The evolution of Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship - DCAU
((I initially intended this to be a response to a snarky comment about the relationship, but I decided against hijacking the original post and opted to create my own. This post sets out to analyze the dynamics of the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn as seen throughout the DCAU. I’ve laid out the episodes chronologically as they fit into the progression of the on-again-off-again relationship. ))
The Henchwench Stage:
- Joker’s Favor
Harley is a member of the gang, only treated slightly better than the rest. She’s sent to retrieve ol’ Chucko and bring him back and is tasked with wheeling in the cake. This is largely because she doesn’t look like your typical goon, and blends in easily due to being relatively new to the crime thing. The roomful of cops would not recognize her, but would surely recognize any of Joker’s normal goons.
- The Laughing Fish
Same as above, but her role as his right-hand gal is more apparent. He has higher expectations for her and better roles for her in his schemes. The whole ‘relationship with his former Doctor gone crazy’ thing is still pretty damn funny to him, and he isn’t really taking it seriously. Mild abuse here and there, nothing more than he does to his other goons, but less than killing her.
- Harley and Ivy
He begins to tire of the whole ‘kooky relationship’ charade and quite literally kicks her out. Harley runs into Ivy and a friendship/relationship is born. Ivy does her best to convince Harley that Joker is slime, but Harley remains steadfast in her adoration. The underlying abuse is apparent, thanks to the infamous “You think after livin with mister J I’d be used to a little pain…” He eventually realizes Harley pulls her weight and keeps things running smoothly, and then sees that she can pull capers without him. He can’t stand that, as he sees her as his creation and goes to collect her. She is overjoyed.
- Almost Got ‘Im
Harley is now a MAJOR player in his schemes. He allows her to be the voice that gets the laughter going, which would lead to Batman’s death. That alone is huge. He also leaves her alone with Selina with no other goons or guards, showing he trusts her to some extent to do the job right. (It can also be argued that Joker was well aware that Batman was Croc, and was hoping to stall him long enough for Harley to get the job done. Irrelevant, but I love talking about that.)
- The Man Who Killed Batman
Harley is now well on her way to being his second in command, and is earning respect and affection from him. He sends her to retrieve Sid, a VIP in Joker’s eyes. Obviously still early in their relationship and her career as a criminal, as she uses her full name. Bullock is an idiot, though. During the jewelry store heist/test, he tasks her with looting the safe while he instructs the goons. While doing so he holds her chin in his hands and looks at her affectionately as she walks away. This is short lived as his irritation and anger grow due to Batman’s absence. He calmly tells Harley to put the jewelry back, but when she thinks he’s joking he snaps at her and tosses her with quite a bit of force, repeating himself. Harley calls him “boss” despite having just called him one of her pet names, and scrambles to do as she’s told. Still a henchwench more than a girlfriend. At the funeral, she makes a joke to cheer him up and he affectionately pats her head. Maybe this crazy chick isn’t so bad after all.
Interesting to note: After this point, she almost never refers to him as Boss, and instead relies on Puddin and Mistah J.
The Lover’s Quarrel Stage: Hold on to your butts, this gets long.
- Mad Love
The abuse is still prevalent, and Harley has not begun to fight back and stand up for herself. She still sees Batman as the one thing standing between them and a “normal life”, and still believes in that normal life being a possibility. Joker still sees her as a bit of a nuisance but recognizes her usefulness enough to let her play along in the scheme to get Gordon. He’s less than amused at her attempts to play “on his level” and her need for affection just annoys him. He’s busy damn it, can’t she see that? Harley hits a breaking point after being thrown out the window and slapped silly, and begins to revert back into Harleen. She’s done this time, she deserves better than that creep. Besides, he’s rumored to be dead anyway so good riddance! But again, Harley is sick and her illness causes her to immediately revert back when she sees the rose. The rose. A call back to when they first began this crazy circus together and accompanied by a get well soon card of all things! He cares, he really does, see Red? He loves me, really… I could write an essay on this episode, but we’ve still got plenty to go!
