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Rebirth Harley Quinn: The Joker’s Call Review

Allow me to start by making a statement of opinion: I am not a fan of The New 52 Harley Quinn writing team or the work they have done on the series. The review you are reading is a reflection of that opinion, and I understand that there are readers who appreciate this series. I do not wish to put off that audience. While sales suggest this audience is turning away from the series, the readership was strong and committed to the point that. Unlike almost every other DC title, the creative leads on the series were not changed over or stories reset by the Rebirth event. This was a disappointment to me, but there have been suggestions of a shift in story that might occur.

Please be aware that from this point on there will be spoilers for some of the Harley Quinn series, specifically the more recent issues with the return of the Joker. You have been warned.

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I have not read the complete series of The New 52, now Rebirth, the Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti Harley Quinn, but not for lack of trying. I find their stories inconsequential and shallow, and feel that the character they are working with now, that their continued storytelling has created, has little similarity to the 25-year-old character that shares it’s name. However, this is not to say that Harley Quinn cannot survive on her own without The Joker, a choice that much of these stories works with, or that she cannot hold her own in a title of her own. Her early 2000s series and Gotham City Sirens both demonstrate otherwise. Any reader, fan base included, who claims that stories involving this character needn’t or shouldn’t have depth are simply incorrect. Characters change and evolve, but this character isn’t only dissimilar to what she had been but has been stripped of what one would consider character. Removing her of larger, more worthwhile conflict has created mostly a vehicle for jokes and innuendo that is great for selling products and looking good on covers. Outside of character issues, I find the writing in itself difficult to follow. I won’t make sweeping statements; most of these critiques are reflected in the recent issues that I want to comment on. All of this said, let’s focus on the most recent issues of the series that offer a carrot to fans of the origins of the character and a possible relationship with Joker. I tune-in and read the series when there is a story being told that interests me. Recently, the series has courted fans who want to see Harley in a more consistent relationship that reflects her history, grounding her in her roots between Joker and Poison Ivy that were cemented in Batman: The Animated Series. A few panels went viral and created discussion and debate when Harley seemed to finally answer the will they/won’t they with Joker.

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He attacks her, forcing himself on her, and she bites his lip, leaving him bleeding on the floor and stating she will never follow his demands again. Many fans liked this, as it demonstrated her ability to overcome abuse and gave her growth beyond being a subsidiary character to Joker. Issues followed in which Harley and Ivy are shown solidifying their relationship, with Harley asking to become something consistent. This story was done over several issues, and the answer from Ivy delayed by a story of their vacation adventures. Finally, she states that she can’t commit, because of her responsibility to plants. Really.

Ivy

While I understand the concept that Ivy’s mission is more important than her relationship with Harley, there are no stakes that dictate the need for a choice. There is nothing pressing that keeps Ivy from spending her time with Harley and nothing that kept her from taking a vacation and participating in adventures with Harley any more than she would be creating adventures individually.

At that juncture, I tuned off again. However, it didn’t take the creative team long to create a new relationship option, one that interested me within the confines of this canon: Joker wants her back.

Issue #9 shows Harley returning to the roller derby and once more fighting someone who beat her in an early comic, Bertha. Someone in the audience kills Bertha when she is close to murdering Harley, saving her. The rest of the comic is essentially padding with multiple dream sequences that are cute but have little importance. Yes, we know Harley is weighed by her past with Joker. Yes, we know Harley likely remembers her affection for Ivy sweetly. Outside of reminding us of that, these sequences do little. There is also a small subplot in which Harley buys some pizza, stops a robber, and gets free pizza for life, giving some to a homeless man. These sorts of stories are common in this series, attempts to show Harley as compassionate and human in extremely hammy ways that otherwise aren’t important to the plot. The disjointed subplots and dream segments make for stories that are difficult to follow. These minor plots, attempted to actually convey some form of character, are often more limited in page count than fluff, making them difficult to take with weight. The comic ends with Joker being in Harley’s apartment when she gets home.

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Issue #10 is a holiday comic. Issue #11 starts with a terse discussion between Harley and Joker where he asks her to meet him the next day in public to show he is a changed man. It then reacquaints readers with Red Tool, a parody character intended as a stand-in to answer the fan question, “what would a relationship between Harley and Deadpool be like?” The answer is “uninteresting.” Deadpool may be intentionally grating and verbose, but this character shares none of that wisecracking brevity or fun. Red Tool is essentially a guy in a suit similar to Deadpool who seeks to protect Harley because of an attraction to her. His dialogue is wordy, yes, but it isn’t written to be fun or clever. It’s lengthy because they haven’t resolved how to show story instead of tell story, an issue I have always had with these comics. That isn’t to say the dialogue reads like exposition drop. Between the accents they awkwardly write into each character and the choices made in speech layout.  It can be difficult to follow what is being said between forced catchphrases and supposed colloquial language. Red Tool makes Joker leave and Harley intends to meet him later. The pair return to an earlier unfinished plot of a door on the carnival lot that is locked. They break the door with grenades and find a monster inside. Similarly, this story is short, depicting it as insignificant, despite there being lots of questions about a huge goo monster. Escaping it, Harley returns home exhausted and sets her clock to meet Joker. Instead, Red Tool meets him.

Issue #12 has Harley sleeping through the meeting because Red Tool changed her alarm, and the two men exchange words. Joker tells him he will not fight. Red Tool then beats him. Harley is woken by the noon bells and realizes her alarm was changed. She hurries to find Red Tool beating Joker, telling him to stop and that, because of the altercation and change of her clock, she will not speak to him for a month. She takes Joker home and ties him to a chair, blindfolding him and taking him into the city. Joker demonstrates he does not intend to harm her. His dialogue is somewhat unusual, little of it seeming like it is coming from the character. He rarely smiles or makes a joke. This can be attributed to his hope to show himself as a “changed person,” but to me, personally, it simply feels out of place. Harley leaves him in the middle of the road with a sign that says “Brooklyn Sucks.” He is beaten and run over by several drivers. While the comic is billed as a conflict between Red Tool and Joker, it really isn’t. Joker takes the beating and Red Tool is shown as a bully. While Joker isn’t depicted as a victim, really, he is more of a mannequin; the reader doesn’t feel bad for him or validated for Harley’s choice to have him harmed. The actions he takes, or lack of, seem so lifeless that it comes across as totally inconsequential, something that has always been the main issue with the series.

