Warning: this article deals with themes of domestic violence.Contains spoilers for Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey #5!
DC Comics is expanding on all the ways in which Harley Quinn explores her individuality in the DC Extended Universe’s Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey film. In the Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic, her endeavors to create a name for herself are so effective that Joker is compelled to act in such a violent manner that is twisted even for him. Although the nature of the assault are intended to demean Harley, the events leading up to the bloody moment create an entirely opposite effect, transforming Joker into a petty, small man, lashing out in desperation.
At the beginning of the Black Label series’ fifth issue by writer Jimmy Palmiotti with art and words by Amanda Conner, the situation Harley finds herself in is so unpleasant that it should have been disempowering. Harley Quinn is tied up. She’s at the mercy of Joker’s new play thing, Harley Sinn. And presiding over the entire spectacle is none other than the Jester of Genocide himself.
And yet Harley is empowered because of how badly she has made Mistah J look. She stole goods that he already stole, proving she’s a better thief than him. And even though he possesses so much street cred that his mere appearance demands immediate attention and a full reaction, the fact that she’s being hunted by not just Defeo’s thugs, but Scarecrow, Clayface, Penguin, Mister Freeze, and Renee Montoya puts her on a level that not only rivals but transcends Joker. To add insult to injury, she presents all of this in a box, complete with a cute, little bow by verbally listing the ways in which her name now outweighs his.
This isn’t even mentioning the elephant in the room: Poison Ivy, who Joker ties up and dangles upside down right in front of Harley. Her relationship with Harley is the ultimate smack in Joker’s face. She is, in every way imaginable, the exact opposite of him. Meanwhile, his attempt at moving on involves creating an almost exact replica of Harley, who is partially her namesake. She’s on a whole new plane while he’s floundering in place.
Eventually, the liberation that Harley so obviously achieves pushes Joker over the edge. He responds by trying to brand her with the first letter of his name, carving a “J” right in the middle of her chest. This sad attempt to mark Harley as his property proves how much she succeeds due the great lengths he’s willing to go to bring her back down to his level. The keywords here are “trying” and “attempt” because he fails so utterly and completely. His failure culminates in Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy throwing him out the window and eventually falling into each other’s arms.