Warning: spoilers for Harley Quinn & the Birds of Prey #4 are ahead!
Few villains in comic book history have experienced a redemption arc as big as Harley Quinn. While her early days in television and comics portrayed her as nothing more than Joker’s romantic partner in crime, Harley Quinn has grown quite a bit since her time on Batman: the Animated Series. Renouncing the Joker and moving out of Gotham was a game-changer for the former henchwoman, who now regularly fights alongside DC’s heroes. But that doesn’t mean she’s a perfect angel. Harley’s moral alignment is complicated to a degree that even God and Satan cannot agree on whether she belongs in Heaven or Hell.
In the finale of Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Black Label series Harley Quinn & the Birds of Prey, the chaotic clown messes things up badly after a romantic getaway to a deserted island with Poison Ivy goes horribly wrong. After intentionally allowing their boat to go adrift in the hopes of getting more alone time with her “Rosebud,” Harley sets off a chain of events that leads to her Coney Island hotel, the Dreamin’ Seaman, to be torched by a loan shark—leaving her friends homeless and her best friend, Big Tony, in the hospital. After brutally slaying the loan shark’s goons, she agrees to pay off her debt. But to acquire the needed funds Harley robs from the Joker’s secret vault, which lands her into even more trouble…and right at death’s door.
After enduring physical torture at the hand’s of her homicidal ex, Harley is saved by Poison Ivy, but the trauma is too severe and her soul is sent to the afterlife. Standing before the Pearly Gates in nothing but her birthday suit (and some conveniently placed clouds), she faces her final judgement from both God and the Devil. But there is a problem—neither entity can agree where Harley belongs. God points to Harley’s brutal body count as proof that she belongs in Hell, but the Devil is quick to remind God that Heaven is full of people who killed in their lifetimes as well, and Harley only kills “bad guys.” Even Harley has a hard time deciding where she belongs, and eventually both Heaven and Hell agree that neither wants to deal with the chaos her soul would bring their realm.
And thus, Harley’s soul is cast back down to Earth in the hopes that she lives a very, very long life. After being reunited with her body, Ivy informs her that she had been in a coma for nearly four months. Though she managed to cheat death, she still requires weeks of therapy before she’s back on her feet again. While several members of the Birds of Prey attempt to help nurse Harley back to health, it is the soft-spoken Cassandra Cain who has the most success with her physical rehabilitation. With her body recovered, Harley returns to Coney Island and discovers that her friends have rebuilt her home and Ivy has forgiven her.
Part of what makes Harley Quinn such a popular character is that she fully embraces the chaotic good in her nature. She has a rather dark past in spite of her bubbly personality, however, Harley also goes out of her way to help people in need. She is someone who will liberate animals from a kill shelter, but also someone who will kneecap a complete stranger for looking at her wrong. She is a complicated character who can’t be defined by such simple labels as hero or villain—or even good or evil.