In all, the attempt to draw in fans of Harley and Joker as well as fans of Harley who don’t want her to return to Joker is unsatisfying for either. Joker does little, Harley doesn’t make a choice, and the most significant encounter is Red Tool’s leaving the story for what will likely be the duration of this arc, something fans of Red Tool will be frustrated by. The choice to show Joker as less aggressive towards Harley is presumably a response to the reception of Joker as a more compassionate character in Suicide Squad. With the abuse removed from the final film, fans can subscribe to their relationship with limited backlash and DC can sell more merchandise that references their partnership. That said, one of the biggest criticisms of the merchandise is also one of the strangest parts of this story up to issue 11: Mad Love.

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“Mad Love” is the story that summarizes the pair’s union and depicts their backstory that every version since has worked around, up until The New 52. And this issue of Harley Quinn either redraws and re-contextualizes or flat-out blatantly reuses panels or concepts originally presented in Mad Love. These panels are some of the most interesting and engaging pages of these issues, and that’s the problem, because these stories didn’t exist in this canon until now. Harley in her nightie with bleached skin doesn’t seem unusual, but it depicts a version of this character, and her relationship, that carries more depth and subtlety than this series has offered. Not only do these panels serve only as a reminder of what both was and what this series struggles to be, many of them are improbable or impossible in the canon of this series. This is not only a problem in writing, but serves to demonstrate what fans want against what they choose to give us. These panels serve to do little more than to bait readers with a strong reaction to the original stories, with either affection or disdain. If references to other stories, stories that the series has mostly ignored or worked around in unsubtle ways, is the most appealing part of your current series, that series has, no pun intended, issues.

While this arc will likely see Joker warming in Harley’s opinion, the handling of this concept over the current series seems more like a choose your own adventure but not for the reader, rather for the staff. The series will be predicted by responses, each issue ending without resolution and being drawn out similar to the story of Harley and Ivy. At best, they will make a choice that will violate the trust of a group of readers. At worst, there will be little movement in the story, something this series has struggled with for years, and while no one will be entirely put off, no one will be served, either. In other words: please tell us a story.

Rebirth Harley Quinn: The Joker’s Call Review

Wonder Woman and the Importance of Representation

It makes sense. Wonder Woman is from Themyscira, an island inhabited entirely by women, unvisited by man. The origin of the occupants vary somewhat, as any central location in comics 75 years running would, but in general, it’s decidedly a paradise for Amazon women who have removed themselves from the company of the evil men of ancient Greece. Post-Crisis, it was established that they were the reincarnated souls who had been killed unjustly at the hands of men. Current Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka recently confirmed that the character is “queer,” by his definition, “involving, although not necessarily exclusively, romantic and/or sexual interest toward persons of the same gender.” In other words, they do not define their sexuality by the hetero-normative confines of a “man’s world.” This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Themysciran women would struggle to be attracted to something they have never seen, or at least met, before. The easy joke is that they are constantly surrounded, raised, and nurtured by beautiful, strong, ageless women.  The rumor of Wonder Woman’s possible affinity for both sexes is roughly as long-running as jokes about Batman and the Boy Wonder sharing a sleeping space. Rucka’s admission places this rumor in canon. This isn’t without precedence. In her earlier writing, the character is shown as implying a woman could benefit from the company of a partner of the same sex. She has mentioned she has neither a boyfriend nor a girlfriend when speaking publicly about herself, as well as officiated a wedding between two women.

Wonder Woman Comic

He also tackles the issues of objectification and labels. Wonder Woman’s documented relation to the fetish and BDSM community often places her in more of a place of stimulation and representation. “This is inherently the problem with Diana: we’ve had a long history of people – for a variety of reasons, including sometimes pure titillation, which I think is the worst reason – say, ‘Ooo. Look. It’s the Amazons. They’re gay!'” However, he claims that a place like Themyscira, much like the ancient Greek culture they derive from, wouldn’t have such labels. Sexual interest is fluid. Rather than it be an issue or point of conflict, Rucka suggests, “It is what it is. This is how the Amazons live.”

No matter how reasonable and logical it is to some, there will always be detractors when giving minority groups more visibility in fiction. Ranging from “who cares?” to “the death of the majority,” comments have flooded forums and social media, none of which I will dignify with re-posting. Instead, I spoke with some Wonder Woman fans who cosplay the character to get their opinion.

“I think it’s a fantastic move on the writer’s part. Wonder Woman is one of the first ever female superheroes, and to openly confirm her sexual orientation is fantastic,” says Carrie Marie.  “Wonder Woman’s sexuality is not something that I’ve ever actively thought about. However when it was announced, I had one of those, ‘oh, hmm, well duh, that makes sense now that I think about it’ moments,” said Suzanne Lo. She went on to say that, as Wonder Woman and the inhabitants of Themyscira aren’t depicted as asexual or living an austere lifestyle, often depicted sexually with men, then it should only be logical that she and the others may be bisexual.

