Whatever the requirements of your job, school or sport, I believe in the principle of being conditioned beyond the capacity which is required.
When I used to train in Ju-Jitsu, my conditioning was well below average. I was not unfit, but I was not particularly fit either.
In sessions where we would do many shoulder throws and hip throws, I would often get winded, could not get enough oxygen. This made everything harder, you basically start moving in slow motion and everything is a struggle. It was like walking through knee deep mud. Every move you made became ineffective.
The solution? I read a an exercise regime called the Spartan Health Regime (along with other various books and programs before and since) which promoted a lot of old time strength training and conditioning methods. One of the many exercises and training methods Spartan recommend was hill sprints, another was interval training. I didn’t have any hills in my neighborhood, nor a car to drive to one. That left interval training.
I started in my local park mixing up walking, jogging and flat out sprinting. I’d never done any kind of running since being a kid in school where they made you run. So it was all new to me. After a while I settled into a routine of alternating sprints with jogging, and also did a session each week of just jogging non stop for 45 minutes. Most days I also walked an average of two hours, as without a car you don’t have a choice.
This made an enormous difference to my overall conditioning. My heart and lungs grew stronger and more efficient. I could perform better in Ju-Jitsu class without getting winded. Five or ten shoulder throws? Hell twenty shoulder throws in quick succession would no longer wind me, and I felt great after classes, exhilarated rather than tired. I had more gas in my tank, and my bodies ability to use oxygen was more efficient during high stress activities.
But then I could not run so much because my shoes were wearing out. I had to walk everywhere at the time as I had no car. I usually walked 5-10 kilometres most days on average, so adding in the running was wearing out my only pair of shoes out rather fast.
I had no money back then to buy extras shoes just for running. That is a luxury now that I truly appreciate.
LIFE FINDS A WAY
Back in the day, I only had the one pair of shoes. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I just started turning up to Ju-Jitsu class an an hour early, and running in the spare training area that was not in use, in bare feet on the matted floor. And sometimes I ran in my local park in barefeet.
“Where there is a Will, there is a Way”
I would do 45 minutes of interval sprints and jogging or just light running/jogging. Then do a one hour Ju-Jitsu class. My jogging/intervals became a warm up for the class. Then the 30 minute walk home.
My conditioning got even better, my ankles and feet felt great running in bare feet on the soft Tatami straw mats. I turned what could have been a set back (lack of money to buy shoes) into a strength. Now I could perform even better in Ju-Jitsu class, each lesson I was able to perform whatever tasks were necessary, my body now conditioned well beyond the capacity required for an average one hour class.
Running in bare feet also meant that my ankles got stronger, and my balance improved. I love to run in bare feet, but I stick to shoes anywhere in public as there is too many hazards on the ground that can cut your feet to bother with it. Sidenote: years later when I moved interstate, I got to do regular hill sprints and I LOVED them to pieces. One of the finest overall conditioning methods available to humanity.
After you have run barefoot and cut your foot with broken beer bottle glass, you tend not to do it again. The bee stings were an annoyance, but glass is taking precious time away – time to heal when you need to be able to use your feet properly to do more important things. So you use what you’ve got, don’t make excuses – but also don’t fail to use your own intelligence too. I tend to do things the stupid way out of the gate until I slowly learn not to.
Ever since then, I’ve embraced the principle of being conditioned beyond the capacity required for my job, or for whatever routine I do in the gym, or just in daily life, and I’ve never looked back.
If you always have a little gas in the tank, if you always have a little extra strength, extra breath, power, mobility, speed and endurance, beyond what you need for each days tasks – then life and work becomes easier. It doesn’t matter what method you use so much, use whatever works for you. Over the years I’ve incorporated many different types of training into my exercise routines for various purposes. Any form of Progressive Overload where you build up gradually will do, there really are no limits to how creative you can get with these methods.
If you are conditioned beyond the required capacity of your daily activities – job, study, homelife etc- you can get through the day without being exhausted, no matter what is required of you. You can complete a day of hard work, go the gym in the afternoon, and then Yoga at night without being exhausted and run down. You’ve got energy to spend with your brother, your kids or your partner. Instead you feel exhilarated, satisfied, and fulfilled. You sleep deeper, and awaken more refreshed.
WE CAN REBUILD HIM, STRONGER….FASTER
One of the things I love about Batman, is that he is conditioned beyond his required capacity. His body, his mind, fighting spirit – the whole shebang. You know that crazy dude has put the work in, so that when it really matters he has his training and conditioning to rely upon. However, Batman runs into new challenges and unique situations all the time.
How do you condition yourself to be like Batman, mentally and physically?
Should we mix up our training and do a whole heap of different things?
Should we attempt to do many things at a basic level, or attempt to do one thing well?
In my opinion, we should specialize and work on one new thing at a time. Something that requires a degree of skill, learning, strength, flexibility, endurance and also helps you develop mental focus – all at the same time. For that reason I find any sort of SKILL based training that involves new learning (as opposed to just generic exercise) to be more demanding of ourselves, and have a greater sum total result for the time put in comparison to other activities. There are 101 things that fit this bill, it’s not up to me to choose what you do, that’s your business.
The more effective we become at any task or activity, the more we train that skill, the more presence and concentration we are able to bring to that task and other arenas of life
The more fitness and readiness we are able to bring to the table, the faster we are able to learn new things. The fitter we are, the better we learn, the better the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain and entire body – the better off you are. Good training, good practice makes you smarter, more alert, more aware. But too many people switch off when they are supposed to be learning or focused, when you should be at your most Switched On they are vacant and braindead.
Once we have fully learned the basics of our various modalities, we can combine multiple modalities into a single workout. But trying to learn how do a deadlift at the same time as learning how to throw a punch or kick in martial arts divides our limited attention. We focus on one or two things at a time, bringing all our attention and focus to that activity.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times – Bruce Lee
Even in skills that require constant movement or transitioning from one movement into another in a series of infinitely variable combinations such as in dance, martial art or Yoga, we still need to learn the pieces that make up that movement individually, as well as how to put them together.
Once we learn things, one at a time – really learn something – then we can put it together. Then I can have a day where I flow from a morning walk, a day of work, yoga or weights in the evening – effortlessly with full focus, concentration and attention. With energy to spare. With a bounce in my step and a cocky can-do Batitude – rather than my usual moody isolated default setting.
The more new things you learn, and learn well – the more things you are able to put together. The more new combinations of different types and modalities of exercise you can combine into single session, or single day. Building a cohesive whole that is unique to each of us.
But you’ve got to take the time to sloowwwwwwww down, learn something basic and simple, that works, in your own time, and get good at it. Not good according to what someone else can do, but good as in fulfilling your own unique potential for your body.
THE CAPACITY TO BE GREATER THAN YOU WERE YESTERDAY
Yoga, martial arts, lifting weights, bodyweight exercises, dance etc, every movement flows into another movement, and can be performed in almost any combination. You can take that same principle of flowing combinations into any endeavor in life. The more you do it, the more whole workouts, training sessions, whole days and whole weeks Flow together seamlessly.
Whatever you use, you do a *little* bit more than you need to, and your conditioning will be beyond what you require to function each day. We don’t need to go to extremes like Batman, jumping into one death trap after another, punching sharks and escaping burning buildings – we do what makes sense – no need to overthink it. No need to kill yourself just to get fitter and stronger.