Side note: While this episode airs later in the series, its important to note that the comic version was published and circulated several months before the airing of Harlequinade
Harley is reluctant to rat her puddin out but sees a way that she can get exactly what she wants. She refers to the lair as “Ours”. Batman questions why she stays through it all and she explains it perfectly. Harley then goes on to perform a spectacular musical number that describes her relationship with the Joker, prefacing it with how she rationalizes it all: “Gee, what relationship doesn’t have its ups and downs?” She knows their love isn’t normal, but she also knows that they aren’t normal. She immediately double crosses Batman to be with her Puddin, but just as quickly changes her mind when he refuses to change the countdown so they can save their ‘friends’ and the babies. Joker is honestly shocked to see his little lovesick henchwench show up, and is impressed she could understand the way he thinks and find him. He really was going to leave her behind, but as he’s tickled by this new development and she’s already there, he plays along and invites her along. He grows frustrated that she dare to argue with this gift he’s ‘graciously’ giving her (his companionship and presence), and then furious when she joins Batman in trying to stop him. THIS IS IMPORTANT: He goes to hit her when she rebels, and she kicks him squarely in the face, not taking any of his abuse. She then spends the next few minutes shooting at/fighting him and attempts to kill him by shooting him point blank. When this fails, Joker is so impressed by her actions he realizes he’s kinda fond of her after all and damn is she useful. Harley’s illness being what it is, she immediately forgives him and leaps into his arms. If you see this as occurring after the events of Mad Love, a lot makes sense, especially how unforgiving Harley is at first of his attempt to abuse her.
Harley has a small role as all of the Rogues Gallery are playing this game, not just Joker. BUT she is the only one allowed to wear anything of Batman’s: his utility belt. Joker allows her to stroke and fawn over him, blows her a kiss and makes cutesy faces at her. This shift to publicly showing affection in front of other Rogues and Batman is most likely largely for show, but would not happen if they were at odds or not in a good place in the relationship. Harley claims that her puddin is “lovin and loyal”, which gives us some idea that he is affectionate and doting with her behind closed doors.
When its revealed that he ratted her out, she first gives him the benefit of the doubt. When he admits it she lunges at him, attempting to throttle him and screaming obscenities at him. She even lashes out at Croc as he takes her away, and calls back that she’ll “Kick that grin off yer silly face!!” Truly the behavior of a poor, defenseless victim. Also important to note is Joker’s reaction to the DA bringing his lapse in loyalty up: he tries to keep her from revealing the info and is visibly nervous and anxious about how Harley will react to this news. He’s well aware she’s no longer his doormat and will stand up for herself.
A fun side note: Harley is next seen entering the room with Ivy. A gal’s gotta bitch about the shit her boyfriend pulled to her best friend after all. Despite all of that, when Joker enters the room she swoons and stares at him lovingly and he pats her head. All has been either forgiven or forgotten on both sides. If he was nothing but a victimizing abuser, he’d had retaliated with violence or brushed her off after that public display of violence and “insubordination” toward him.
What comes next is easy to miss, but is VERY telling of where they are at. Batman breaks free and ties Harley up in a straight jacket, hanging her from the ceiling. Croc blocks the exit and Batman comes out of the darkness to kick him in the face. While Batman and Croc are fighting, Joker grabs a tommy gun to shoot Batman, but the Ventriloquist stops him saying “Stop! you’ll hit Croc!” to which Joker simply replies “What’s your point?” Croc’s life doesn’t matter *at all* to him when it comes down to it and there is a chance to kill Batman. Hell, Croc’s life doesn’t matter to him at all any day of the week, like most of the other Rogues. Joker starts shooting at Batman and in the process nearly shoots Harley. Joker immediately stops shooting and looks mildly concerned, until Harley glares at him to show she’s pissed, and he responds by looking sheepish and apologetic. The Joker. Sheepish and apologetic. Because he nearly shot someone who is supposed to be “beneath him”.
The Self Aware/Equally Dangerous Stage: Also known as the fucking essay stage.