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(Photo: Suzanne Lo)

“As a bisexual (straight passing, as I’m currently in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man) woman, yes I do (feel representation is important). If someone had told me “look, Wonder Woman likes boys and girls, so there’s nothing wrong with you” when I was much younger, I would have been a much happier child. I adored Wonder Woman as a girl. I still do. When the media still portrays bisexuals as “greedy” or “slutty” or “indecisive”, when characters in media are obviously bisexual but coyly refuse to define their orientation or just have it skipped over entirely, there’s a problem. We can name plenty of gay couples and characters on TV, but try to think of one bisexual character you’ve seen in media. If it took you way too long to remember that Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder is bisexual, I don’t blame you, because they never actually say it. Her female lover only ever says “we’re just friends having fun.” Only 14 characters on prime time TV right now are bisexual and all of them are pretty much stereotypes, according to a study by GLAAD,” says Marie. “There are societal norms that discourage minorities of any type from a whole range of possibilities,” says Lo. Without representation, we would be unable to counter the outdated concepts about people being confined by their label. “It’s someone telling a girl she shouldn’t play sports because it’s not ladylike. It’s a teacher telling a girl in a STEM class that it’s ok if she doesn’t understand the topic because it won’t matter. Having a counter to that sort of everyday messaging is extremely important.” If anyone can speak to the capabilities of a woman in fiction, a self-reliant, intelligent, and physically capable character like Wonder Woman does.

Wonder Woman - 2(Photo: Carrie Marie)

This difference in representation is important to note.  A [2015 study](http://www.advocate.com/bisexuality/2015/08/20/study-1-3-american-young-adults-identify-bisexual-spectrum) found that 1 in 3 young adults in the US identify as on a bisexual spectrum. Other sources suggest different, lower, numbers based on the rigid definition used for sexuality, which is why I chose not to include those: we are discussing representation based on a culture where rigid sexuality titles have no purpose. A [recent study](http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/07/health/bisexuality-on-the-rise/) found that bisexuality statistics are going up, as well. [Others](http://www.advocate.com/bisexuality/2015/08/26/study-women-are-more-likely-be-bisexual-men) have found that women are more likely to identify as bisexual than men, and many attribute that to a culture in which women being affectionate with other women is not criticized, while male affection would be. There are a few homosexual superhero characters in DC canon, including Kate Kane and Renee Montoya, as well as female villains that have used their sexuality as a tool to control men and suggested relationships with other women to be more genuine. Harley Quinn recently was confirmed as being romantically connected to Poison Ivy, to similar reaction as the announcement of Diana Prince. The primary difference is cultural, and because of that, there’s really no reason to be surprised by her lack of conformity. “When wonder woman’s character was created our society was not ready to accept bisexual preferences, however that has changed a lot,” said Allure Cosplay. “We have evolved in being more accepting of one another and since the character has been around so long it makes sense for her to evolve as well.”

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(Photo: Allure Cosplay)

“If anything, DC is taking this step to speak to its readers, who obviously want more diversity in their media. Nothing about Wonder Woman’s character can be “taken away” from majority audiences because they confirmed what’s been implied for years–she likes girls in addition to men,” said Marie. “The automatic suspicion is that the motivation of the creators is ‘catering,’ which is nonsense. Content creators have always catered to a certain audience, because the characters are so often heterosexual, white, and male. Now all of the sudden ‘catering’ is a bad thing when it’s not catering to you,” said Lo. Despite the long standing belief that comics are general read by men, research says that more than [46%](http://www.comicsbeat.com/market-research-says-46-female-comic-fans/) of comic audiences are women, and comic convention attendance even closer is a 50/50 between genders.

Wonder Woman - 4(Photo: Suzanne Lo)

Wonder Woman has spoken to female readers for three-quarters of a century. “Wonder Woman is the Superman of females. She is easy to relate to and has inspired thousands of women over the years to fight for whats right and stand up to injustice in their every day life,” said Allure Cosplay. As a straight guy, I will let someone speaking for her own group close out this piece. Marie told us, “I would like more people to consider treating bisexual people with the respect we deserve as human beings and not a punchline or a money grab. We are not more “likely to cheat on a partner” than any other orientation. We are not jokes, we are not stereotypes. We are not women who are “secretly straight” and just kissing girls for attention; we are not guys who are “really just gay and in denial”. We are people who deserve to be seen. We are your daughters, your sons, your aunts and uncles, probably even your parents. And we are now the coolest, most badass female superhero of all time.”

Wonder Woman - 5(Photo: Carrie Marie)

Who is Wonder Woman to you? Has she inspired you? Comment below!

Wonder Woman and the Importance of Representation

NYCC 2016 Is A Mess

New York Comic Con, also known as NYCC, was possibly the largest convention in the US in 2015, by some accounts beating it’s closest competition in San Diego. Crowds aside, the biggest complaint about the event is ticketing. Prices run high from the start, the highest this writer has ever spent on a US convention, and they sell out fast. As in, within 2 hours after the digital sale begins, 3-day, 4-day, and Saturday tickets are sold out. The most problematic symptom of this demand is scalpers, who attendees will see selling tickets on the street during the event for inflated prices. Passes and tickets can also be found online on sites like eBay, Craigslist, and ticket-specific venues for triple or more the original price.

NYCC claimed they were seeking to remedy the issue of resales by creating “Fan Verification.” Basically, to-be attendees, fill out a basic profile with a few vague personalized questions about their interest in the con. A window opens for a few weeks for potential customers to register for fan verification. The window closes and a few weeks after that tickets go on sale as usual. Each customer can purchase up to four passes or four sets of tickets. A few weeks after that, customers who were able to get tickets must insert their registered email into the purchased tickets, and any over-purchased or otherwise unverified purchases will be refunded. Sound conflated? It is! Here’s a flow chart, because this sloppy concept requires the use of a flow chart.

NYCC Chart 1

However, this creates an issue. Because people are permitted to purchase up to four tickets for each day, it means there will inevitably be duplicate purchases. This means tickets sell out faster. It also means that many of those tickets will later go unverified and unsold. Here’s an example:

Say I have three friends (probably an accurate count). Two of them are able to purchase tickets, the third can’t sit online for more than two hours waiting or was unable to get them prior to selling out. I was able to get them. We all purchase the maximum tickets because there is no downside; we will be refunded if they aren’t assigned. We offer the tickets to each other, finding only one of us need a ticket. That’s 3×4=12 tickets purchased, and 4 assigned, creating 8 unused and unsold.

