Author Guest Post: 30 Years of Harley Quinn with Rachael Allen
In 1992, Harley Quinn made her debut in Batman: The Animated Series. Since then, she’s become a cultural icon, with books, comics, movies, TV shows, and collectibles. Though typically associated with The Joker, Harley is so much more than her toxic relationship with him. We are here today talking about 30 years of Harley with Rachael Allen, author of Harley Quinn: Reckoning, the latest DC Icons story. Check out her guest post below and don’t miss Reckoning before Harley Quinn: Ravenous comes out in April!
Harley Quinn: Reckoningby Rachael Allen
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers
on April 26, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
In this new launch of a trilogy within the DC Icons universe, experience the origin story of a Super Villain. This is the feminist Harley Quinn backstory fans have been waiting for.
When Harleen Quinzel scores an internship in a psych lab at Gotham University, she's more than ecstatic; she's desperate to make a Big Scientific Discovery that will land her a full-ride college scholarship and get her away from her abusive father. But when Harleen witnesses the way women are treated across STEM departments--and experiences harassment herself--she decides that revenge and justice are more important than her own dreams.
Harleen finds her place in an intoxicating vigilante girl gang called the Reckoning, who creates chaos to inspire change. And when Harleen falls for another girl in the gang, it finally seems like she's found her true passions. But what starts off as pranks and mischief quickly turns deadly as one of the gang members is found murdered--and a terrifying conspiracy is uncovered that puts the life Harleen has worked so hard for at stake. Will she choose her future--or will she choose revenge?
In this refreshingly feminist spin on the story of our favorite villainess, Harley Quinn: Reckoning traces Harleen's journey from precocious, revenge-obsessed teenage girl to a hardcore justice-seeker on her way to becoming the most captivating Super Villain of all time. Vibrating with youthful energy and rage, this is one story that you won't be able to put down.
30 Years of Harley Quinn
I’m ten years old, and I’m curled up on the hideous brown carpet in my living room with a plate of cheese, crackers, and mustard. I’m watching Batman: The Animated Series, but I’m glued to Harley Quinn. Back then, there weren’t a lot of female supervillains to look up to, or really, characters in general. And Harley had a ton of personality. She was cool. You could picture yourself in that convertible with her, screaming through the city with Ivy in that episode where they become the New Queens of Crime.
While Harley was having a midnight joyride through Gotham City, I was turning my little sister’s kiddie pool into a tadpole habitat and wishing I had a best friend like Ivy.
Because despite the aspects of Harley Quinn that (certain) people like to focus on – hi, her abusive relationship with The Joker – a couple things did not escape me, even as a kid:
- Female friendship mattered to her.
- She was DOCTOR Harleen Quinzel.
She was exactly what I needed at that time.
In high school, I remember my Calculus teacher giving my boyfriend higher grades than me, despite the fact that we studied for all our tests together and had similar answers, because “She knew he knew what he was talking about.” In college, that same boyfriend tried to convince me that I wasn’t smart enough to do the things I wanted to do. But I was in a sorority now, and I didn’t have just one Ivy, I had a hundred of them backing me up. (I kicked him to the curb and went to grad school to get my PhD in neuroscience.)
I love the way Harley evolved over time – in Cadigan and Dini’s Mad Love, in Stefan Šejić’s Harleen, with Margot Robbie and Cathy Yan in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, in her new standalone animated series, Harley Quinn. Each iteration of her became more complex. Each version added backstory and nuance and critical identity pieces, like the fact that Harley is bisexual in a lot of stories. Or the fact that she has ADHD (which, honestly, I can’t remember if I’ve read or if it’s just something my ADHD heart knows to be true). I love that Harley changes over time, becoming what people need in a different way now than 30 years ago when we first saw her pushing that cake for The Joker.
My very first week of grad school, I was so excited to learn all the things about neuroscience. I remember traipsing through the woods to campus, featherlight, my head filled with everything I had just learned about transgenic models of neurodegenerative diseases. I also remember being at the welcome retreat and hearing one of the other girls cracking a joke about me because I was putting on make up in the bathroom. I remember my friends having creepy things happen to them at conferences when they were trying to present their scientific posters. I remember seeing horrifying stats on how many women actually get to be professors. You know that episode where Harley gets out of jail, and she’s going to be different this time, she promises, but no one will believe she’s changed, and the whole thing just feels like the biggest punch to the heart?
Sometimes being a woman in science feels like that.
I specifically wanted to write Harley because she’s a woman scientist. (I actually gave my agent a list of all my favorite female scientists in comics and asked if she could make writing one of them happen for me. Thanks, Susan!!) When the opportunity to write a Harley Quinn story came up at the beginning of 2020, I could not have been more excited. It was a dream and a career high, and I felt amazingly lucky. I felt luckier still when they told me I could write her as a teenage girl scientist. One of my lifelong passions is getting women and girls interested in science.
But I didn’t want to just write the fun parts of science: having Harley study epigenetic changes in the supervillain gene or trying to steal Joker blood from a crime scene for an experiment she’s doing. Or the funny parts: the easter egg where I changed the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to Proceedings of the Gotham Academy of Sciences and gave it the same impact factor or the graduate student character who is stressed out and perpetually in his final year of grad school.
I wanted to write the parts that made me so mad I couldn’t see straight. I wanted to write things that could maybe, hopefully change something. It was mid-pandemic, and the gap between men and women in science (particularly women with children) was becoming a chasm. So, I took all the terrible things that had ever happened to me or my friends or other women I had read about, and I put them in this book and let Harley light them on fire.
It was awesome. (Cathartic too.)
Because it’s important to get girls interested in science, but it’s also important to make science a safe place for them to be. Harley spends the entire book trying to do just that…in true Harley style by joining a vigilante girl gang dedicated to smashing the patriarchy.
That professor on the admissions committee who says we shouldn’t let in too many women because they cry too much and they have babies? Harley floods his office with Lady Scientist Tears.
Wage gap? Harley lights up the quad with fireworks that spell out average salaries.
That professor who’s harassing students? Well. You’ll just have to read and see what Harley does to him.
Writing Harley was more than just an unbelievable writing experience for me. It helped me get through the most difficult time in my life as a woman scientist. For all of 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, I turned to Harley when I needed to escape.
She was exactly what I needed at that time.
And I hope the Harley I’ve written can be what people need now.