To be conditioned beyond our required capacity means that if we need to lift for example twenty to thirty kilos regularly at work, (around 45 pounds) over several hours, then we should have the capacity to lift 30-50 Kilos (110 pounds) repeatedly for several hours. This is something I did have to adapt to doing when I worked manual labor in a factory for several years. It’s also the reason I got into strength training as a practical requirement for my daily job.
My body started out weak, and underweight for my height. I had plenty of energy from years of doing walking, running, yoga and martial arts. But I had no conditioned capacity to lift heavy things repeatedly for eight hours a day, five days a week with few or no breaks. I’d never done anything like it before. And doing so put me in a lot of chronic pain, as my body could not handle the work load. All I would do was work and sleep.
When our conditioning for life is inadequate, we are easily stressed, less reliable, we get sick easier, we work beyond our current biological capacity and are constantly getting run down and in need of repairs.
Training our minds and bodies to be adaptable, flexible, resilient and determined means accepting the challenge of becoming a better version of ourselves. A stronger version of ourselves. but we get there gradually, one step at a time. There are no shortcuts.
We have to take an honest look at ourselves, see where we lack, where we are a bit stupid and ignorant. I used to know nothing about yoga, nor martial arts, nor weight training before I started. Then we apply total radical honesty to our current abilities. I’m still quite stupid on all of those topics, but I know more than when I started.
It’s not about judging yourself or putting yourself down. Hell, if I had two arms today, but one arm tomorrow – then I work with what I’ve got. I don’t make excuses. I don’t complain. I don’t bother. If I’ve injured one part of my body, I work with another part of my body rather than doing nothing.
In one of my old jobs I used to take a guy who could not walk to the gym in his wheelchair. He would exercise his arms, lift some of his torso and do what he could. He worked with what he had. His grip was strong, his mind was sharp and fiercely determined. He didn’t let ideas like “can’t do it” or “too difficult” into his mind. There was no room for that in his thinking and self-belief.
I look at what I lack in ability and skill, in conditioning and then go about rectifying it, learning from whoever is useful in that field of knowledge. We’ve all got limitations.
We can only truly accept those limitations once we’ve explored to see what we can actually do, which is often beyond our present ability to imagine what we can do. It means getting uncomfortable, learning new things, feeling dumb and clumsy like a baby and a bit useless for a bit, but slowly incrementally learning and applying.
I used to be able to lower myself from a standing position, into a wrestlers style bridge with my head backwards, nose (or chin) to the floor and hold that position for about five minutes. Or do a gymnastic style bridge with arms extended. But in recent years I’ve had chronic neck pain and have lost strength and flexibility in multiple areas from work related issues. It’s gonna take consistent persistent work to get back what I lost in Mobility. But I can get there again.
So, whatever your daily requirement in life – if you are Conditioned Beyond the Capacity required things will go smoooooother. You don’t have to be Supergirl or Hercules, you just that need that *little* bit extra gas in the tank, that little bit extra strength, flexibility and mobility and you’ll find that whether doing physical tasks or long hours at an office job – you’ll be able to focus longer, accomplish the same work with less effort, and have energy to spare when you go home after work, or after the gym.
The easiest way there is incremental progression. Walk a little further, run more often, lift something heavy etc. If you need to be able to walk for thirty minutes non stop at a fast pace, build up to being able to walk fast for say a full hour, then when your requirement to do thirty minutes comes up, you can do it easily with energy to spare. That was one of my old favorites, fast walking for an hour – I prefer it to running.
With practice things get easier. Your concentration improves. Your focus improves. I once read comic books for twelve hours non stop. Another time I was on a forklift for fourteen hours (just bathroom breaks), no food, no coffee, no nothing with full concentration and alertness. I don’t know a single person from my old work who can do that – without getting drowsy. There’s nothing magic about it I credit my exercise habit, along with Yoga and Meditation (and reading lots of books) that increased my ability to concentrate for longer periods of time on monotonous activities.
You never know what you may be called on to do tomorrow, that goes beyond you every day expectations and current ability – so put a little extra time, a little extra effort in TODAY, to Condition yourself Beyond your Daily Requirements, your current expected capacity – and you’ll not only see the difference, you’ll be a little more Like Batman. Challenges will still come, life will still kick your ass regularly – but rather than cowering in fear – you’ll turn to face those challenges with a determined confident grin on your face.
*Batman’s a Scientist and Batman lifting weights from Batman #232, 1971, DC Comics
*Batman in a mudhole from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Animated Film, 2012, Warner Home Video
*Batman in the Rain by Jim Lee
*Elliott Hulse motivational image by Elliott Hulse
“The more we TRY to impress others, the less natural we are, the less flow we experience and the less power we have.
Consequently, the more we try the more we fail. And when we try even harder, we end up even more frustrated. ” Matt ‘the man’ Furey
Fail more, fail better.
Failure is feedback.
Failure is daring greatly while being open to the results of our own experiences free of any external judgments.
Batman don’t fuck around, he takes what he knows, and he adds to it daily.
The daily step by step process of learning / doing / applying.
What works… persists,
What doesn’t… falls away.
It’s an ongoing experiment in living that is unique and individual to all of us.
What works for me might not work for you.
What works for you, might not work for me.
What works for Batman might not work for us.
THIS IS ONE OF THE SECRETS OF THE BAT.
Batman is Zen and the I Ching and Superman and costumed underpants on the outside and the mythical unknown Underverse all rolled up into one big ball of might, supreme willpower strength and surrender. He’s a costumed maniac who harnesses unknown forces and makes them his bitch. He takes knowledge and skills and transforms them for his own unique purposes, as only he can do.
He is ordinary yet mysterious.
Super, yet human.
He gives Superman a headache.
Batman runs circles around the JLA with his strategies, contingencies and thinking of every last possible stupid fucking scenario while they piss into the wind.
His super power is his will power, it’s how he can beat Superman and Wonder Woman on a Tuesday, and break for lunch before being back in Gotham for the afternoon.
Batman is pure imagination and willpower given physical form.
He places no limits on his knowledge, skills, abilities and most important his IMAGINATION.
The theoretical, the unknown, the unlikely, the improbably probable.
The improbable and crazy shit we ought not to think about, Batman has already thought about and executed multiple plans for. But he’s not unbeatable, he’s just unreasonably prepared.
Batman might be successfully preventing a crime in a dark alley tonight…
But in times past nearly lost his life to an ordinary street punk with a gun, or that time he got his ass handed to him by a time travelling cyborg, or smashed in a Predator’s face out of pure frustration with a baseball bat when all his high tech methods failed and he was left for dead, rescued by Alfred.
Batman might prepare for everything, but he still routinely encounters the unknown, and he fails.
The thing about Batman is, he’s like a bad smell that you just can’t get rid of. Beaten, broken and bloodied – he doesn’t give up. He goes away, plans, comes up with new strategies to beat that unbeatable enemy. His mind is his greatest weapon. He still makes rash impulsive decisions – being a man of action – and has to live with the consequences.
His failures are numerous and un-countable. But he keeps marching forward, each day a new opportunity to make a difference in the world.