This creates two problems.

  1. People are upset that they couldn’t attend.
  2. NYCC has excess tickets.

I doubt, based on their treatment of attendees, NYCC cares about the former as much as the latter.

So, fan verification was reopened. When tickets were unsold, they were made available without verification, but only single day tickets were available. Since many passes likely went unsold, it seems that only selling individual day passes was done to increase profit generated. Here’s a second chart to include this new layer of insanity.

NYCC Chart 2

This frustrated many attendees, and despite the effort, didn’t seem to stop scalpers. Why would it? It simply added additional work and effort for everyone, not making it more difficult for people who didn’t plan to attend to purchase many tickets. For a scalper, all it required was additional time and email addresses. It didn’t mean any extra work than a normal attendee needed to put in to simply attend a convention.

Having received my pass in the mail, I can say two things: The Walking Dead has been featured for the sixth year, and there is another step in using your pass. Passes must be registered online before use. While only mildly irritating, it doesn’t benefit anyone outside of NYCC and their affiliated corporations by collecting data from participants, as it asks for a name, phone number, and email (which isn’t on your physical pass meaning it won’t deter resale or limited misuse). What it does do, however, is opt users in for Audible, something that must be unchecked during registration. Come on.

NYCC Badge Activation

As many struggle to find specific days, NYCC has an abundance of Thursday passes. They create a video posted on Twitter to promote Thursday attendance. Basically, the message was “stuff happens on Thursday.” It is filled with cosplayers, as cosplay is a draw for many, and for a visual ad, cosplay is a cheap way to produce good images. A few days later, the con posts their updated prop policy. Based on this new information, much of the cosplay in the promotion would not be allowed. Keep in mind, this is a month before the event, and as one of the largest cosplay-oriented conventions in the country, some people have been building their props months ahead of time and putting a good amount of cash into the effort. The announcement is almost casual, but the information is a strict change to the previous policy: no props made from anything but cardboard and foam will be permitted.

NYCC Weapons Policy

Outrage was immediate. In less than a day, NYCC posted an updated update to the policy. It is now at the discretion of the person at the door.

NYCC Weapons Policy Response

Having attended the event last year, this is similar to the previous guidelines. While there are some hard rules, much of the decision is up to the person at the door, and the confusion resulted in props that fit within the guidelines being thrown away in bins outside and weapons that might be questionable being inside. Personally, I was told my prop wasn’t permitted as I was leaving, having carried it all day. Discretion isn’t a great idea when the policies are somewhat vague, the staff is untrained, and authority inflates importance.  The concept of leaving a prop you spent time and money on outside is difficult to accept for many. It’s even more frustrating when vendors inside are selling swords, knives, and other actually dangerous items that would definitely not be permitted at the door while plastic toys are being taken away.

NYCC Trashed Props

Many attendees are saying that this will be their last New York Comic Con, while others are still struggling to get tickets. With an event this large, you would think that getting inside wouldn’t be so difficult, and the planning and regulations would be worked out. A 16-hour drive away, DragonCon 2016 went smoothly. Incredible props and costumes were tagged and made safe, getting a ticket took less than ten minutes, and no one was stabbed with a mechanical pencil.

What has your experience been for some major conventions? Have you attended NYCC, SDCC, Emerald City, or DragonCon? Let us know your experience in the comments.

NYCC 2016 Is A Mess

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 3


In today’s installment, we collect our thoughts and round up the final remarks in our series on fictional abuse and it’s significance for real cosplayers. Last week, we asked about the health of Harley Quinn’s relationship.

“I’d say it’s unhealthy that she used to keep going back even though Joker would do these terrible things to her, but it’s not just that she’s the victim, every now and then she’ll take a shot at him for whatever reason, and I think that it adds a lot of character to them both because at the end of the day they’re both bats**t crazy,” said James Longstaff, also known as Love That Joker. Manipulation, something Harley is no stranger to, is a reoccurring theme in domestic abuse; many abusers convince their partners to stay through promises of violence not happening again. The likelihood that violence will continue is extremely high: between 30 -40% of abusers will do so again, regardless of incarceration or counseling. Becca Payne said, “Why do we do that? Because we have hope.” Offenders also will attempt to keep their significant others close by threatening self-harm, a stunt the Joker is no stranger to.

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To many, that’s the appeal of the character: she is a normal person. She has no powers, no super origin, no scars, mental or physical ,that made her choose to become what she is (at least not prior to the New 52). Harleen was a woman who chose to become Harley Quinn to appeal to the man she loved and that real turn in her character is what makes her more relatable to many when compared to other female characters like Wonder Woman or Zatanna, people who harness the power of Gods and other worlds.

This has brought criticism so specific that it is difficult to counter due to it’s extreme nature.

In no unclear words, if you don’t have experience personally with abuse from a partner, this relationship is not something you can enjoy. Of our interviews who do have a history of abuse on some level, here are some reactions:

“And I think their relationship can be enjoyed by anyone,” said Longstaff.

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“You don’t have to be abused to enjoy observing a fictional abusive relationship that leads to rich storytelling,” said Andrew Arkham Cosplay.

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“I’d say, that’s your opinion. But they also have to realize that it’s a fictional relationship in a controlled environment. Yes, these kinds of things do happen in real life, but this isn’t real life. People are allowed to enjoy whatever they choose and others can mind their own business. The comics and characters can be appreciated by everyone, but I don’t think that people who haven’t been through the situations that the characters have can fully grasp the concept or gravity of what they’re going through,” said Anderson.

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“That just seems foolish to me? It’s not a matter of privilege,” said Harley Quinnsane.

