Therapy Clowns, The New 52, and the Modern Market, Part 3

Harley Quinn, as depicted in the upcoming "Super Hero Girls" franchise from DC/Warner Bros.

Harley Quinn, as depicted in the upcoming “Super Hero Girls” franchise from DC/Warner Bros.

This final part of this series pretty much brings the point home. Displayed above is the portrayal of the popular Harley Quinn character in the upcoming, all ages friendly Super Hero Girls product line. That’s a link, so you can click it, and explore.

Developed with girls ages 6-12 in mind, DC Super Hero Girls centers on DC Comics characters during their formative teen years at Super Hero High. DC Comics’ icons including Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee, Poison Ivy, and Katana are featured in storylines that explore being a unique teen, including discovering their super powers, nurturing friendships and mastering the fundamentals of being their own hero. So…being clear here, we are looking at a similar marketplace to the target for say, the Disney Princesses line of products, or the original market for My Little Pony: Equestria Girls.

Much like those lines of toys and media, consumer products partners around the globe are engaged in creating a merchandise program dedicated to DC Super Hero Girls across all key categories. That means that the new initiative launching Warner Bros./DC Entertainment will reach girls 6-12 with toys, books, graphic novels, digital content, apparel and animation… every method of market penetration in pop culture.

Geoff Johns and a team at Mattel developed new, age-appropriate versions of these characters. Big Barda, a female warrior from the planet Apokolips in the comics, is the tall girl in school. Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite Batman villainess, is the class clown, while Batgirl is a brainy science whiz. “There are some creative changes that we’ve done, but they’re all in spirit to who the characters really are,” says Johns.

Wait, let’s go back a tick.

“Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite Batman villainess, is the class clown…”

Harley Quinn is a Murder Clown, people. Plus…the entire last post was on her current portrayal, in comics and media, as an overtly sexualized character, with an almost sociopathic tendency toward theatrically abstract violence. THAT version of the character is the one they went with for the heavily publicized “Suicide Squad” film.

So…at the very same time, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. are heavily pushing a “girl power” version, suitable for interaction with your Disney Princess Dolls? I realize that the DC Super hero Girls line is more “mass market” and parent supervised, distributed through major retail chains…but we live in the age of the internet. A young person searching for their favorite character is going to use the character’s name…not an added search parameter of the product line.

And that search, True Believers, is something of a mixed bag. Everything from fan art to clothing you can buy at Hot Topic. Fan art is often…pretty liberal.

I’m not about censorship, but I think there may have been room for more corporate responsibility. Even though Quinn is a major player in terms of marketability in the current “sales space”, there are other characters, that aren’t being actively pushed in the “adult content” zone of thought, that could have filled that space. Let’s look then, at this composite of the versions of Harley Quinn that DC is currently sending to the marketplace:

It kind of comes home when you see them together.

It kind of comes home when you see them together.

I don’t begrudge a company making money. Heck…I really like the DC Super Hero Girls Harley design. It’s fun, it’s cute, it’s not a disturbing clown. I think that the marketing plan should have been set up so that you don’t have a kind of “brand confusion” that would send wildly different mixed messages to young girls in their formative years. It’s as big a fail, if not more so, than the presentation of Starfire last year. The only thing that makes this a bigger fail in terms of propriety is this two fold issue:

1. Quinn is a much more popular character, with a far larger library of art and products in the marketplace and on the internet.

2. This is a far more deliberate choice. The company knows the amount of straight up cash that they made in October off of “sexy Harley Quinn” costumes for adults at Halloween, and they are fully aware of the sales figures for New 52 style Harley product sold through retailers like Hot Topic. They have clear values for response to the character’s portrayal in the upcoming film…and in light of all that information, chose to go with the same character in a “kid friendly” form.

I think Super Hero Girls is a great idea. I think including the Quinn character…a psychotic Murder Clown, now something of a Sex Clown, in the line in a “sanitized” fashion was a serious act of corporate irresponsibility.

That said, I really want one of the action figures for my desk, and they aren’t out until Spring. I could use a friendly Therapy Clown.

Next Issue: Back to the Plot!

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