He will always have more failures than successes because he is always trying something new, always learning and adding to his skills. Always creating new obstacles and adverse situations for himself to rise and overcome.
THE WAY OF THE BAT
Rarely are we ever successful at something right away.
It’s that stubborn, stick at it, never tire or repetition Batitude that makes the difference.
The important thing is not that Batman tries, or succeeds at anything. The thing to remember is that he fails. All the time. He doesn’t let any fear of the unknown stop him from taking action. He embraces the failures, each and every one as valued feedback.
We can learn from that and use it on our own lives. And the thing is, trying to do something, or failing over and over doesn’t mean we will succeed at something. It’s easy and soft to have a “feel good” philosophy that makes us feel better. But it’s wrong and it won’t do shit to help you when you are at your worst. Pretty ideas won’t help you.
Life is hard, sometimes it kicks you in the gut and laughs at you for even attempting to do anything at all.
Life is painful, and we’re going to suffer whether we want to or not.
Trying over and over does’t equal success.
It might sometimes.
But most of the time it doesn’t.
Embracing failure doesn’t mean giving up, or trying to call every failure a “success”, it means accepting more often than not, our actions have little to no potency.
When you get to there, and you KEEP going, then you’ve got something.
Then you are tapping into the Will of the Bat. When you accept that most of the the time you are going to fail and going to suffer, and that life can be damn tough – but you’re going to get off your ass, and do what you can anyway to make a difference in your own life and those you are responsible for, well that my friends is tapping into BATITUDE.
Then you move beyond simple labels, ideas and words. You move into the FLOW of life.
The more we TRY to impress others, the less natural we are, the less flow we experience and the less power we have.
Consequently, the more we try the more we fail. And when we try even harder, we end up even more frustrated. ” Matt ‘the man’ Furey
You stop simply “trying” to do things, and move into taking conscious actions, you inhabit your body and move with grace and power. Your actions, words and ideas flow together as a seamless whole. You embrace whatever life throws at you, without labeling it, justifying it, or resisting it. You simple live, breathe, move, and act without hesitation in whatever direction you need to right now, according to the best data you have on hand.
ONE BAT BREATH AT A TIME, ONE BAT PUNCH AT A TIME
Batman doesn’t whine like a little bitch when things go wrong. He don’t complain when life leaves him bleeding with broken bones and puking his guts up after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of one of his numerous enemies.
He says, “It’s my fault… what could I have done differently…?
I could have done more, I could have been better, I could have been more prepared…
but I was not good enough this time.”
Batman is committed to being better today, than he was yesterday.
Complaining when things don’t go his way doesn’t enter into his values. It’s a waste time, waste of effort, waste of life that could be better channeled and focused toward his unwavering commitment to excellence at all levels.
When Batman loses, for whatever reason he ask himself: How am I deficient? What can I improve upon that is going to increase my chances of getting a different result next time.
You can see it in his eyes.
When his enemies think he is beaten for good, in his mind he’s looking for a way out, a way forward, any bit of leverage he can get and when he does get it, he’s going to act swiftly, without mercy nor hesitation. That imagination, steely determination and force of will that silently says “Fuck you, only I SAY WHEN I’M DONE, not you and nothing else in the world gets to tell me that”
Win or lose, it’s all feedback. The list of battles we must face in daily life is endless. Almost infinite. What is our one bit of inconsequential effort and struggle in the grand scheme of things.
It’s like nothing. Dust in the wind.
We can’t win at everything, all the time. Even succeeding at anything half the time is pretty good. It’s delusional to believe we can always be at our best.
But we still turn up, we still act, we still take a shot, we take our chances.
We keep our mind sharp, we stack the odds in our favor by turning up to face the challenges that come every day, rather than shrinking in fear. We relentless pummel and hammer away each day at lifes difficulties. We make small incremental improvements in our skills that are almost invisible. We attempt to expand our skills at all times in our chosen arena. We beat the stupid out of ourselves one blow at a time. We own all of our bad behavior, taking an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and say:
“I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENS”
We renew our vow, our eternal war on our own ignorance, and to being a little better today than we were yesterday.
*Batman vs Predator panel from Batman vs Predator Collected Edition, 1993, DC Comics.
*Batman and Grendel panel from Batman/Grendel Devil’s Bones, 1992, DC Comics
*Arkham Origins concept art New Gotham Diamond District by Meinert Hansen, DC Comics, Warner Bros interactive Entertainment
*Arkham City concept art Gotham Skyline, 2011 DC Comics, Warner Bros interactive Entertainment
*Alfred/Batman panel from Batman, DC Comics
*Joker kicking Aquaman from Legends of the DC Universe #26, 2000, DC Comics
I like when people make the effort to go forth and dive deep into a topic I love – such as Batman – and I crave this sort of in depth thinking wherever I can find it.
I enjoyed a couple of great video essays this year that take the time to think about Batman and have something useful to say, all of which are linked to below.
The first one is “How the Dark Knight Killed the DCEU” from the Lobster Magnet channel.
The other two videos are from HiTop Films, and are basically video essays on how the various Batman movie adaptations do or don’t stack up to the essential core of Batman established in various media. Both are EXCELLENT thought provoking videos that demonstrate a clear depth and understanding to Batman beyond the casual fan level.-
Batman 1989 is a Bad Batman Movie (from HiTop Films):
Batman does not kill (from HiTop Films)
I rarely link to any sort of video content here, as often videos disappear and leave a big ugly blank space in your blog post, but these channels are fairly active and hopefully will be around for a while, I hope you check them out.
I have no affiliation with these guys, but every year I look for interesting stuff related to Batman online and in all types of media – and these guys really stood out with their content. It gives me an idea, maybe a “best of batman media” type of post, a round of good stuff in one post. Something to ponder.
At times I’ve considered doing video content myself – but I don’t have the editing skills for that and it would take a lot of time to learn – to make something of the quality I would desire. I’d much rather do a Podcast anyway, and I’m still looking for someone to do a Batman podcast with, but have not yet found that person. It may happen one day, or maybe never. I considered doing a solo Bat podcast, but as an avid audiophile – I really don’t like solo Podcasts and much prefer the banter of a good dynamic duo.
So I’m grateful for cool videos like the ones linked to above that go above and beyond and are not just the usual run of the mill low effort clicky baity bullshit.
Despite being around for over seventy years, there is only a handful of quality books written about Batman, and surprisingly little to find online that is worth reading about Batman. Low quality ain’t the Way of the Bat my friend, Batman don’t do shortcuts and he don’t do lazy. It’s downright disrespectful to the Legacy of the Bat to create garbage online and add the Good Name of Wayne to it. So don’t do it! Avoid! Reverse the Batmobile at full speed away from stinking garbage.
THE FUTURE OF BATFAN ON BATMAN
My apologies for the lack of posts here lately. Lots going on behind the scenes creatively speaking, but not many finished posts here over the last year or so. I hope you enjoyed my epic long-ass in depth post on Harley Quinn, that more than a few people requested – including my fellow Batfan and friend Deboleena Panja.
At a risk or repeating myself, there is a lot more Batman themed articles in the works. Some nearly finished, others with tons of editing to do. This is post #82, and I have at least 200 more in me (probably more).