So, if someone feels that Joker and Harley are “cute,” despite their well-documented groundings in violence and poor treatment, how can you counter that? Is someone misjudging that relationship or are these fans simply imbalanced themselves? Are they teenagers who don’t understand relationships? The answers we received were somewhere between.

Andrew Arkham Cosplay feels these readers are either misguided, or not readers at all. “The kids don’t acknowledge the abuse, they just like the visual of a not-so-normal relationship like Jack and Sally, Morticia and Gomez, and let’s face it: in the cartoon/comic world, there aren’t a lot like that besides those two. They are very misinformed on what’s truly going on between the characters and/or refuse to acknowledge the abusive undertones and are simply enamored by just the visual.” He feels this also isn’t the first time young readers have misrepresented the toxicity of a relationship and turned it into something desirable. “Twilight can also be seen as a manipulative relationship, yet it is still desired just because of one thing: it’s different.”

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Harley Quinnsane connected the romanticization of the relationship to 50 Shades of Grey, which has had a very established backlash from the BDSM community for it’s depiction of what is supposed to be a safe environment for would-be questionable activity. “It’s a complete misunderstanding. Joker is abusive. That’s it, that’s all. And Harley has her episodes too. It’s not a kink – it’s dangerous and unhealthy. But we, especially cosplayers, have to remember that these are cartoon super-villains and their relationship should be in no way mimicked or accepted in real life.”

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Shauna Lynn may have the best connection to the young audience that is usually both marketed to and worried about when it comes to making this sick relationship seem ideal. It didn’t work on her. “I feel that girls now are looking at her as an icon and thinking that her and the Joker are so cute together because of physical appearance having no knowledge of their past. I feel that some young people are a bit uneducated on them.”

“Read a Joker/Harley comic book,” said Longstaff.

All of this discussion of the abuse from Joker is currently moot in DC’s current stories. Crazy Clover Cosplay says, “Harley is her own person now and has her own comic series without the Joker! Her character found the strength to leave and that can encourage others who might be in a bad situation to leave as well. In the end though, it is all make believe and fun.” Most fans will tell you that the Joker doesn’t stay dead for long, though, and if the majority of readers do enjoy stories of Joker and Harley, they probably won’t stay divided for long, either. However, Quinn is currently shacked up and in an open relationship with an old friend.  “Well, Poison Ivy and Harley are pretty cute,” said Shauna Lynn.

While stories of abuse can be important, stories of progress, with it’s struggles, are what draw many to these grounded characters. “In a silly sort of way, seeing Harley doing her own thing in her current comic story lines, gives me a sense of hope and inspiration. Sure, she still has her own issues to sort out, like PTSD, anger, and being bats**t bonkers, but she’s getting by,” says Taka. “Harley is a sort of a bleeding heart and has a soft spot for animals and those who can’t help themselves.” Fiction is often the help that those who believe they can’t help themselves need to motivate them to do so.

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The future of the character’s status as a role model and sort of “patron saint” of women struggling with a cycle of abuse is up for debate. Her current comics solo run by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti has been lauded by many like Taka, who see her as a character getting by and making her own way from day-to-day amid slapstick adventures and has been very successful with several spin-off titles including Harley Quinn and her Gang of Harleys and Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book. But the title also shows Harley participating in acts of violence that are almost brutal in nature. She is more consistently violent in this comic than any other portrayal, including the violence towards her former partner, Joker, from whom she is estranged in the story. There is also the critique that she appears to be more unbalanced and at times “dumbed down” for comedic value. She is also featured as a player in the well-received DC Comics Bombshells title, recently applauded for openly featuring a kiss between Poison Ivy and Harley amid a large cast of female leads taking place during WWII. The Suicide Squad film is also likely to have a huge impact on the character, with rumors of future solo films or female team-ups flying in every direction. The film dials back the abuse presumably for the purpose of marketing: no one can complain about romanticizing abuse through selling cute merch if the abuse isn’t in the film. However, some still complain about the abuse even when it isn’t presented, especially fans who so strongly relate to her metamorphosis. There is a heavy focus on the male gaze pointed towards Harley, which may only contribute to further over sexualization and romanticization of the character and pairing as a whole in the future considering the success of the movie.

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With the popularity of Suicide Squad, fans will be flocking to the girl in motley. Whether fans of her classic Dini and Timm-era antics beside her Mistah J or finding inspiration through her more modern comic incarnations like the series mentioned above, it’s clear that people are drawn to her as a tragic figure, as a source of inspiration, or simply as a smart and sassy clown with the on-again, off-again gangster beau. There is just something about Harley, but maybe the joke’s on us.

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 3

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 2

You can find Part 1 of this series here.

In last week’s installment, we discussed Harley Quinn’s history, and her deep connection with abuse. This week, we speak to cosplayers about their connections to the character. Trigger warning: this article discusses abuse specifically.

“I do have a history with an abusive boyfriend,” cosplayer Misses J Quinn told us. “I feel very connected to Harley because of this. It is not a healthy relationship. I think no one deserves to experience an abusive relationship.” She wasn’t alone.

Cosplayer Zoe Anderson said, “It goes all the way back to living at home and watching my parents do the same thing that I would see repeated. You might say I had become desensitized or, perhaps even blind to what was considered abuse. I’d let my boyfriend smack me around, blame things on me, cheat on me, and more.” Her understanding of the connection between her and the character wasn’t obvious to her. “As I saw glimpses of her past home life and then looking in at my personal relationships I could definitely see it. The more I looked at it, the more the two seemed to blend together, and I was desperate for a way to express this.” For Anderson, that expression was cosplay. “Cosplay has definitely given me a way to healthily express myself. It is something that helps my mental well-being and it does make me feel pretty damn good all around. All you get is compliments.”

This sentiment was echoed by several cosplayers, including Becca Payne, who told us, “Cosplaying makes me feel like who I am on the inside and to me, that is healthy.” Savannah Kelly said, “I think that cosplay should be judgment free and should include everyone who is willing to put the effort into cosplaying.”

