30 Years Ago, Harley Quinn’s Origin Was Revealed for the First Time

Summary

  • Harley Quinn’s origin is revealed in The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, a comic book from December 1993.
  • The character of Harley Quinn was inspired by Paul Dini’s college friend, Arleen Sorkin, who played Calliope Jones on Days of Our Lives.
  • The Joker manipulates and seduces Harley Quinn to become his sidekick/love interest, but is outraged when she comes close to killing Batman.


In every Look Back, we examine a comic book issue from 10/25/50/75 years ago (plus a wild card every month with a fifth week in it). This time around, since this is a five-week month, we head back thirty years to December 1993, for the reveal of Harley Quinn’s origin in The Batman Adventures: Mad Love.

Earlier this year, Arleen Sorkin tragically passed away. The acclaimed comedic actor was the original voice for Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn debuted in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor,” which was the eighth episode of the show’s first season. As the episode was being developed, writer Paul Dini aimed to give Mark Hamill’s version of The Joker a female sidekick in the vein of comic duos and gangster molls of the past. His inspiration came from an old friend of his who starred in a popular soap opera. Arleen Sorkin played the character Calliope Jones on Days of Our Lives, with Jones known for her somewhat zany attitude and peculiar voice.

One episode in particular would directly influence the Clown Prince of Crime’s main lady. In a dream sequence, Calliope Jones ran about in a clown costume while wearing rollerblades. Sorkin was a friend of Paul Dini’s from college, and he directly based Harley Quinn on her whimsical performance as Calliope. Harley Quinn appeared again in a number of first Season 1 episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” and quickly became a fan-favorite. She made her comic book debut in the summer of 1993 in “The Batman Adventures” #12 (the DC comic book series set in the continuity of the animated series) by writer Kelley Puckett and artists Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett. The issue also featured Batgirl and Poison Ivy (who Harley Quinn first teamed up with in a January 1993 episode of the animated series).

Shockingly, though, her origin didn’t appear in the cartoon, but in a comic book, December 1993’s The Batman Adventures: Mad Love #1, by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (Rick Taylor the colorist and Tim Harkins was the letterer), one of the best one-shots ever!

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What was Harley Quinn’s origin?

Here’s an interesting thing about Harley’s origin that probably would never have flown had they considered making her more of an anti-hero. She is a psychology student, but she apparently has sex with her teachers for her grades. That’s certainly been wiped from her more recent origins…

Harley Quinn had sex with her professors for good grades

Harley came to Arkham Asylum with the intent of cashing in on the Joker by writing a book about him. Instead, he instantly pulled her to him…

Harley then met the Joker

The Joker then cleverly invented some dark stories to lure Harley Quinn to his control, seducing her completely…

The Joker seduces Harley through therapy

In the end, Harley decides to become Harley Quinn, and break the Joker out of his cell, and she becomes his sidekick/love interest….

Harley then became Harley Quinn

The fascinating thing to me is that it doesn’t even seem like the Joker really thought that this specific result would happen, but rather that he decided to just seduce her because he COULD, ya know? It definitely sounds like something he would do, right?

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What is the big twist regarding Harley and Joker’s relationship in Mad Love?

In the story, Harley decides that the only way to make Joker really pay attention to her is to kill Batman for him. She seems poised to pull it off, too, when Batman plays upon her fragile psyche (and what he knows of the Joker’s ego)…

Batman messed with Harley's mind

Batman knows the Joker well enough that he knows all of Joker’s stories to seduce people to his side…

The Joker made it all up to seduce Harley

And then we get to the real twist of the story, the Joker is AGHAST at the thought of Harley Quinn killing Batman…

The Joker is shocked to learn that Harley might kill Batman

When he arrives, Harley explains that since she used his plans, he is part of it, too, but the Joker is outraged, as if you have to explain a joke, it is no longer funny. So he assaults Harley, knocks her out of a window, almost killing her. It’s really quite shocking in just HOW dark the whole thing is.

Batman then escapes the death trap, and he taunts the Joker, explaining how Batman knew that the Joker could never let someone ELSE kill him. He then notes that Harley came closer to killing him than the Joker has ever done in the past, which outrages the Joker…

Batman taunts the Joker

In the end, though, Harley forgives the Joker, which is just so sad and twisted.

If you folks have any suggestions for January (or any other later months) 2014, 1999, 1974 and 1949 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we’re discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.

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