In the gaps here, I’ve also been doing other writing elsewhere. If you’ve never found my Transformers Multiverse Blog take a look if that sort of thing interests you. Currently I’ve started into a series of articles focusing on the Transformers 1986 animated movie. I talk in that blog about Transformers fiction, sometimes toys and the odd bit about Ninja Turtles appears in there too.
Also in the works is a Batman ebook. It will be announced here long before it becomes available for anyone interested. I’m thinking it will be between 50,000 to 100,000 words, and most likely in the $5 range for Amazon Kindle (you can get the Kindle app for pretty much everything these days, you don’t have to own an actual Kindle). Once I get it done, I will more than likely do some other volumes focused around different topics.
My focus in 2019 is shifting away from various online communities, endless (enjoyable) research and back to more hardcore get up at 0500 and drink some disgusting coffee – write for an hour five or more days a week before work routine. I’m sipping on yet another disgusting black sugarless coffee ‘write now.
For anyone wondering, will I ever do my own article series about the various Batman movies? In a word…….eventually. I prefer to focus on the comics, animation and essential core of Batman. The movies get so much attention that they are at the end of my “to do” list. I will dive more specifically into the Nolan movies for a bit as part of my upcoming “Symbolism of the Bat” article series, but that will be a tangent to my articles on Batman: the Animated Series and Batman Arkham Asylum video game article series throughout 2019.
2019 is just around the corner, and while it may not be my Zodiac Sign, I’m predicting it’s gonna be another Year of the Bat around these parts. It’ll also be the year I finally get another superhero tattoo, expect pictures of that one.
2019 – The year I do five impossible things before breakfast
2019 – The year of Making it Wayne
2019 – The year of BATITUDE
2019 – The year of many good fortunes, long life and lucky Bats.
I have not read a whole lot of Batman comics in 2018, but the stories I have enjoyed the most were Dark Knight Returns III: The Master Race and Dark Nights: Metal. Both were fun stories than interested me far more than the other regular sprawling monthlies with their endless sub-plots, and both I waited until they were completed before reading any of them at all.
Nothing bugs me more than reading a single chapter of a story then having to wait weeks or months to read the next chapter. It’s the same reason I won’t watch Flash or Daredevil until I have the time to go through the whole season in a week (or a couple days). Too big a gap and I forget what is happening in the story.
In both of these Batman stories, we explore the roads less traveled, the paths not taken by Bruce Wayne. Some are realistic views and events based on the familiar Bruce we know and his values. Others versions [of Bruce] are nightmarish scenarios vomited into existence because every polarity must have its opposite or its tangents that demands to be heard, even if that demand is a shrill piercing endless scream from a reality that should not exist.
Dark Nights Metal managed to be both a kick-ass action packed Batman / JLA
story and ALSO be a really dark and fucked up slow crawl through the mind of
Bruce Wayne – leaving you wondering if he is sick or sane.
All Bruce Wayne’s dark and most demented aspects are given truly terrifying life in the previously unknown Metal Underverse. The main story was good, but the highlights to me were the tie in one shots each showcasing a more depraved, more driven more
demented aspect of Bruce Wayne / Batman’s psyche.
It’s an intelligent and fun look at how many ways Bruce Wayne could have fully gone over to the dark side. If you thought Darth Vader or Spawn were dark and demented characters, well you ain’t seen nothing yet – they pale in comparison to these gloriously demented zealots, these bizarre twisted manifestations of Bruce Wayne’s ultimate drive and his obsessions perverted to the extreme. It’s a deliciously slow crawl through the worst parts of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, all his murky mucky hidden corners lit up like a Christmas Tree to be savored and devoured.
If you’ve ever read any DC Elseworlds, this is like an evil universe of “What If….” Batman stories, but incorporated into one deep dark bizarre evil universe that starts merging (or more like ravenously consuming) the mainline DC Universe. Its dark demented and exactly the kind of story I love. It also runs with themes of Alchemy and Heavy Metal laced into the story like a deadly neurotoxin that poisons you before you even open the to the first page.
There are so many evil fucked up versions of Batman that it’s just a smorgasbord of super nasty.
A Batman who becomes the new God of War? Another Batman who is infected with the Doomsday virus, why not? Each one more depraved and driven than the last.
How about a Batman who is basically a Clive Barker style cenobite with little demon Robins chained on leashes? That’s him in the tasteful fetish attire and a Joker grin on his face. He wears his influences on his sleeve.
And there is a load more of them, a whole JLA of evil Batmen from a wicked universe that should not and could not exist, all based on key moral decisions Bruce Wayne did or did not choose. That’s my favourite part really, that each personality splinter comes from something deep, true and honorable in Wayne, all twisted by a dark universe where evil prevails.
It’s Metal, Horror and every fucked up Grimm’s Fairy Tale with a horrific ending wrapped in big black coat of the Bat and put through a meat grinder. On paper, it looks gimmicky as fuck. All style, no substance. Exactly my first impression, and also the reason I put off reading it for months.
Convention has it that Batman’s adventures work best when they’re rooted in a basically realistic world of gritty crime violence and backstreet reprisals, but from the very start of his career, he was drawn into demented episodes of the supernatural, uncanny and inexplicable. His was the territory of the dark unconscious after all… – GRANT MORRISON / Supergods
But reading the complete story in one day (and it’s tie ins over a couple days) – there is surprising depth and exploration of Bruce’s psyche in this story. It’s nice to also see horror being an essential part of the story, something we rarely get in modern Batman comics outside of the cliched often boring obligatory Scarecrow appearances or the odd Kelley Jones anomaly.
This is no story of hyper-rationality and realism, but a deep exploration into parts unknown. It’s a fairy tale of pure unrestrained evil and chaos, and how close it is to home, and how the complete self in all of us has these same potentials and impulses. It’s multiple Batmen expressing their shadow self and domination of all life on earth, rather than in service to humanity.
Dark Nights Metal also manages to creatively link itself to Grant Morrison’s run, and Snyder’s infamous NEW 52 run – both of which I rather enjoyed. It was not even necessary to do so, but it’s a nice extra – and a bit clever.
Snyder is nowhere near the caliber of writer that Morrison is when it comes to exploring niche exotic, weird and offbeat material, but he managed to really surprise me with this story by including key elements of his NEW 52 Batman personality, and tapping into the larger mythical/magical framework of stories human beings tell for generations.
There is a good dose of archetypes and a scale to this mini-crossover that felt not too big, not too small…. but just right. Dark Nights Metal is a terrific read. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but I encourage you to to check it out.
THE TRIUMVIRATE KNIGHT
After the original Dark Knight Returns – a seminal stand alone defining work – nobody could have expected, predicted (nor wanted) a sequel.
So, years later Miller wrote The Dark Knight Strikes Again (aka DK2) as a sequel – and it was not terribly welcome. There was as sense of “the first one was classic, don’t fuck with it Frank” coming from many fans, the same way classic stand alone movies are revered, and sometimes genuinely shit on when remade, rebooted or re-interpreted by a studio looking to make a quick buck.
I first read Dark Knight 2 from my local public library in the collected edition. The art was a real turn off, but I enjoyed the story. On subsequent readings, I’ve come to enjoy the skewed art that is more…. mmm…. expressionistic and emotional (moving away from realistic anatomical drawings).