Becka Taka Cosplay tells us cosplay was important to her ability to manage her depression, and Harley Quinn was a part of it. “I was months into the worst depressive period of my life. There was a cosplay function being held in the area on my birthday and I forced myself to attend. I ran around as a princess, then later (a few drinks later) changed into a cute Harley themed dress, complete with mismatched shoes, mask and poofy pigtailed wig. I think my extreme love for her was born then. I mean how can you NOT have a good time dressed as her?”

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Taka’s story echo’s many of the elements of the 1994 Mad Love story. “I immediately felt a connection, like the world stopped for a moment when I met him. He was more than a little shy but we could talk for hours. He was damaged. He had led a hard life and it was like I came into his for a reason. Like the idiot empath I am, I felt his pain. I wanted to heal him. I foolishly thought ‘He just needs someone to love him.’ I honestly thought I was that person. The rest was a whirlwind of passion, late nights talking, him needing me, me needing to be needed… It has been said that when you look at the world(or a lover) with rose tinted glasses, that all the red flags look like just… flags. Nothing, could be closer to the truth. I was warned by friends. I was begged to stop what I was doing. But I was under his spell and it was a powerful one at that.”

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“The day we signed the lease, was almost exactly the day he changed into a monster. You see, he had gotten exactly what he wanted. He lived in a shitty room, in a shitty part of town and wanted nothing more than to get out. I was also desperate for a place to live and either intentionally, or not, I was made into his victim.”

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What followed was also similar to Harleen’s story, one of first mental and emotional control that became abuse, and then abuse that became physical. “I absolutely feel a connection to Harley because of my past. Here you have a character who is at the pinnacle of her career, beautiful, athletic(she was a gymnast) and getting the opportunity to study one of Gotham’s most notorious criminals at the Arkham Asylum. Before I met the man that brought my life to a screeching halt, I was confident, at a healthy weight, and planning a career in either Vegas or Atlanta. After he got in my head, I was driven to near madness. I completely lost sight of the well adjusted person I once was before I met my abuser, yet much like Harley, kept coming back again and again for more abuse.”

While disturbing, Taka’s history is not unusual. Of the cosplayers we interviewed, 90% said that they had some history of abuse, be it physical, emotional, or mental. Our interviews were 80% female, 20% male. These numbers have little to do with cosplay, and instead mirror national statistics. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, approximately 7 million women in the U.S. are assaulted or raped by a current or former partner each year. Love is Respect reports 43% of dating college women and 28% of men reported experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors in a relationship.

“I was a stupid teenager that fell in love for dumb reasons and let myself get caught up in that relationship because it was there and I’ve always had self-confidence issues when it comes to feeling wanted and loved,” said Crazy Clover Cosplay. “I’ll admit that I have felt a closer connection to Harley after going through what I did, though my past relationships could never hold a candle to what many others have gone through in their lives. It isn’t even close to Harley and the Joker.” So, is fiction, and by extension playing out your favorite fictional character, a danger or catharsis?

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The idea that abuse survivors could find familiarity and strength in a character like Harley Quinn is not new, and it is often the opposing response to criticism of the popularity of the character and her portrayal. Harley Quinnsane, a cosplayer and roller derby girl, says, “She brought me into the cosplaying world. She helped me find an identifier.” Shauna Lynn, the youngest of our interviews, would probably be placed in the demographic that romanticized merchandise is geared to. She said, “The main thing that appealed to me is that Harley Quinn is such a sweet girl who is over her head over someone who abuses her. I feel like I can relate to her because all people ever want is to be loved and I feel that Harley learns she needs to be strong for herself.”

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The fall of Harleen Quinzel into Harley Quinn may seem familiar to some victims. “I adore both Harley and Joker purely for the fact I feel they are the way real love is portrayed. And no I don’t mean with the physical abuse or even the mental, I mean in the sense that you take this innocent woman, a woman who was going to accomplish good things until she fell in love,” said Becca Payne. “You have all these fairy-tales and stories that push the fact that true love conquers all, that it’s the most amazing and great feeling in the world and once you have it, you have it forever. Their love isn’t the type of love you grew up reading about, they didn’t push the fact that love is your happy ending.”

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The debate between fictional violence creating real violence has been going on forever, and we aren’t about to start digging into that. We also aren’t going to get into a discussion about whether or not the Joker genuinely loves Harley; it’s an entire conversation to itself and has been handled with plenty of panels and screenshots before. What can be said is that domestic violence in fiction has been said to provide understanding about domestic abuse in everyday life.

Crazy Clover Cosplay tells us, “it gives us a look into a world that we might not ever know, but I believe that by appreciating stories that involve these kinds of things and growing to love the characters in them, we can learn greater compassion and love and appreciation for those in the real world that have experienced these things.”

Becky Taka Cosplay believes it can provide a way for others to understand abuse in relationships. “While sometimes it seems that the Joker actually cares for Harley, a true sociopath is not able to express empathy, and that fact is unfortunately very frightening because it is very real. Even if someone hasn’t experienced an abusive relationship firsthand, maybe reading or watching the situations that arise between the two characters, could serve to help raise awareness of those issues.” These characters may be garish and do ridiculous, completely unreal things; they literally dress like clowns. However, that doesn’t mean that their relationship can’t feel real, and their actions don’t mirror real life violence on a human level.

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Next week, we continue our three part series on cosplay and fictional abuse. Stay tuned.

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 2

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 1

Suicide Squad is the most successful August movie in history and it brought many characters unfamiliar to non-comic audiences to the front of pop culture conversation. In the wake of all the buzz, more people than ever are asking “who is Harley Quinn?” Almost anyone with a little geek knowledge can tell you she’s the Joker’s moll, but it’s a much more complicated question than that, fraught with questions of morality, violence, romanticization, sexualization, and perhaps most of all, love. We took the time out to really analyze these issues by viewing them through the lens of what turned out to be a surprisingly large section of comics audiences: Harley Quinn fans who also identified as victims of abuse.

