Therapy Clowns, The New 52, and the Modern Market, Part 2
And…yes…that is pretty much the change that we have seen in the wildly popular character of Harley Quinn. Since the New 52 Dc Reboot (in 2010), Harley Quinn’s costume and appearance is fully revamped. Harley Quinn has a more revealing costume, altered hair color, and bleached white skin. No more greasepaint for Harley. Her hair is half-red and half-black, like the jester cap of her previous incarnation, rather than blonde pig tails. Consistent with her new origin, her bleached skin is the result of being kicked into a vat of acid by the Joker. So, yeah…that’s a bunch of big changes.
In 2013, DC announced that a new Harley Quinn would begin publication, co-written by Amanda Conner and her husband Jimmy Palmiotti. The series has pretty seriously become distanced from the “Batman Family” of DC publications in both tone and premise, with Harley no longer having any significant connection to either Batman or the Joker. Honestly, the presentation reads very much like Marvel’s Deadpool, but with a female lead. In the series, Harley Quinn has become a landlady at Coney Island, is a part-time member of a roller derby team and has returned to psychiatric work, indicating that Harley’s real identity is not public knowledge in the new status quo.
So…she really is a Therapy Clown. In a roller derby outfit, or clown themed lingerie. Just to be clear here.
In September of 2013, DC Comics announced a contest for fans and artists, “Break into comics with Harley Quinn!” The contest was one where contestants were to draw Harley in four different suicide scenarios. No joke, True Believers, this was a thing. Google it. This contest drew controversy (obviously) not only because it was announced close to National Suicide Prevention Week, but because some artists did not like the sexualized portrayal of Harley in the fourth scenario, in which Harley attempts suicide while naked in her bath tub.
That’s easy to be cross with, I suppose…but it disregards the direct text related to the character’s reinvention. Even disregarding the new sexual, scanty outfit, let’s look at major New 52 plot points. Here, in the plot, we find a problem with the “New 52” Harley Quinn, who doesn’t look or act much like the original. She doesn’t have the all-ages parameters that the cartoons — and their comics adaptations — enforced on her, nor is she the relative innocent she was in her previous series, where she was portrayed as Catwoman often is, a bad guy who’s not all THAT bad.
Her New 52 costume and portrayal seem more heavily informed by her scantily clad video game counterparts, and most of her New 52 appearances have been pretty adult in nature, even if they were portrayed in a somewhat juvenile fashion: There was the weird sex scene with Deadshot in an early issue of Suicide Squad, and then the scene where she lay the Joker’s flayed-off face over a bound Deadshot a few issues later. During the book’s “Death of the Family” crossover, there’s an instance in which The Joker paralyzes her and simulates oral sex with a straight razor, and then a horribly violent fight ensues in which they bite chunks out of each other.
Seriously…this is a comic book from a “family friendly” company, and a character designed initially for an all ages audience. That particular book was part of a Batman crossover, and kids flock to Batman like disco fans to mirrored balls. Of course a publisher and creative team can go in whatever direction they like…I’m all about free speech. At some point though, you need to think to a degree about corporate responsibility.
The video games that informed that look? They aren’t just played by adults. Further, the Harley Quinn character, in this overtly sexualized incarnation, is directly marketed to teens, through vehicles such as Hot Topic (a store that I rely on to clothe me).
When we get to Part 3, tomorrow, it should be clearer why this is a truly mixed marketing message.
About the art…the New 52 outfit was a total chore. I went with a Batman head Ice Cream cone, and in tone with the more gratuitous depictions of the New 52, I decided that she should be licking it. Overall, the composition was intended to be “Maxim” cover worthy, in line with many of the depictions that the character is placed in now. It was harder than you might think to achieve the overall look and feel. The Joker stuffed mascot was also a chore, but I wanted to harken back in a more direct way to the original history of the character, visually.
In past issues, early in Adequacy, I used variations of the video game Harley designs for chaotic bureaucratic @#$ clowns, infrequent enemies under the reign of the Boss. I tended to vary the color scheme from the red and black, though, going for more of a riot of colors. Twice, I depicted Therapy Clown in that outfit, once on a variant cover, and once when debating the art of Frank Cho, and his beef with Robbi Rodriguez. Both of those pieces are below.
In the second piece, our Therapy Clown looks a bit self conscious. That’s how Adequacy’s Therapy Clown is different from the New 52 Harley…she might be able to carry off that kind of outfit, sure…but it’s a bit much for crawling around rooftops and going to psych sessions.
A parting thought before part three…Harley Quinn is undeniably the most high profile bisexual character in comics, perhaps in pop culture. The bisexual part of her nature went from subtext to text at the same time as she decided to bear a whole lot of skin, and become a more…disturbing murder clown. Is that exactly the editorial message that a major media company should be sending?
I’d like you to keep that question in mind, True Believers, as we get into Part Three tomorrow.