Onions and DC Comics: one of these two things made me cry in the last week. Want a hint? My eyes don’t react to the sulfuric compounds released by onions. I’m superhuman in that way which by the way, worst superpower ever. Why did I have to get THAT one?
DC Comics…oh sweet batman, where do I even begin? There have been a slew of controversies the last week stemming from some pretty horrible management and writing plots that are complete Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze. In addition to a remarkably homophobic move on behalf of the company preventing a lesbian wedding from taking place, which resulted in an entire staff of writers deciding to QUIT in protest, a contest was put out soliciting new artists to audition by depicting a beloved female character committing suicide in 4 uniquely disgusting ways—nudity included! Oh boy! No one could possibly be upset about that could they.
Who is the lucky super-heroine to receive an invitation to the ball? Not Wonderwoman, no DC is content punishing her fans by waiting to release a female superhero film until February 30th rolls around. It is Harley Quinn—the character that has (both in my experience and my circle of friends) been single-mallet-edly responsible for bringing women readers into the Gotham world. After witnessing the nerd rage eruption on the internet I’m going out on a limb here to say that Harley is pretty popular with a lot of, if not the bulk of, all gender Batman readers and they are all as disgusted as I am. DC comics–uniting the sexes out of mutual disgust. Sadly this development is nothing new. The last few years have featured several slights to the character and since DC Comics seems to have forgotten just who the frak Harley is, I think it’s time for a little reminder.
The creation of Harley came with the animated 1992 television series that was part of my Saturday morning cartoon ritual. Batman would come on after Power Rangers and before X-men. It wasn’t my favorite Saturday cartoon but it kept my interest, not because of Batman, but because of a femme fatale duo: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. Harley was/is a criminal psychiatrist suffering from hybristophlia—she meets, treats and eventually falls in love with the Joker who is hands down the most compelling villain in DC comics. Harley was created to compliment the Joker, and while not a true sociopath like he is, she has co-dependent psychopathic tendencies. She managed to be a bad guy that could capture your heart with just the right ratio of cute and adorable to bloodthirsty batshit insane. Harley became so popular from the tv cartoon that she made her way into batman comic books and canon.
Now here is where things get messy and I’m going to be speaking more about what attracted me to her. This might not hold true for all women but I think there are a fair few who would agree. Harley resonates pretty strongly to any [wo]man that knows what it’s like to be in a very unhealthy, abusive relationship. Perhaps with someone you would actually even die for–someone who does NOT deserve that kind of devotion and uses it for their own selfish purposes. The Joker uses her, discards her and then picks her up again over the course of the series. This hardly makes Harley the golden standard for a strong female character but that’s okay. I don’t insist every heavy hitter female character be an idol of independent woman power. Harley is ferocious and strong but very, very flawed and that lets readers connect and identify with her even more. Maybe even…learn from her a little?
Harley is supposed to be, as we’ve established, several peanuts shy of a fucked up circus. That her character might perform acts that seem suicidal is not without reason but she does them because she doesn’t see them as dangerous. Now I said she’d die for the relationship—as in Harley might sacrifice herself in a moment to save the Joker. That is very different from an act of solo suicide. Knowing that her character is motivated entirely by this romantic obsession, any fan that sees “Harley kills herself” panel requests is going to fill in the unwritten blanks asking “why is she doing this—the joker”. Naked woman resigned to electrocution in the bathtub—could only be that something the Joker did drove her to it and fuck that noise. In the past, when the Joker has gone so far as to attempt to kill Harley, she reacts one of two ways: writes him off or tries to kill him right back. Malcolm Reynolds would be proud. Suicide? Suicide never enters into play. Now because she is co-dependent, eventually he wins her back and she falls in love with him all over again—the woman is a flawed but not ever, no how, does she resort to killing herself for a man.
The fourth panel is particularly reprehensible because of the “naked” aspect. Nudity connotes vulnerability; for a character that was originally conceived as fully clothed from top most hair to her pinky toenail, that nudity is even more out of place—even more exposing. The original Harley opted out of the standard bunny suit we see so often in comics. Instead she burst onto the scene (from within a cake!) wearing an over the top harlequin ensemble. Yes it was still form fitting, but relatively modest and the sexiness when paired with absurdity, made her look unique and refreshing. The last few years artists have taken Harley from this unique look, to a naughty nurse uniform that was groan worthy and then finally to a HOW THE FUCK WOULD THAT EVEN STAY ON pair of boy shorts and bustier. Seriously that would only stay on as drawn with a shit ton of duct tape. We’ve been fighting this losing battle over Harley’s look for a while now. The nudity called for in this panel sexualizes not only Harley, but the act of suicide, and is a cherry atop the misogyny flavored DC comic-sundae–with extra nuts. And just as a reminder I don’t mind sexy. MY favorite (well second favorite) character in all of comics is freaking Emma Frost. Sexual characters are great! Sexualized characters are not.
1992 – Harley as we loved her
2011 – Harley as we WTF??? Additional note: I do not own these images or retain any rights.
The writers have come back claiming that the suicide stuff is being taken out of context—it’s a satire! Harley is annoyed in the panels! She is breaking the fourth wall and can’t believe what the writers are having her do! The naked line is just to provide direction to the artists…they won’t actually show nudity. Everyone calm down!
Except nowhere in the original call is it explained that nudity is not desired. The direction is “naked” with no follow up. There is nothing to suggest in the initial contest call that this is some sort of joke at the expense of the writers. All we know is that Harley is going along with her role as a piece of meat for the slaughter and given absolutely zero context. The artists they were calling out to were just as confused as the rest of us about the intent. Giving the contest the benefit of the doubt, assuming that this is the case, well then DC I’d like to suggest that it isn’t just new artists you need. You need some writers who know how to deliver instructions to artists that convey character motivation. You need writers who understand that if Harley WERE going to break the fourth wall out of disgust with the writers, she’d be doing it with a mallet and homicidal glee instead of a suicidal whimper.
I heard the writing staff from the Batwoman comics are available now. You know they had a good thing going and…oh. Wait. Fuck you DC.
Meanwhile in the files of wacky and NOT making me cry are these savory sweet onion muffins. They are definitely not a traditional muffin—savory with a slightly sweet bite. They go really well with dinner in the evenings when you don’t have time to make biscuits or raised yeast rolls. I threw this recipe together on the fly when I was making dinner and worried I didn’t have enough food. I should know better. I always have too much food. That’s my other superpower–Jewish Mom Mode activate!
Savory Onion Muffins
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