Few characters capture the imagination of on-screen and comic audiences quite like the Joker. He is the longest-standing comic villain and has the most iterations of any of Batman’s rogue gallery, from the big screen to the small. Since the popularity of Batman: The Animated Series, fans have found pleasure in pairing the Clown Prince of Crime with a partner: Harley Quinn. Originally intended to be a one-off henchwoman, Harley was written by Paul Dini and designed by Bruce Timm in 1992. Quinn only appeared in nine episodes to her beau’s 15, but her iconic appearance, personality, and voice has lived on for over 20 years. Quinn has found herself the star of multiple spin-off comics and found further success in the New 52. For comic fans, Harley may be DC’s brightest star. For cosplayers, the Joker and Harley Quinn have found themselves to be two of the most-imitated characters in the Batverse. This success, however, isn’t without it’s critics.

The characters do not have what anyone in their right mind would call a healthy relationship. Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn to appease the man she loved, a love most would agree is built around Joker’s manipulation and Harley’s attraction to the psychologically extreme. In 1994’s “Mad Love”, their relationship was explored and given both a back story and a bottom line: love is not always kind, or sane. Harley was a young, capable doctor with no history of crime or mental issues prior to meeting Mr. J. Joker throws Harley out a window, and all it takes is a note attached to some flowers sent to her hospital room to take Harley from “never again” to “whenever he wants.”

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Harley’s standalone comics have seen her pairing up (read: sometimes shacking up) with other DC characters, with Poison Ivy often stepping in to fill the clown’s squeaky shoes. Ivy occasionally perpetuates her own brand of manipulation, but she is definitely more of a straight shooter, and is shown to both outwardly care for and reciprocate the feelings of Quinn. In other words, since her inception, Harley has been familiar with abuse, mental, emotional, and physical.

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That isn’t to say that Harley doesn’t do her own share of violent things to the ones she cares for. Joker may often take the prize at “most manipulative,” but Harley was a gymnast, and has shown herself to be a capable foe physically. She is also  powered up by Ivy in both the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Harley and Ivy” and during “No Man’s Land”, gaining extra strength and agility as well as an immunity to poisons. When the Joker sets her off, it isn’t the Dark Knight she is taking out her aggression on.

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So, who would find these two appealing? Apparently, a lot of DC’s audience. Harley and Joker as a pair are some of the most sought after DC collectibles, and Alex Ross’ recent work, titled “Mind If I Cut In?” depicts the couple seconds after the Caped Crusader steps in on their now-classic pose. The print goes for upwards of $900 dollars and fans seem willing to spend it. Retail stores like Hot Topic sell merchandise of both “Mad Love” and Alex Ross’ work, as well as other products that depict the particularly toxic duo’s relationship as something to be admired.

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This depiction, as well as countless works of fan art and fiction, has drawn criticism from those who feel that the relationship and it’s romanticization is a detriment to readers. Opposing remarks can be found about couples who cosplay as the grinning lovers. Detractors say that romanticizing the two is a detriment to those who have had abusive relationships, and that cosplay is idolization of a dangerous, problematic pairing. Some have went as far as to say that, if you do not have a history of abuse, you can’t enjoy them.

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Negative representations of relationships skewed to be romantic aren’t new. Romeo and Juliet have been criticized for pushing dangerous versions of love since long before New York accents and definitely prior to Paul Dini giving one to a girl dressed like a harlequin. “There is tons of violence in Shakespeare, there is nothing wrong with enjoying/appreciating it because it is  just art. Just like comics are art,” said Andrew Arkham Cosplay.

So, who are these fans? How do these people deal with the idea that their beloved couple might be a poor example for relationships? We spoke to Joker and Harley cosplayers about their interest in the characters, their history with relationships, and if, and where, the two meet. Trigger warning for anyone reading who might find discussions of abuse, both mental and physical difficult, as this is a discussion with abuse victims about their experience and the ways in which they have found to deal with their past.

Next week, we continue our series of interviews with cosplayers and dive into the world of fictional abuse and it’s significance in real world affinity for characterization. Tune in Monday for more.

Psycho Killers and the Women Who Love Them: Harley Quinn, Abuse, and Cosplay Pt 1

There’s A New “The Room,” And It’s SLC Punk 2

As I teenager, I was into punk. More accurately, I thought I was into punk, though I was probably into a dozen related things, most of them more mainstream for real punk culture and that would be called a myriad of childish names by people who considered themselves real punks. However, I lived in a small town with a population of a few thousand, so there were few people to contest that claim. Because of this, I took the 1998 film SLC Punk as a truth about punk culture. It’s various pauses in story to drop scenes of punk history were either affirming for information I thought I already knew or informational about things I couldn’t find elsewhere. Mind you, this was early in the Internet age for a teenager. Social media was non-existent, Google was effectively an idea of the future, and information was limited to 56k. In other words, what I knew of punk came from word of mouth, the local library, and this movie. With that in mind, I also refuse to rewatch it even for the sake of context for this article, because it will probably make me feel like an idiot. I view this movie with tinted lenses, and I remember it fondly. It seemed like a compelling story about real characters who resembled much of what I knew punk culture to be: flawed, anxious, and ultimately self-destructive. No real punk stayed that way. The sequel, released recently to Netflix, suggests that the Internet would have made that film both painful and irrelevant. I also can’t make up how terrible the dialogue is.

Before you continue past the jump, there will be spoilers in the rest of this review. So if you haven’t seen Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2 and you don’t want spoilers, stop now, queue up your Netflix, and then join me later.

