Harley Quinn was introduced in Batman: The Animated Series by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini as the perfect assistant for the Joker. As the series continued, Harley developed into a more complex and complicated character, eventually even leaving the Joker behind to become her own woman.
After Harley evolved into one of DC's most beloved icons, Dini returned to the character to showcase the earliest moments that began the transition to that place. Serving first as a series of back-up stories co-written by Jimmy Palmiotti, before finishing in a two-part miniseries by Dini, Bret Blevins, J. Bone, and Alex Sinclair, Harley Loves Joker explores the first steps to the modern Harley Quinn. Now, we're taking a look back at how this series revealed previously unseen depths to Harley's early years.
Harley Loves Joker
The story began as a series of back-ups that focus on Harley and Joker earlier in their relationship. Harley is still madly in love with Joker, working as his girlfriend/sidekick/henchwoman. On New Year's Eve, Harley and Joker decide to draw the attention of the public away from a mysterious new criminal by performing their own heist. But while leaving, Harley ends up forgetting her jacket. This leads Batman directly to their hideout. The pair escape, but Harley is given some of her earliest inclinations that the Joker may not care for her when he almost allows her hyenas to die in the escape.
Desperate to find a new home for the pair, Harley sets out to steal a new building. Eventually finding (and stealing) an abandoned joke shop, she hires the Carpenter (a minor Batman villain who rebuilds villain bases for a price) to help set up the building as a new base for her and the Joker. Harley spends weeks helping construct the base.
Meanwhile, a jealous Joker looks into the identity of the Grison. When the base is completed, however, Harley balks at the $3 million price tag. The Carpenter reveals that she's hidden bombs within the halls of the building, and will destroy the base if Harley doesn't pay up the full price in a week. When Joker discovers the base, he loves it, which pushes Harley to try anything and everything to steal the money in time.
The mini-series picks up with Harley Quinn still very much by Joker's side. She's even bought them a new "dream hideout" where they can be together. But since Harley still owes the Carpenter for the modifications on the building, she just decides to steal the money she needs. This relatively simple idea in complicated by the Carpenter's Wonderland Gang, who beat Harley to a robbery she hoped would settle the debt, and the still-active Grison.
While fighting the Grison at the Iceberg Lounge, Harley realizes that the new villain is actually Gabriela Matias, someone who interned at STAR Labs with Harley back in college. Harley's attempts in college to befriend her in college backfired when Harley discovered her testing out a powerful smell based weapon on her test ferrets.
During their battle, Grison gets the upper hand, knocks Harley unconscious, and kidnaps her. She brings Harley back to the base she'd just made, and the two resume their fight. When Joker returns, he discovers the pair mid-battle. Grison reveals that all the things she's stolen were done to impress the Joker and prove herself a more dangerous criminal than Harley. Impressed, Joker decides to let Grisson join their gang, quickly infuriating Harley.
Harley Meets Harley
Trying to deal with her jealousy, Harley imagines going to therapy with herself as the psychologist. When Harley complains about Joker working with Grison more, her inner voices tell her to actually just leave him instead of just talking about it. Harley listens to the inner voice and decides to alert the authorities of Joker's plans with Grison. But a video left by the Joker argues that he's just trying to convince Grison that he likes her, so he can make his eventual turn against her all the more painful. Harley initially seems convinced to stay, but her inner voice has had enough. The Harley inside her mind takes on the appearance of the modern Harley, looking like someone who is "willing to stand up and move on" and surprising the still dependent Harley.
This moment marks Harley's first thoughts towards independence, making her first inklings of leaving the Joker once and for all happen long before they actually happened. Harley argues with the dream version of herself, but it struck speechless when the idealized version of her points out that Joker has never once said that he loves Harley. Grison reveals that the plan was a trap all along for the Joker, so she could be the one to bring him down and become a living legend. But Harley arrives and saves the Joker. She even allows Grison to escape, where she serves as a distraction to keep Batman occupied. Even though Harley and the Joker successfully make their escape, their base is destroyed, and the leave Gotham to lay low.
While Harley Loves the Joker isn't when Harley finally breaks free of the Joker's influence, it certainly marked the beginning of that transformation. Harley's doubts coincidentally come against a Joker who seems increasingly aware of how much he enjoys Harley's company, even though he still continues to act poorly towards her.