Rebirth — DC Comics‘ line-wide soft relaunch — was conceived of as a way for the publisher to bring back some popular characters, characteristics and continuity from its original 70-plus years of storytelling, combining them with the best bits from The New 52.
Created in 1992 by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for “Batman: The Animated Series,” Harley Quinn has come a long way from being The Joker’s former psychiatrist, lover and accomplice. Conner and co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti thrust Harley into the spotlight, out of Batman’s far-reaching shadow, at the height of the New 52, and plunked her smack down in the middle of Coney Island with a wild supporting cast and an even wilder string of adventures. And the publisher — and more importantly readers — loved it.
With her name set to grow even bigger with the theatrical release of “Suicide Squad,” no doubt DC Comics is expecting big things from Chad Hardin-illustrated “Harley Quinn” #1 on sale this week. With that in mind, CBR connected with Conner and Palmiotti to discuss the future of the New 52’s breakout character.
CBR News: Harley Quinn was arguably the breakout star of The New 52. Did you know what you were getting into when you landed writing duties on “Harley Quinn” the first time around?
Amanda Conner: We had no idea that it was going to take off the way it did. We just thought we’d write Harley Quinn and have some fun with her. We definitely wanted to put our own special spin on her, put her in her own environment and give her a whole new crew. I think taking her out of Gotham [City] was really important. We felt that if she stayed in Gotham, she was still playing second fiddle to Batman. That’s why we through her into her own environment. As far as the comic book taking off the way it did? That was pretty much a big surprise to us.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Our whole plan was to make Harley her own character. In Gotham, she was always a supporting character. But it was a risk. We didn’t know, but [DC Comics co-publisher] Dan DiDio just said, “Do what you guys feel is right and have fun.” Sometimes that works! Most of the time, 99.9 percent of the time, it doesn’t. [Laughs] Just look at my career. I speak from experience! [Laughs]
Have fun — it seems simple, but it’s not, because as fun and fun-loving as Harley is, she’s also a tragic character.
Conner: That’s a really good way to put it. There is a lot of tragedy in her life. but I think it’s the way she approaches it that makes her such an intriguing character. Originally, in her very, very original form, she was a fun character. Even though she was The Joker’s girlfriend, she was also his foil. Later on, she took a much darker turn, and when we got a hold of her, we said, “Why can’t mesh the two?” She’s a psycho killer, but she’s a psycho killer with a heart of gold. She’s a very lovable psycho killer. [Laughs]
Palmiotti: It’s fun, because we were watching the “Suicide Squad” trailer and the Harley we see is very, very reminiscent of what we did. She’s dangerous, but she’s also kind of fun and goofy. She speaks to herself, and we have her do a lot of that in the book too, although, in the book, she talks to her beaver, and that’s pretty much her talking to herself. [Laughs]
To make a character stand up on her own, we really need to build up her personality and push it forward. She’s a really smart person and a really strong woman, she’s got multiple personalities and is really dangerous. [Laughs] I think that’s the idea — when you are reading comics, and you know everything that the character is going to do, it makes it kind of a boring read. Harley never does what you think she is going to do, and I think that keeps the book fresh.
Conner: I think Margot Robbie’s portrayal in “Suicide Squad” is pretty spot-on. We haven’t seen very much of it, but we’ve liked what we’ve seen so far.
For DC’s Rebirth, some characters are being completely re-tooled and some series are being jump-started, but “Harley Quinn” #1 reads pretty much like a direct continuation of your best-selling New 52 series.
Palmiotti: Yeah… pretty much. [Laughs] We didn’t change anything. I got to be honest. Dan and Geoff [Johns] and the guys said that every book is going to be restarting with DC Rebirth. They gave us the whole pitch and then they said, “But yours is kind of working, so you guys can just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Conner: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Palmiotti: We did take the opportunity with the new first issue to include her origin in the beginning, in case it’s somebody’s first Harley comic. We wanted to bring them up to date. That was the only thing that we really came in and did. Other than that, it’s more of the same madness.
“Harley Quinn” #30 ended with Harley promising [Poison] Ivy a spa day, and “Harley Quinn” #1 opens with them in the spa. There’s not really a gap, except for the origin. We were happy that they were happy with it. We were happy that we didn’t have to retool it.
Conner: But we did put Red Tool in it. [Laughs]
Palmiotti: So, in a way, we did re-Tool it. [Laughs]
The new series opens with a zombie apocalypse on Coney Island, but this is “Harley Quinn,” so it’s not your everyday, run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse.
Conner: Yes. The way our zombie apocalypse happens is slightly different. [Laughs]
Palmiotti: Ours is confined to a half-mile radius, and it involves some bad meat.
Conner: But we don’t want to give too much away.
Palmiotti: Soliciting it as a zombie “apocalypse” was a real stretch. [Laughs]
Conner: It’s more like a zombie mishap.
More like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.
Palmiotti: It’s exactly like that.
I spoke with Rob Williams and Philip Tan about “Suicide Squad” recently, and they said that they wanted to make “Suicide Squad” a core book in the DC Universe. Looking at Harley’s popularity and the success that you have enjoyed with the character, do you think Harley has a central role to play in the DC Universe?
Conner: That’s really what our Rebirth “reboot” is going to be. We wanted to have Harley interact more in the DC Universe. We wanted more interaction with DCU characters. We felt like, the last couple of years, we’ve established her in her own right. Now, we feel comfortable having more interactions.
Palmiotti: We actually feel more comfortable having Harley ruin other superheroes’ days. That’s what Amanda is trying to say. [Laughs]
But yes, we’re going to bring in some other characters. We have Power Girl, and we have Ivy. “Harley’s Little Black Book” was supposed to be our team-up book, and it still is. We have some crazy ones coming but in the regular series, we’re definitely going to mess with the DCU a little bit more.
At the same time, we’re not going to go crazy with it. Sometimes when you do it too much, it weakens or alienates the character over time. We’ve managed for two-and-a-half years to keep the camera focused on Harley at all times in her book. I think it’s really important to do that because I think other books start jumping around too much, and they suffer. The name of the book is “Harley Quinn,” so she’s always be there, right in the front.
“Harley Quinn” #1, by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Chad Hardin, is on sale now.
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