I certainly can see why there were so many complaints about the art. Some of it still bugs me to this day, but it’s definitely Art. The scratchy look really reminds me of early Romita Jnr stories, the kind that suit a grim crime ridden environment. While I enjoy the color palette used, the actual digital coloring itself is a bit of any eyesore, coming across as more experimental than refined.
DK2 didn’t try to just repeat the first book or story, but did something new. And really that’s what I want out of any comic book story. The art style is clearly closer to Miller’s 300 book, Lynn Varley also colored those books. Can you see Wonder Woman’s nose in that picture? Did you even notice?
Art (good or bad) should get a reaction out of you, and I do find many of the comments hilarious that just assume EVERYTHING in DK2 is “bad art”. It’s pretty ignorant to assume that anything not anatomically accurate or super shiny and Avengers style pretty is “bad”. Or that doing something more fast and loose is bad rather than a stylistic choice. It’s not even a new style for Frank, as he has done these freakish looking pin ups for decades that have appeared often in other people’s books. His Savage Dragon pin up is an eye sore to me, but it’s one of Larsen’s favorite Dragon pin ups.
Personally I found Dark Knight Strikes Again an interesting read and more enjoyable the second or third time through when you get what Frank was going for. And I still re-read it regularly. I picked it up again just now to flip through while writing, and will probably read it again this weekend.
With Dark Knight Returns III: The Master Race, we got a more conventional commercial story – usually the death of creativity. But when that commercial story is a collaboration of Miller and Azzarello – well that’s still one damn good read, even if it lacks deeper meaning and more overt political commentary like the original Dark Knight Returns. I did enjoy seeing more classical comic art in DK3 rather than the hyper stylized Pollock splashery of DK2.
It’s pointless trying to outdo the original DKR – it’s a masterpiece of sorts, but instead we get another story set in that universe that is less controversial and more… for lack of a better word – palatable. That should be a criticism, but it’s not. It’s a fun read if you like Batman, or even just the wider DCU.
How much Miller wrote DK3 is debatable, as his co-creators (check out the credits below) and more “hands on” style of DC Comics suggests that it was a more commercial effort with a more restrained Miller.
The art by Andy Kubert is lovely, but you get the impression with another artist (and another well known writer) involved, did Miller ghost write this one? Did he pass them some details scribbled on a cocktail napkin and DC said “Hell yeah, we like money, but we’re in control on this one Frank, fans don’t like when you draw outside the lines with squiggles and stuff”
Whatever the reality of the situation, I enjoyed the final product.
But Frankly speaking…….I’d rather read a more wild, chaotic and excessive Miller story any day than a subdued one. I don’t care if it’s downright bonkers, as it’s his freedom to express what he wants to express. I’m sorry if you don’t like his stories or whatever…….(yeah I’m not) – but artists have to actually genuinely express themselves to make something interesting. Anything else is just vanilla monthlies.
I love monthlies too, there is a time and a place for restraint and “by the numbers” story telling (such as regular monthly books) and there is a time and place for more experimental material, such as in one shots, Elseworlds stories and creator driven mini-series.
Anytime you get a Kubert – be it Andy, Adam or Papa Joe on a book, you are in for a visual treat. I still fondly remember Andy Kubert’s amazing work on Batman vs Predator, he’s one of my all time favourite comic books artists.
The backup stories in Master Race use the “scratchy” style we saw in DK2, and are Miller’s art, while Kubert’s stuff is in the main story.
It’s not like we have not had a good Miller story before with someone else on art duties. Mazzucchelli / Miller on Batman: Year One was a winning combination. But it does make me curious what would a purely Miller written and drawn DK3 have been like? Supposedly there is yet another sequel coming. Which for many fans means an excuse to foam at the mouth and scream gibberish online. I don’t care for that sort of thing.
If you like something, read it and enjoy it. If not, move the fuck on.
It’s a waste of life to rant and rave nonsensical crap. I don’t mind genuine criticism, whether it be written or video content, provided it has an actual point of view. But mostly, I just love to read comics – and I don’t care or have the time to read “reviews” of comics (that take more time to read than the actual comic itself!) I do however like anything that takes the time to go deeper into a topic I love – like Batman – and wish more people would create that sort of thing.
In Dark Knight III: The Master Race, there is a heap of other DC Icons as guests in the story. Superman is a more well balanced character, and Batman responds to one of the greatest threats he has ever faced. A whole army of refugee Kryptonians who intend to rule the earth by force as dictators and make it their new home.
Bats don’t tolerate that kind of crap, so you know he’s not going to sit back and do nothing. How it plays out is a fun enthralling read and perhaps a more traditional comic story than the excesses of DK2. That’s neither a good nor bad thing, but however it all stacks up – it’s a book I’m happy to add to my growing collection of Batman comics on the book shelf.
One of the things I love about Harley Quinn is the sense of fun about her.
She’s a bad girl and she knows it.
The ability to let loose and just unapologetically be who she is – is one of the things that appeals to me most about Harley. She is deeply flawed, and that also makes her more relatable like Batman.
However whether Harley is crazy or not, she is eccentric, vulnerable and easily led. Unlike the Joker who is a deadly kind of dangerous and playful, Harley is a more fun and sexy kind of danger that seems appealing, but Harley can fluctuate from playful to deadly in a heartbeat.
In this article we’ll take a look at Harley’s Quinn’s history, her relationship with the Joker and her exploding popularity from niche background character to mainline DC Icon. We’ll also take a lot at some of her exciting outfits, and see how she is portrayed across various media such as comics, cartoons and video games.
Harley Quinn was the creation of Batman writer Paul Dini. She first appeared in Batman: the Animated Series in 1992. Harley eventually became so popular that she was included in the mainline Batman comic books, went on to star in several of her own comic book titles and started appearing in video games such as Batman Arkham Asylum and Injustice: Gods Among Us. Harley also appeared in the DC Super Hero Girls kids show and has had a lot of action figures, statues and other merchandise bearing her likeness. More recently Harley Quinn appeared in the Suicide Squad movie played by Margot Robbie, exploding her popularity even more.
DON’T CRY FOR ME PAMELA ISLEY
Harley is forever in this abusive relationship with the Joker, and while it’s sad and horrible, it’s a whirlwind Bonnie and Clyde gangster romance – she loves him and can’t get away from him. It’s very true to life where some battered and abused women refuse to leave their husbands and will run back to them at the first opportunity. In Batman the Animated Series (1992) and the graphic novel tie in Mad Love by Paul Dini – the Joker treats Harley poorly, kicks her out frequently only for her to come crawling back even when she did nothing wrong.
There is no denying that Harley is attracted to danger and chaos, it’s all fun and games to her, but she is also like that which she finds most attractive. As a rule breaker and agent of chaos, there is no predicting on any day whether Harley Quinn will help or harm someone. Harley also has no real focus in life, and is often easily led or manipulated by others – characters such as the Joker, Catwoman or Batman regularly manipulate Quinn for their own purposes.
In the Gotham City Sirens comic book series Catwoman and Poison Ivy are a positive influence on Harley, questioning her undying loyalty to the clown who keeps treating her so bad. We see the first instances of Harley questioning her own blind love for the Joker and need/infatuation for her abusive lover. This later leads into more solo Harley Quinn stories, and eventually to her second main ongoing solo book in the NEW 52 imprint of DC.