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While it seems to have had some interest in it’s initial release based on the number of Indiegogo contributors listed in the credits, my only knowledge of SLC Punk 2 came from it being recommended on Netflix. Apparently, Netflix knows I love bad cinema. This film may be the newest and one of the strongest additions to the “So Bad It’s Good” genre of B movies.

The film starts with some brief introduction to a main character near the end of the story. We see our hero, Ross, being beaten up at a punk show. Ross would be best described as a teenage boy who read about Nick Cave on a Wiki but never heard any of the associated music. He is established as “too straight edge for the straight edge kids,” and then promptly spends the entirety of the film drunk and on mushrooms. For how subversive the film treats the character, refusing to let any other character accurately give him a classification of subculture, Hot Topic had been around for 17 years in 2005, when this film is set, and he looks to have taken most of his visual and character traits from the 2005 sale section. He’s blocky and stiff in appearance, always wears a sport coat, spends his film conflicted and romantically broken. Seem familiar?

The film is narrated by the character’s father, Heroine Bob, who died in the original movie. This isn’t a cameo. Bob is a solid 20% of the film, narrating, directing the audience’s understanding of the scenes, and doing the punk history that Matthew Lillard’s character did in the original, speaking directly to the camera. What I remember as a character from my teens seems to me now more of a Quentin Tarantino impression, with the strange, eager excitement of a teenage boy jammed into a man’s ability to convey them. Bob tells us that his son, a unique white rose of independence, is heartbroken and his mother has no idea where he is. That’s basically the entire film. His way of explaining this is by describing his son the way a LiveJournal profile might describe it’s author. Another descriptor might be “stilted.” This could be said for most of the adult actors in the film, who are returning cast of the 1998 SLC Punk  film. I am somewhat confident in that all of these people are decent at their craft, but this movie does it’s best to be certain to undermine those capabilities. Camera angles seem more forced, as if the director was limited to long scenes in wide shots and close-ups, dialogue does it’s best to emulate Clerks, and the characters are reduced to even more finite cardboard cutouts of what they were before. There’s a woman who runs a steampunk shop, a man who runs a black metal shop, a junkie everyone thought was dead, and a guy who essentially runs Suicide Girls. This is 2005, so I can believe a steampunk shop and Suicide Girls being both new and thriving (despite no customers coming into the shop over the course of the film), but a black metal shop? Is this an RPG game? How can a shop that only appears to sell guitar amps, pointy guitars, and swords survive, even pre-economic crisis?

This  also brings us to one of my favorite scenes, and one that seems to misunderstand story writing, character, and law. Ross, heartbroken and riding with his friends, demands more beer. He stops at a gas station, grabs a 30 pack, and pays the man at the register with a $20, telling him to keep the change. As he exits, the cashier asks if he has ID. He replies, “yes,” the cashier shrugs, and the scene is over. There are so many similarities to The Room’s flower shop exchange that all this gas station needs is a doggie. The cashier definitely seems like an actual cashier they roped into saying a line and this situation wouldn’t happen even in a teenager’s dreams.

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SLC Punk 2 spends most of it’s time padding out runtime with dialogue that doesn’t matter to the story and hopping from the three teenager characters driving to a punk show and a myriad of Bob’s friends from before he OD’d gathering together to support his baby momma and help her find her son. The film seems to depict a group of men who have watched over Ross as a child in the absence of a father, rebellious boys grown into supportive men caring for a child in need. However, they all also seem surprised by the existence of the others in the young man’s life, if not entirely unfamiliar with each other since Bob’s death. How do a group of people all working to help raise this kid not run into each other in a decade or two?

In keeping with the style of the first SLC Punk, there are scenes in which the narration jumps in to allow Bob to explain punk culture. While the original film seemed creative and fun, giving these scenes a childish style that matched the theme, this one simply seems to be weak in it’s ability to edit, relying on cheap Adobe presets and reusing several of it’s quirky images, in particular a shark biting something. Similar strange editing choices, namely scenes with glaring ADR and jump cuts to attempt to put a band-aid over mistakes, make some of the second act difficult to watch, even for a movie watched for the sake of being so bad it’s humorous. I’m not sure if style has changed so much as to make this seem amateur after time or if the crew on this film simply wasn’t as good at shooting and editing as the original.

The other most striking scene, no pun intended, is the one moment of weight that is attempted with these characters. Ross’s friend Penny, who I haven’t mentioned prior because she does little up to this point but drive the car, stops to speak to her father. He aggressively remarks about where she has been, asking if she’s been “slutting around with her faggot friends.” Riddle me that logic, to which she quietly says, “yes.” He then punches her in the face. She responds by taking Ross’ cane and beating the father’s windshield. For a man so abusive as to beat his child, he doesn’t do anything to stop her but shout, and she flees to her car, telling him he can “jerk himself off.” We are faced with child and sexual abuse and then immediately removed from any responsibility for that issue. It isn’t brought up again, and outside of Ross trying to get her to date him, she isn’t given much screen time after. She is the Denny of SLC Punk 2.

The movie ends with a punk show, which seems to be the film’s main interest. According to IMDB, it was funded by Indiegogo donations and attended by more than 2000 fans. Ross storms the stage to insult punk in general, he gets beat up, and the adults save him. Everyone is happy and the story ends. As a whole, this movie seems to want to emulate the style of a film made prior to the common use of digital editing and film, which makes it’s cheap imagery seem less charming and more like a YouTube channel. The movie overuses and abuses punk songs, and if you turn on the subtitles, the songs frequently give the singer of the band a credit. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but in a world where information is so available, referential films seem more painful and less entertaining than they would have in the late 90s. Rather than feeling like you’re in on the knowledge this film offers of a subculture, it feels like you’re having something explained to you that most people already know. When you pair that kind of awkward over-explanation with strange performances, clunky writing, and culture that is more eye-roll worthy than interesting, you’re getting a movie that feels like a live action version of the “My Immortal” fan fiction.

Have you seen Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

There’s A New “The Room,” And It’s SLC Punk 2