- Beware the Creeper
There is no denying they are on a more equal standing at this point. (It can also be argued that at this point, Harley has gone further into madness and begun to mirror her puddin’s behavior and disassociation to the pain of others. I mean, she straight up drops a statue on a man, makes a joke and cartwheels away.) Harley has more adorable pet names for Joker, and commands the goons around with ease. The two of them terrorize the camera crew simultaneously, and Joker is just constantly amused at her antics during the fight. Harley makes her escape before Joker does, presumably to set up her surprise. Unfortunately for Harley Joker just wants to be alone and pout and isn’t in the mood for whoopie cushion therapy, so he kicks her out and tasks her with finding whatever mook has been stealing his gimmick. Harley is dejected and a little miffed, walking the docks complaining to herself about being kicked out. To be honest I completely expect that she was heading to Ivy’s. He wants some alone time? FINE. I’ll show him alone time, I’ll be gone for weeks! HA!
She gets side tracked by the Creeper (literally exactly what Joker told her would make him happy) and some dangerous hijinks ensue before she winds up back at the ha-hacienda, asking her puddin to save her. When the Creeper bursts through the wall, Joker gasps and pushes Harley behind him, shielding her from the yellow-skinned wacky man. Creeper grabs Harley and she reassures her puddin that she didn’t encourage this nonsense. Joker grabs her back and smiles down at her adoringly, not a doubt in his mind that she’s loyal to him, then turns on the Creeper. Steal my act and my girl? You’re going down, sonny boy. He once again places himself between the two and goes to take care of business. Harley makes a joke before preparing to bash the Creeper’s brains out, and Joker is once again highly amused at this. However, Batman shows up and with no plan in place Joker reverts back to his old ways, telling Harley to stall them while he “gets the car”. Harley is no stranger to this sort of thing, and ends up getting the car herself while Joker is fighting Batman and Robin to ensure they leave together. Funny how Joker is the one stalling the heroes while Harley is the one actually getting the car.
- Joker’s Millions
I personally love this episode when it comes to their relationship. They have a full on “married couple” spat in the car over gas for fuck’s sake. More on that in a second. From the get go they have a very natural and flowing dialogue. At one point, Batgirl knocks Harley down as they are fleeing. Joker is well ahead of Harley at this point and could easily make his escape, but the next shot is him coming back to get her and fight off Batgirl. After providing a distraction by means of exploding fake eyeball, he calls after her to join him instead of leaving her to be distraction. As they’re speeding away, Joker is clearly angry about the outcome of the heist, pouting and complaining in the passenger seat. Instead of berating and hitting her for forgetting the loot, he simply retorts that she was the last one to have it. When the car runs out of gas he yells at her “I thought I told you to get gas!!” to which she rolls her eyes at him and yells right back at him, getting in his face as she does so. Instead of backhanding her for speaking up like that, he just smiles and nods before settling back in his seat to think of what to do. After Joker rockets away, exclaiming he could only afford one ejector seat, Harley yells all sorts of insults after him, exclaiming that she’ll “get him for this!”
Once Joker has the money, he knows Harley is still furious with him but misses her all the same. So he does the next best thing in his mind to buying her way out of Arkham: get a new one, its cheaper this way. This is moot as Harley has already forgiven him, happily sighing at the news report on TV on him, and confident he’ll get her out. (Seriously, Arkham. Don’t you think letting Harley watch things with the Joker in them is counterproductive to her treatment? Do you even want to help these guys or are you just accepting your fate as the villain college dorm?) Ivy shows Harley the headline of the paper, announcing Joker’s plans to find a new henchgirl which immediately sends Harley into a blind rage. How DARE he?! She screams out that she’ll kill him for this insult and betrayal, and plans her escape to get back at him. At the end, as a handcuffed Joker is being led into the police van, its revealed that the guard inside of the van is Harley. A visibly angry, and armed Harley. Joker is clearly nervous, again. He stammers, claiming that he’s so happy to see her, which in the past has proven enough to win her favor again. Instead, she makes a joke and happily goes about beating him with the police club as he yells in pain and attempts to explain everything to her. Pretty interesting to note that Harley wasted an escape plan solely to beat the snot out of the Joker. She knows that van is going straight back to Arkham, but she also knows its her one chance to be alone with him long enough to exact her revenge.
