Which Iconic DC Creator Wanted to Keep Harley Quinn Out of the DC Universe?

Welcome to the 908th installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, a column where we examine three comic book myths, rumors and legends and confirm or debunk them. This time, in honor of the passing of the great Arleen Sorkin, all three legends will be Harley Quinn-related. In our second legend, we learn about the iconic DC creator who tried to keep Harley Quinn out of the DC Universe?

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is that, “For every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is true for pop culture, as well, as any time something happens in pop culture, there is a reaction to it, whether it be successful or a failure. Some of this stuff is just normal copycat behavior, like how when MLJ Comics had a hit with Archie Andrews (who was, of course, himself based on the success of the Andy Hardy films starring Mickey Rooney), every other comic book company came out with its own Archie Andrews knockoff.

However, these successes also come with side effects that are not so readily apparent, like how Archie became SO popular that MLJ not only stopped doing its superhero characters, but it just changed the name of the company outright to Archie Comics. We have seen other instances of these less predictable effects of success with the rise of multiverse stories in pop culture. You have a few popular films set in the multiverse, and suddenly EVERY film seems to be set in the multiverse!

A similar thing happened with Superman. For years, Superman was “The Last Son of Krypton,” but DC kept having success introducing new survivors of Krypton, like Superman’s dog, Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, the Bottled City of Kandor, Superman’s dry cleaner (okay, that guy actually totally still exploded, don’t worry). While those characters were all quite popular, for a certain segment of the Superman readership, the new characters made Superman less interesting, since he was now just one of many survivors of Krypton. John Byrne specifically overturned that aspect of the Superman mythos when Byrne rebooted Superman in the 1980s. Of course, since then, writers have slowly but surely introduced more and more survivors of Krypton once again.

I bring this up to show that even popular characters can have side effects on characters that might be viewed as negative, and that is why Denny O’Neil, the iconic Batman writer and editor, wanted to keep Harley Quinn out of the DC Universe.

RELATED: How Did the Princess Bride Inadvertently Lead to the Creation of Harley Quinn?

Why did Bruce Timm not want Harley Quinn on Batman: The Animated Series at first?

Amusingly, O’Neil’s objection to Harley Quinn was preceded by Bruce Timm having basically the same reaction to the character when Paul Dini first suggested her for the early episode of Batman: The Animated Series called, “Joker’s Favor.” You see, one of the things that Timm (and fellow producer, Alan Burnett) wanted to do with the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series was to stress just how SCARY he was. Timm (and Dini) really wanted to harken back to the dangerous Joker of the Golden Age, which is something that O’Neil and Neal Adams did when they brought the Joker back to prominence in the 1970s.

The issue with that, of course, is that if you are intent on making the Joker scary, then adding a comedic sidekick doesn’t necessarily make sense, right? And that was Timm and Burnett’s initial objection to the addition of Harley Quinn to the series. However, she was just a minor character in that first story, so they agreed with Dini’s concept of the character (although Timm re-designed the character’s look). Once the episode came out, though, Timm and Burnett were so impressed by how well Arleen Sorkin played Harley Quinn, and how much the character stood out, that they ended up being fine with the character being more prominent.

Timm then later did Harley’s origin with Dini in the comic book one-shot, Mad Love, which was later adapted into the cartoon series, as well. For years, though, Harley Quinn’s only comic book appearances were like Mad Love, comic books set in the world of the cartoon series. That all changed in 1999, whether Batman’s editor wanted it or not.

RELATED: Did DC License Out Its Characters to Other Companies During World War II?

Why did Denny O’Neil not want Harley Quinn in the DC Universe?

The cover of Batman: Harley Quinn #1

Harley Quinn made her DC Universe debut in 1999’s Batman: Harley Quinn, written by Dini (and drawn by Yvel Guichet and Aaron Sowd), who adapted the Mad Love origin into the DC Universe (while making Harley more than just a “normal” human so that she could coexist with characters in the DC Universe better, as Poison Ivy gives her a potion, of sorts, that makes Harley extremely acrobatic).

The one-shot was notably NOT edited by then-Batman editor, Denny O’Neil, who explained to my pal John Trumbull in TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #99 that Harley Quinn had been added to the DC Universe without asking him, as he would have objected! He explained, “I was not consulted on Harley Quinn at all. I didn’t know about her until I saw it in print, and I would not have approved. My version of the Joker is that he is so crazy that his mind works in such a way that’s alien to the rest of humanity. That something like having a girlfriend, having a sex life, would be way too normal for him. But, I would’ve been wrong. Harley is a very good character. It’s a slightly different interpretation of the Joker, but it’s like Hamlet. If you see Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, and Richard Burton’s, they’re not too much alike, but they’re both valid on their own terms. This stuff is not graven in stone and it has to be allowed to evolve. Nobody involved would be doing their jobs if I had to approve of everything.”

As O’Neil notes, though, he thinks that he would have been wrong in this case, but it’s still fascinating to see how much objection there was to such a major comic book character like Harley.

Comic book legend about Harley Quinn and Denny O'Neil

Check out a Movie Legends Revealed!

In the latest Movie Legends Revealed – Did Sony’s Spider-Man rights prevent Morbius from appearing in Blade II?

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film and TV.

Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com.

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