when we get together, it’s more like play time than an assignment that we’ve got to do. We just want to make something cool.
Palmiotti: Amanda doesn’t read the backups until they come out because she wants to be surprised and excited. She reads them when they’re printed. It’s fun to watch her [read them]. I don’t talk to her about them, because I don’t want to ruin them for her.
Harley is such a unique character that I feel like I have a relationship with her when I’m reading her stories. She’s such an open book, and wears her heart on her sleeve. Do you feel that she has a different voice between the main story and the backup features, which is a take inspired by her animated incarnation, or does she always remain the same?
Palmiotti: No, I think it’s the same girl; it’s just a different time in her life. I don’t see any difference, except that in the front story, she’s figured out some of the stuff that, in the back story, she hasn’t yet. I think the great part about the back story is that we see the discovery. We see her going through things that later on are going to be on her checklist as, “Maybe I shouldn’t do that!” [Laughs] Or, “That was fun, but I can’t be in that place anymore because of this and that.” It’s all Harley. There is not a line that couldn’t be swapped out for the front story, except for maybe all the love and admiration of Joker because she’s in a bad place with him right now. But it’s all the same.
Dini: That’s one of the things that was important to me in going back to the character and working on the backup features. I did not want to return Harley completely to the stage that she was at in the animated series where she was much more of a henchgirl, much more of an order-taker. She was somebody who was, as Poison Ivy once called her, a doormat. After reading Jimmy and Amanda’s takes on her and where they are continuing with her, when we work on the backup stories, it’s important that she does mouth off to the Joker. It’s important that she has her own opinions. It’s much more of a partnership; I never wanted to go back to that relationship as it was ,but I don’t mind telling stories where they’re on equal footing. When she’s getting ready to yell at her, now she might say, “Stop it. It’s your fault.” She expresses herself, and that makes it feel more like a real couple, more like a real relationship, because she’s starting to stand up for herself and, as we say in an upcoming issue, question her life choices.
[Laughs] Is the plan for the story in the backup feature to dovetail into the main story, or are we well away from the happenings of present day DCU?
Palmiotti: No — especially with this storyline, we’ve set up a lot, and there is a lot going on. As you get into Harley Quinn #22 – #24, there is even more going on. We’re not in a real rush to push the story just to fulfill some idea of where everybody thinks it should go. We’re enjoying the place that we’re in and running with it. It’s like we’re taking your favorite movie and adding an extra hour. It’s an extended cut to make it even more fun. I don’t think it’s necessary to start piecing everything together so tightly, because there is a lot of story to be told. Every time Paul and I are talking, we say that we can bring this character in, or that character in. There’s always another story to tell. I think it would shortchange everybody if we just started pushing agendas into the story right away. I don’t think there is a need for that.
The Joker has become such a dark character not only in comics but in his portrayals in movies like The Dark Knight and Suicide Squad. I have to say, I do like this older version of the Joker in the backup features. He’s a little less on edge, if that’s a fair assessment.
Dini: Quite often, the way that the Joker is presented is not so much the darkness, but the stories usually begin and end with Batman. Joker does something and Batman comes in and deals with the Joker as he encounters him. Our thinking was, what is the Joker like during his down time? He can’t be a raving psychotic — well, he is a raving psychotic, but does he have downtime? Does he have quieter moments? Does he have moments of introspection? And the answer is yes, he does. Even though those moments might be few and far between, and the introspection might just be solely about himself from his point of view. It’s still an interesting way to take the character, and it’s fun to see him in the role where he has to play peacemaker, where he has to reassure Harley about something, even though the question is, does he actually care about her well-being or is he just trying to get through a situation without her flying to pieces and making his life harder? It’s fun to test him in those ways and really get away from the “Yes, boss” relationship that they had and show them occasionally kidding around and being affectionate.
Palmiotti: It makes it more dangerous too.
Dini: Yeah, because he could snap at anytime and turn back into that raving psychotic.
You mentioned Batman and the shadow he always casts over both Joker and Harley. The Dark Knight is coming soon to the backup features too, right?
Dini: Maybe not, but you are going to see a lot of characters.
Palmiotti: He’s definitely a background character, here. Otherwise, the story would be called, ‘Harley Loves Joker… and Sometimes Gets Annoyed by Batman.’ That’s too long of a title.
Dini: Batman is around, and so is Bruce Wayne as we need them. But this is really Joker and Harley’s honeymoon period, or sweetheart period. The relationship is still new, and she’s trying to make it work. He is still a lot of positive things in her eyes, or she is still trying to justify a lot of the things that he does.
Palmiotti: Who knows? Maybe two years from now we’ll be putting out a book called, ‘Harley Hates the Joker.’ [Laughs] But right now, she loves the Joker.
All right, even if the voice is the same, the costume isn’t. I love Harley’s current look, but the classic jester costume brings a smile to my face. Does Harley still have the jester costume in her closet?
Palmiotti: Harley has hinted once or twice a little bit in conversation that it might but it’s like having that leather motorcycle jacket from your past that you wore in high school that was great and cool with your friends, but then when you’re older, you put it on with your friends, and you look odd in it. You look like you’re trying to hard. Plus, Harley in the back story, she’s almost always Harley Quinn. She’s not the doctor, she’s not trying to do things in the regular world. She’s living in this world where it’s her and the Joker and it’s all about them. The [jester] outfit makes sense there. In the newer stories, she’s older but she still loves to dress up.
Amanda always says, if Harley is going bowling, then she has to have a bowling outfit. If she going to jump out of a plane with a parachute, she’s going to have a different outfit for that, too. That’s Amanda’s influence, because she feels that Harley is one of the few characters that you can dress in anything, and if you keep the black and the red and the diamonds and the established stuff from the original costume, you always know that it’s Harley. There are not that many characters in comics that you can do that with. I think that’s why younger people have embraced Harley so much, because they can cosplay their own outfits. They can do biker Harley, they can do window washer Harley if they want. [Laughs] There are not a lot of characters that works with.
Dini: In the artwork for the latest backup feature, we specified that Harley is going to work, so have her wear a construction helmet and the overalls — but it has the black and the red and the diamonds.
Palmiotti: We have Bret Blevins and J. Bone working on the backups with Alex Sinclair, so we have the best in the business. We have been fans of Bret forever, so getting him on this book was such a big deal for us. There is such a joy in his work. It just has this really lively, beautiful look, and then J. and Alex are there too. They are willing to experiment, and there are some really fun visuals and some stuff that we haven’t seen before. It’s pretty exciting to work on.
Dini: It’s really fun to just let the story go in Harley’s direction and let that take you wherever it takes you and whatever way you want to tell that story, whether it’s something in her imagination, or a dream, or just her acting silly for a few pages. It all works really well. Like Jimmy said, there are not a lot of characters that you can do that with. But I think by the basic premise of who Harley is, your mind accepts the way the stories are told, even when they are always different.
Finally, Paul, this is the first time in some time that you’ve been working on an ongoing series. Are we going to see you doing more work in comics, or are you just too busy with your other projects?
Dini: I love doing comics! It’s just with me, it comes down to a matter of time and if I have committed myself to things in other places. I would love to do a regular comic book series, perhaps just one, but every time I’ve done it before, I’m like the kid who tries to grab too many nuts out of the jar. There is no way I can get my hand out again, because I had taken too much. But I think if I could do one book a month or something like that, and made allowances for it, I would like to do that. But I’m just having so much fun working with Jimmy on these stories — that’s most of my fun these days.
Harley Quinn #21 is available now.