Non B:TAS Episodes: High functioning psychopaths on the same page.
I just want to touch on these briefly, as I’ve already written way too much. “Wild Cards” and Return are post-animated series, and the “Worlds Finest” crossover aired a few months before “Joker’s Millions”.
- World’s Finest
As mentioned in another post, Joker never physically harms Harley, and they are overly affectionate toward each other. Harley still does henchwench-esque things like hauling the heavy kryptonite statue and fighting Mercy, but is always praised and coddled by Joker afterwards. (Seriously the dom/sub aspect of this relationship is so intriguing.) From this point on, he almost consistently calls her by a pet name. “Pooh” “pumpkin pie” “slugger” etc.
- Wild Cards
Brief interaction between the two physically, and also a return to the abuse momentarily. Its also an episode that is very meta about them. As Harley is advancing, ready to beat the snot out of him, Joker stalls her with this painful truth of their relationship: “We can’t let everything we have be ruined by a silly misunderstanding…We’re two of a kind, you’ll always come back to me.” To which Harley immediately softens up and goes “Yeah, I guess I do don’t I.” and goes in for a cuddly hug.
I actually touched on these episodes here, so I’ll briefly recap. Actually, I’ll copy paste a small bit.
Every moment of this plan is crucial, and the closer we get to the big finale the more important each second gets. Harley’s role right before she is abused is the one of Helicopter Newscaster, to play up the shtick and distract super creeps. This is important to the survival of the plan. And what does she do? Not only does she abandon her post to bother him with a ridiculous accusation about replacing her (which he absolutely doesn’t have time for, especially considering the JL is destroying his bombs and time is counting down) BUT she also leads Batman directly to him, the one member of the JL most equipped to fight and take down Joker as well as the constant thorn in his side. And she has the gall to be mad at him?? But he doesn’t even have time to tell her off or get into an argument with her, he knows Batman is going to be there soon. So he shmoozes a little to calm her down then gets rid of her quickly. He’ll make it up to her later.
One of my favorite lines is when Batman is attempting to get under Harley’s skin and sway her away from the Joker, she yells that “He’s changed! We’ve been to couples counseling!” I love it. So does that mean the Arkham doctors just gave up on trying to ‘cure’ Harley and set up these couples sessions? Or did the two of them hold some poor therapist hostage while they complained to him/her about the relationship? Because either way that would be hilarious.
- Return of the Joker
Oh, Return of the Joker… You make my heart hurt. This is at the end of their relationship for painfully obvious reasons. And at this point, they are without a doubt equals. There is no abuse, there is no manipulation. They think the same, act the same, and find joy in the same things. There is a ridiculous amount of affection and adoration between the two of them, and Joker even kisses Harley on the cheek on screen. The pet names are flying left and right, and as they go to reveal their new son they are not only holding hands, but have interlocked their fingers.
Looking at all of their appearances together in the DCAU, its really hard to ignore the fact that their interactions grow and change beyond that of Battered Wife and Abusive Uncaring Asshole.
Did Joker beat her, break her bones and treat her like garbage? Yes. I’m not delusional.
Did he also grow to (dare I say?) love her in some way, treat her with respect and see her as worthy of being his equal? Also yes.
Are there multiple instances of Harley abusing and manipulating Joker as well? Yes.
Are they a normal god damn couple? NO.
Do you have to support them as a couple? Absolutely not. But please stop pretending like Harley is a helpless victim throughout it all.
You people constantly want to shit all over JokerxHarley and reduce the relationship to nothing more than abuse and manipulation, but you hate admitting that it is in fact two sided and it does in fact evolve and progress in some twisted form of a normal long term relationship.
((ClownyPrincess has gone way in depth with this topic and further into the comics with her analysis - check it out))