THE NEW THE NOUVELLE
In the NEW 52 branded DC books Harley Quinn got another solo title and this is where Harley is defiantly on her own, a single gal, and really gets to be her own character free of not only the Joker’s shadow, but the Batman family of comics and characters thanks to being in her own title. Her previous solo comic book was still basically tied into the Batman family of books. NEW 52 Harley Quinn is a rising star, sitting on the comic book store shelves freed of any Batman branding, logos or tie ins.
Freed of the pattern of her reactions to both the Joker and Batman, and with the influence of Ivy, Catwoman and other gal pals, not to mention encounters with the wider DC Universe community Harley for the first time is forced to question her own motivations, character and ethos.
THIS USED TO BE MY PLAYGROUND
New 52 Harley takes on a more goth punk aesthetic, and also classical bad girl look of the 40’s and 50s comics – a more sexualized look that is designed to provoke a reaction, but at the same time affirms she is who she is. Harley doesn’t wear crazy weird and overly revealing outfits just to titillate, (well maybe a little) but because that is what she feels comfortable in, it’s an expression of her personality and of the Harlequin archetype.
Harley embraces her Bad Girl aesthetic, and has crazy adventures while seemingly moving into Anti-Heroine territory. In the wild and woolly (and sometimes pornographic) world of fan art, imagination is set loose, and one meme of fan art that is often repeated is Harley romantically linked with Deadpool.
Harley and Deadpool make sense thematically, they share similar costume colors and are both crazy, but ultimately fun loving GENUINE weirdos who really can’t help but be who they are, they just don’t fit in in our world. And it’s a good thing, they are both maniacs. Apart from existing in different fictional worlds, they are two similar to have any sort of actual relationship. But it’s a fun meme, and for that purpose it works well.
The NEW 52 Harley Quinn stories are very similar in tone, style and pattern to the early Joe Kelly solo Deadpool stories that really defined Deadpool as the lovable goofy demented idiot we all know and love. The skewed morality (or lack of it) makes for fun reading.
The Joe Kelly Deadpool run is where Deadpool went from being a really generic boring bad guy with a cool costume, to having the most obnoxious and funny personality in the Marvel Universe. The birth of wise cracking Deadpool is partly a riff on Spider-Man – who used to be the funny guy, but has not been the least bit funny in decades – Deadpool’s costume also is a riff on Spider-Man’s costume right down to the eyes, layout and colors.
Both Harley and Deadpool are selfish mostly amoral villains, but despite their nature, keep helping people, and listening to others who encourage them not to just mindlessly kill people. A distinction here is that Deadpool is a well paid assassin, who will accept just about any contract (usually children are the exception… *cough*), whereas Harley is a nutcase who kills when it is convenient, and it’s often glossed over whether she actually kills someone, or just kidnaps and incapacitates them etc.
NEW 52 Harley actively tries to help people, when her roller derby term loses and then Harley maims the opposing team members so they can’t win – well it’s Harley’s naive and twisted way of thinking that she is helping. Harley and Deadpool are kind of like kids who grow up with abusive parents, or no parents at all.
The people they have imprinted on have largely been bad bad people, criminals, cons, murderers, assassins and psychos etc. Despite these influences, there is something good underneath in both of these characters that comes through in certain stories, leaving them neither truly villains, nor heroes, but walking a murky moral middle ground. If you’ve seen Spike on the Buffy show, he’s another example of a character with a shady past constantly walking a fine line between good and evil. Likewise, fellow Suicide Squad alumni Deadshot is a villainous assassin, seemingly without morals who conveniently misses targets when its suits him to.
Early in the NEW 52 run Harleen Quinzel sees a patient as a psychologist – an elderly lady who complains her family don’t visit her- Harley turns up at their house with a bulldozer, knocks the wall down, kidnaps and threatens to kill them if they don’t visit their grandmother more often. Turns out the old lady had memory issues and the loving family already visits three times a week.
So Harley’s “help” is often more harmful than if she had just done nothing. A similar theme runs through the early Kelly Deadpool stories, and it’s this cheeky fun loving style that really makes the NEW 52 Harley stories a fun read. It’s these kinds of misadventures that make Harley question whether why she should even attempt to do good in the world, when her trying to be good often ends up being worse behavior than her every day “bad” behavior.
This similarity to the classic Joe Casey Deadpool stories in one of the things that pisses some Harley fans off, for them it’s TOO similar and lazy, no longer authentically the “Harley Quinn” that they know and love. Others in another camp enjoy the stories for their difference, and then there are newer younger fans who only know the more modern version of Quinn and are not very familiar with her older stories, so the comparison is just not relevant. Chances are that if you love NEW 52 Harley stories, you’ll most likely love the early Kelly Deadpool stories.
Speaking of bad dudes – in the NEW 52 Suicide Squad comic Harley has a fling with Deadshot, and even the notoriously brave, “who gives a fuck” devil may care Deadshot pauses to stop and ask if the Joker will not try and kill him, isn’t Harley “Joker’s Girl”? Harley fucks Deadshot, and while it’s a throwaway moment, another wild impulse from a serial risk taking thrill seeker – it’s also a final nail in the coffin of her relationship with her ex. It’s a gimmick scene for sure – but also another step along the path of Harley being free of the Joker and the Batman Family of books.
In the Suicide Squad movie for the first time we see a Joker / Harley relationship where he ACTUALLY loves and cares for her, rather than just tolerates and abuses her as in all former versions of these characters. It’s unclear whether the film was edited that way on purpose, as there is evidence that the film did contain (at least in some drafts) the classic love/hate Joker and Harley abusive relationship.
Whether that version of the film was just one idea in the mix, or somebody stepped in and cut those parts out? Who knows. I feel the film is better for it. Rumor has it that the Suicide Squad may get a sequel, and Harley Quinn may get a solo film, and then Gotham Girls is also in the mix. Whether we will get one or three films is anybodies guess. I’d like to hope so, but I think it’s more likely we will get one or two films at most, rather than three films so early with Harley – it would seem to me like over-exposure – unless they really staggered the release dates.
CRAZY FOR YOU
Harley Quinn was introduced as a sidekick, lover and victim of the Joker, their relationship played up for laughs. But there is no denying that the Joker is verbally, physically and psychologically abusive to Harley – something easy to miss in a kids cartoon such as Batman Animated, or the tie in comic books for kids.
As Harley became integrated into the official DC Universe through Batman related books, making the leap from TV screen to comic book page, she also was spun off into other titles including the Suicide Squad, her own ongoing book and various mini-series.
Harley became more of an independent character, she breaks up with the Joker and for the first time we see her develop as a character, being more than just a symbiotic love/hate on again/off again Joker relationship in Batman Animated. She goes from being just a plot device or background character, to her own more fully developed character. From the object of “she” to DC icon “Harley Quinn”
In Batman Animated, Harley would often leave the Joker (or be kicked out by him forcefully) only to inevitably go running back to him like a battered spouse.
Harley’s integration into the wider DCU meant that when she left the Joker once again, she actually had somewhere to go, other than the confines of the TV show, or just the narrow panel borders of the Batman branded comic books.
