Amongst my personal group of geeky friends, and even amongst the listeners of Nerd Herders Radio, there is one character that we all seem to have a mutual love for, and no matter what the subject matter in personal conversation or radio show topics, that character’s name always comes up, and that character is Harley Quinn. So it was no surprise that my friends, the radio show listeners, my husband and myself all fanboy- squeed at the fact that this crazy yet lovable female was getting a solo DC ongoing series come November 2013.
Last week, DC comics announced via their website that they were holding an open casting call for artists to add their undiscovered touch to the Harley Quinn ongoing series, an admirable feat from DC to give newcomers a possible shot at working their dream job for what is one of the big two in the comic book publishing world. Within the submission form is a specific excerpt from the upcoming series written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner that they would like for these artists to draw. This is where things begin to go awry, as the excerpt is a 4-panel page in which Harley Quinn attempts different methods of committing suicide.
One of the biggest complaints that I have heard, and have made myself, is the fact that suicide, the mere thought of it, as well as a physical attempt, is out of character for Harley Quinn.
Is she crazy? Yes. Crazy enough to attempt or even consider suicide? No. Does she take, like and expect mental, physical and emotional abuse from her beloved puddin’ the Joker? Yes. Would she consider suicide after everything he has ever put her through? No. While she is weak for the Joker, she is not weak in character. She would put herself in harms way to protect Joker, but inflicting harm on herself purposely is something she wouldn’t do.
There have been many variations and interpretations of Harley Quinn’s character since her introduction to us in Batman: The Animated Series in ‘92, and none of them whatsoever would’ve led her to the decision of potentially harming herself. In the current Batman Arkham video game series when the Joker died, she mourned and sought revenge, her puddin’, the love of her life was dead and she could’ve gone the route of suicide, but she didn’t. Same goes for the Injustice video game, she left the Joker after he bombed Metropolis, and she reformed in the alternate universe they were in (of course until the real universe joker showed up). When Harley Quinn became part of the Suicide Squad (no pun intended) after the big New 52 relaunch, fans clamored at the fact that they would be able to see and read about Harley Quinn on a monthly basis again, it was a comic book title that introduced her fresh and anew to those who may not have picked up a comic with Harley Quinn in it prior to. Harley Quinn has become an iconic character. From Mad Love to Gotham City Sirens and more, fans love Harley Quinn. We see her as deranged, violent, but all the while she has a sense of innocence and compassion, and within all of those traits not one of them would elude to her being/becoming suicidal.
I have found myself asking, how is it that DC decides that ‘no superhero should marry’ (fresh off the Batwoman no marriage story) but DC is okay with the fact that one of their most beloved characters, by males and females alike in various age groups, is attempting to end her own life?
Now though reading the excerpt did shock me, and at first had me angry that the editors & writers would allow this to be part of a character when it is 100% out of character, I took a step back.
We cannot judge it yet; all we know via the DC Website is that these are just 4 panels on page fifteen of what is typically a 21-page comic book. There is more going on before and after and we obviously know she won’t go through with it because this is an ongoing series.
But, what tipped a lot of people off about her final suicide attempt in the fourth panel is that Harley attempts it with a bunch of electronics in her bathtub…nothing unusual there, right? Except the fact that she is naked in said bathtub. This is one panel where it did not need to be over sexualized. If this were a male character, he wouldn’t be naked in a bathtub trying to kill himself, he more than likely would just be in a bathtub.
I don’t mind a nude Harley, I’ve come to peace with the potential of a borderline suicidal Harley, but Harley trying to kill herself naked is over the top. Her being nude while attempting suicide is not necessary at all to the act itself, so why go there? It almost seems as though the writers are metaphorically trying to show the “beauty in death” or even glorifying and eroticizing the suicide attempt because she is a female. Maybe it’s just me reading into this too much, but it does beg one to question: would these same panels be the same if this were a male? The answer to that question is no.
In recent Marvel books, Deadpool tries/tried to kill himself to no avail because he cannot die. It wasn’t a big deal because we all know he can’t die so his ‘suicide attempts’ didn’t cause readers to blink an eye, plus it fit’s the character, it has been a very long time coming but sooner or later Deadpool fans expected his character to take that route. However, none of his attempts deemed him being nude…although attempting suicide nude is something of Deadpool also.
Also one of the writers went on record (only to immediately delete his statement) saying that Harley’s suicide attempts were to be compared to that of the old Looney Tunes cartoons, in a hokey style…because as well all know, suicide is definitely funny and hokey.
Aside from suicide being out of character, and whatever the motive is behind these attempts for plot purposes, what makes it come off more as being in poor taste for DC Comics is that this contest was announced a week prior to National Suicide Prevention Week, though September is in fact Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.
What bothers me the absolute most about it is that suicide is a serious subject. Suicide is often the result of extensive bullying, depression from home life, feelings of being alone, etc. Coincidentally, those are also the reasons people turn to comic books, for escapism of the harsh realities we deal with on a day-to-day basis. So if you’re turning to comic books for solace, what happens when that piece of sanctuary for you shows you everything you are trying desperately to avoid?
Sure we don’t know how Harley will rise above this, we don’t know if she even does rise above this, it could just be something she struggles with throughout the entirety of the series, but when more teenagers are considering and actually committing suicide, I feel that if DC Comics wanted to raise awareness of it to their readers they could’ve done it in a more tasteful manner instead of pinning it on this character in the manner that they chose to do so.
In closing, I leave you with the last sentence from the DC Comics website where the contest submission form resides, and I quote, “Breaking into comics was never this fun.”