Eventually Harley landed in her own book(s), with some mad but fun stories from various writers and artists with Harley as a reluctant anti-Heroine, who can’t help helping people, despite her best intentions to be selfish and a very bad girl.
Harley Quinn was further cemented as a wider DC Universe character when she appeared in the big budget Batman Arkham Asylum video game series (again written by her creator Paul Dini). While Harley reverted to her Batman Animated status as the Joker’s gangster moll once more – more people play video games than read comics, so the widespread exposure helped for the move into more of Quinn’s own comic books, and wider DC media exposure including licensed toys.
CRAZY ABOUT THE BAT
Harley also has a love/hate relationship with the Batman himself. It’s not a romantic or sexual thing. If anything, Batman is one of the more stable influences in her life – and depending on who is writing the story Baman can be her personal villain/tormentor, or a father-like figure who tries to forgive her and encourage her to give up the life of crime she has fallen into. Batman believes in the good side of Harley, but Harley inevitably rebels against all types of authority like a rebellious teenager.
The other key relationship Harley has in the DCU is with Poison Ivy/ Pamela Isley. The two have been good friends since the days of Batman the Animated Series and that friendship has continued into other media and Harley’s solo books. Harley and Ivy are very affectionate friends, but whether it’s a more sisterly bond or if Harley is bi-sexual and has been more involved with Poison Ivy off panel and between the sheets – we don’t really know. But it’s something that is hinted at in various stories, but it’s often it’s left up to the readers imagination, that doesn’t stop the writers from having fun with their hints.
STRIKE A POSE
Further expanding Harley as a multi-media entity has been the vast volume of merchandise proving popular with both male and female fans. Harley being featured in the alternative reality comic book series Injustice: Gods among Us and the much hyped video game of the same name saw Harley’s exposure grow even more outside of her Batman/Joker origins.
Action figures large and small, with many variants based on her different artistic interpretations across different media significantly helped Harley to become a more iconic character in a relatively short period of time, with her various appearances proving popular with hardcore collectors and casual fans.
If you go on ebay you’ll find Harley action figures, kids costumes and even more adult lingerie type stuff. Some of it official, some of it bootleg by the looks of it. You know Quinn has achieved a certain type of mass popularity when she’s has even getting bootleg merchandise appearing on ebay.
Licensed merchandise and mainstream movies tend to grow a character faster in pop culture than just comics or animation alone. Once Harley reached critical mass with her appearance in the Suicide Squad movie, she had gone as mainstream as it gets in her appeal. Her appeal is also multi-generational with products targeted at different age demographics.
Harley has grown to be more than just a twisted freak, her public persona is one of fun, sexiness and devil may care “don’t fuck with me” can do attitude. Harley is a fun fantasy character who comes from a background of animation, leapt into the mainline Batman comics, became part of the wider DC Universe, took part in company yearly gimmick events, got loads of toys made, moved on to several solo books, became part of the roster in a fighting video game and back into animation again as part of the kids show DC Super Hero Girls. Her spin off merch, cosplays, fan art and now big screen movie action sees her star continue to rise, and she’s a character that appeals to both male and female fans.
FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YA TELL ME
There is a certain punk-rock appeal to Harley that makes her appealing to many fans. She’s “alternative”, but not in a market driven way. Harley got there organically through many costume changes and various writers. Her personality has been pretty consistent in the 25 years she has been around. Yes, the youthful Harley is already a quarter century old in the comic book world.
Few writers have done anything terribly interesting with the character. Her creator Paul Dini has made the biggest mark on the character, with other writers doing their version of his character, or some alternative version with minor differences such as the Amanda Connor / Palmiotti Harley stories.
Harley’s incorporation into the kids show DC Super Hero Girls and it’s toyline sees a more age appropriate version of the character marketed to youngsters. It’s a common tactic these days from the big two to have multiple versions of their characters in each target demographic age group. That’s why you can find tiny versions of Bane or the Joker from Batman suitable for five year olds in stores – even though those characters are horrible killers.
It’s a little at odds with her core character and values to see Harley Quinn lined up with a bunch of true blue superheroes, and call me cynical but it’s clearly DC looking at the successful line of Disney Princess dolls, Barbie dolls and their multimedia products that DC have done their version of that. Which is fine, they are cool toys frankly. I’m a bit weirded out by the heroin-chic skinny dolls with bobble heads inspiring new generations to body dsymorphia – but other than that they look cool. I almost bought the Harley Quinn doll, it’s been at my local shops a long time – but found it a little too creepy looking to put on my shelf. You kind of have to ignore the characters and realize it’s more these are generic characters wearing the costumes of the iconic characters. The personality and character is really not there.
Still the DC Superhero Girls show and its tie in comics are decent (if bland and generic) fun for kids, not as exciting as say the Powerpuff Girls (one of my all time favourite tv shows) but it is nice that kids can enjoy a version of these characters where the girls are the stars, rather than second fiddle to the usual majority male cast of the DC universe in print and on the big screen. It’s a bland show, but it’s colorful and stars female characters in the lead, so I’m all for it – even though it’s inoffensively bland rather than the well written all ages hit that I *wish* it was (like the original Powerpuff Girls).
CH-CH-CH-CHANGES, TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE
Harley Quinn’s playful and often sexual nature had made her very popular with adult cosplayers. A quick online search reveals many well conceived and implemented costumed variants, including post-apocalyptic and steampunk Harley Quinn cosplay. Harley is also very popular in pro and fan art both by herself or featured as a couple with the Joker or Poison Ivy. Her licensed toys have really taken off with versions of just about every costume and era represented in the toy lines.
Harley’s looks have alternated from her full body 1600’s inspired Harlequin costume to more flesh revealing gothic, kink, fetish and lingerie inspired outfits, the first most significant departure from the original full body costume appearing in the Arkham Asylum video games.
Depending on the media – each of those designs cross-pollinates giving us new hybrid designs that link past present and future Harley either visually or thematically.
The most consistent motifs are the red/black playing card diamond pattern and colors, blonde hair (which is sometimes died into other colors) and the general theme of the costume and role of the Harlequin popularized in European plays during the 1600s. Sometimes we see Harley in regular clothes, in her civilian identity as Harleen Quinzel (former head shrinker), but not very often. Her identity is well known to anybody and everybody in the superhero community.
In Batman: Arkham Asylum (the game, not the graphic novel by Grant Morrison) gone was her full body comical Harlequin outfit. Replaced with tight leather pants, smeared black eye make-up took the place of her domino mask, while Harley’s hair was dyed in the colors that were formerly on her costume, and her domino mask is gone replaced with make up to mimmick the same basic look.
While showing more skin is not really a sign of character development, some of Harley’s stories do fit with her risk tasking provocative personality. Harley was always an explicitly sexual, dangerous character even if it was not so obvious in the Batman Animated show. When Harley falls for someone or something, her mad passion fixates on that character. Whether’s it’s her relationship with the Joker, anger at Batman or infatuation with Pamela Isley – Harley overly fixates on whatever her manic ADD attention span allows her to.
Some scenes in Batman Animated were toned down from their original scripts, to keep in line with standards for children’s television. But there was never any doubt of Paul Dini’s intentions in creating the character, which was to be in a very specific style. Harley is like a rock star groupie, and the Joker is always on tour in her mind, so the party never ends.
When Batman: Arkham Asylum was released, many fans and game reviewers were rather surprised by Harley’s “new look” which has an undeniable S&M feel to it, and many game reviewers and fans commented that she looked like a street walker. Those comments were mostly not meant in any negative way, but more as genuine surprise that game developers / artists went with such a bold depiction that offered a strong contrast to her previous costume.
But to be frank Batman is wearing a black full body fetish looking costume and super-heroes and their costumes are fetishistic by their very nature. Come on, how many of them wear their underwear on the outside? That’s just kinky by its nature. We have just gotten so used to seeing their costumes in mass media that we take it for granted.
More important than any specific costume alone for Harley is agency – how does she interact with her world. Is the story about her, or is she just background in a story? With her solo books their is no doubt Harley is calling the shots, while the traditional Batman books have her more as a background character. Harley’s role mixes it up depending on what kind of story she is in. As a trickster and a wildcard – she’s fits in just about anywhere. She can play both heel and face, often in the same story.
In the recent animated movie Batman and Harley Quinn Harley even goes against her Fonfon Ru Poison Ivy – choosing to die with Batman when Ivy and the Floronic Man try to end the world with the Plant-Apocalypse. *Spoiler Alert* Harley doesn’t die, and helps save the day.
GOOD LUCK IN YOUR NEW BAND
To Paul Dini’s credit, he enjoys the different contrasting versions of Harley that have popped up in new media. Dini has given several long form interviews on various Podcast shows, and he is quite vocal in his support of the diverse range of artistic interpretations of Harley in comics and other media. It’s not every day that someone can create a character in the Batman universe that sticks around. And it’s even more rare to create a modern character who moves beyond their source material to find new audiences and new media outgrowing the limited line of Batman books.
WE AIM TO MISBEHAVE
While Harley has become a more overtly-sexual, more extreme risk taking character, she is still basically the same character. I was skeptical of this direction at first after the more chaste classic version of Harley I was familiar with seemingly went away for good. It seemed that DC was turning Harley into another dis-empowered stupid female character who just pointlessly runs around in her underwear for the fanboys, and has no real story to tell.
But having read a significant amount of both old school and modern Harley Quinn stories, most of what DC have done with the character fits very well. The thing about Harlequin’s and Clowns and performance art, is to continually fuck with the audience, and keep them guessing about what are the true intentions of this performance? A good showman or showgirl never reveals their secrets. With Harley, it feels like she is somewhat of a chameleon like Joker, or David Bowie or Madonna – going through different looks, different eras that refract societies norms and then go off in strange unpredictable directions. Partly as artistic expression, partly to fuck with the audience and be a provocateur.
It’s the call of an artist to follow their muse, and Harley expresses herself through wild outfits and outrageous behavior. She’s a punk-rock risk taking teenager who never grew up, doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks and that is a big part of her appeal. She knows like Poison Ivy that men find her irresistible, and uses that as leverage to get what she wants, but that can also backfire on her with characters like Batman who see through the schtick. Harley is also somewhat genuinely naive (despite her high overall intelligence), with a child like innocence that people find endearing.
Harley’s various looks are also a call back to another era, that of the golden age comics and pulp stories that featured costumed femme fatales that preceded the typical superheroes and typical JLA types. These pulp characters were often sexy, dark or extreme. Like them, Harley as an image is a fetishized object, unlike them Harley does not have a secret identity and pretty much everybody knows who she is. She has a certain kind of fame and notoriety in the DC Universe. Like other performance artists, Harley takes the iconography of femme fatales, harlequins and more, and she owns that behavior, makes it her own and uses it express herself. Harley likes to dress up and be provocative, and she has a lot of fun being a silly, sexy mischief maker.
Whether Quinn can be called a genuinely empowered “bad girl” with her punk attitude bucking of social norms, or a more deliberate marketed femme fatale with her increasingly more revealing outfits designed to appeal to men I can’t say definitively one way or another. Harley is a character of contrast who defies simple categorization and that is something that works in her favor. Harley plays at being “crazy” but really she’s more manic and impulsive than anything. At times she has managed to restrain herself from doing something regrettable, but more often she gives in to her wild impulses, and follows her gut instincts.
Harley remains an interesting and intriguing character with some surprising depth to her that is not obvious to the casual viewer. Like the Joker, you can’t really define Harley or keep her pinned down. She defies categorization, and constantly changes her look, keeping people guessing.
LIVING ON THE EDGE
On one level Harley is a fun, silly, sexy manic character who is as funny is as she is unpredictable. Harley refuses to be a boring “good girl”, as she knows its way more fun to be bad and express herself, and damn the consequences. In this way she is a throwback to early pulp femme fatales, the daredevils and risk takers of yesteryear who often had secret identities to protect their wild antics and were synonymous with sexual yearning, and the expressing of normal human desires often suppressed in a patriarchal society, so that even normal human expression becomes some kind of kink or perversion.
One big problem with female characters in fiction, particularly north american comic books – is that women are often there solely as plot devices. Just to be the token girlfriend to the main hero, as a one dimensional placeholder figure. There are various actions, reactions and attempts to write around this issue, but often male dominated cinema, film and comics have poorly written inauthentic female characters that misrepresent the other half of the population. It is a constant challenge to not make horrible shit like that in comics books when it’s the norm.
When any half decent new female character comes along there is always the risk of them being pigeonholed into some crappy archetype we are already familiar with, instead of letting them grow organically down their own path. While the merchandise side of the Harley Quinn empire is very deliberate, to me the character has been allowed to grow beyond her roots, and at least some of that merch is because fans really wanted it.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Harley Quinn is fun, sweet, sexy and silly. She’s also manic and unpredictable, an impulsive hedonistic freak, and incredibly dangerous. What I love about the character is that she is someone who says it’s okay to be an outsider, a rebel, a weirdo, a misfit and to have fun being who you are. While her outfits fluctuate from full body suits to showing a lot of skin, she defies the usual beauty standards. While Harley is undeniably hot, the way she dresses is about as unconventional as it gets – her various looks incorporating elements of goth, punk, grunge, circus / harlequin, prostitutes and retro comic book femme fatales.
It makes sense Quinn is a popular cosplay, as there as so many options to mix and choose from. While some female comic book characters come across as borderline exploitative, Harley has owned her risque behavior, looks and attitudes from day one. As messed up as she is, she’s not afraid to be who she is. Part of what makes villains, anti-heroes and anti-heroines so much fun is that they let out all the stuff we “norms” keep repressed and bottled up. They let their freak flag fly in a form of fiction we can find socially acceptable.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Harley has proved enduringly popular. From multiple video games to cosplays to fan art, two decades of comic books, animation, toys and now her first official live action movie appearance – she was rumored to be first featured back in the 90’s Schumacher Batman films…urgh. Statues, clothing, Halloween costumes, a role in a kids TV show, it seems there is no stopping Harley Quinn’s rising popularity, she’s in just about every media and form you can think of. Harley also got her own starring role in another DC Animated original feature Batman and Harley Quinn – Batman’s name may come first for marketing purposes but make no mistake, Harley is the star of this animated movie.