Harleen Quinzel – Suicide Squad

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Get ready for Halloween – we’re going to be seeing a lot of Harley Quinn costumes.

There’s nothing wrong with that. This is one of the most unique characters in the DC world, a precocious student of psychology who falls victim to The Joker’s manipulations. In many ways, her story arc is a parable that mirrors abusive relationships; she relentlessly pursues acceptance from an abusive partner in a way that many real-world victims of emotional abuse seek acceptance from their abuser.

Harleen Quintzel, on the surface, seems like little more than a pornographic film star – hypersexualized and weak. That’s how she was initially written – the hapless victim of a masterful psychological tormentor. I think one of the reasons this character has captured the imagination of so many fans recently, however, is because, beneath the sexual facade, she possesses genuine agency. As penned by co-creator Paul Dini, she is a preternaturally brilliant psychologist who falls under the spell of The Joker. She isn’t a mutant or a meta-human. Her superpower isn’t superhuman strength or extraordinary skill with any kind of weapon; her talent lies in identifying and capitalizing on emotional weakness.

Not easy to portray on the silver screen, unfortunately.

But the relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker was, undeniably, one of the most enjoyable elements of David Ayer’s ‘Suicide Squad,’ and rumor has it that a stand-alone feature-length film is in the works. Hopefully we’ll see more from Dini’s original story, a comic book titled ‘Mad Love,’ as the flagging Warner Brothers Studios continue to struggle to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harley isn’t just a hot chick in revealing clothing – she’s a viper, whose superpower is her devotion to a madman.

I hope that you, like me, are looking forward to seeing this character evolve in the burgeoning DC Cinematic Universe. Yes, there have been plenty of misfires, and I think that ‘Suicide Squad’ was a big swing and a miss. I’m a little gun-shy, too, after ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman V Superman.’ But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of material to work with. And the new Robin – ahem, sorry, I mean Joker – is going to be a fun new character to follow.

You fan-boys know what I’m talking about.

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The New Joker – Scarface Juggalo

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It will be impossible for fans of Batman not to compare Jaret Leto’s version of The Joker to the monumental performance by Heath Ledger. What a lot of people don’t realize, of course, is that Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger concocted their anarchic Joker out of thin air; their interpretation was deeply expressive in that cinematic context, but wasn’t necessarily wedded to any of the comic book versions of the character.

Neo-goth gangster – that’s what we’re seeing with this new Joker. A hybridized malcontent, a Marilyn Manson/Bugsy Siegel Frankenstein monster. In the three days that ‘Suicide Squad’ has been out, there has already been a tremendous amount of backlash. Rather than make unfair comparisons, I’m inclined to embrace this new interpretation. Low ratings and abysmal Rotten Tomato scores, these DC movies are still huge moneymakers. It’s easy to be gun-shy with these last two efforts – but when the meager ten minutes of screen-time (approximately) allotted to Jared Leto’s Joker are widely considered the best part of ‘Suicide Squad,’ I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll be seeing more from the criminally insane harlequin.

And pay attention to the fan theories. I think there might be quite a bit more to this Joker than we realize.

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Is Jared Leto A Good Joker?

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After today’s release of ‘Suicide Squad,’ the internet will likely be replete with comparisons between the DC Cinematic Universe’s newest incarnation of the evil clown with the many iterations that came before.

A posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight Trilogy’ makes the role especially risky for the newest actor, Jared Leto. Fortunately, comic book properties have proved malleable, both on the printed page and, as an extension, into the cinematic realm. By design, successful comic book characters change with the times, in both costume and ethos. From the psychopathic serial killer in the comics of the 1950s to the innocent whimsy of Cesar Romero in the 1966 ‘Batman’ television series, to the anarchic and chaos-driven Joker portrayed by Heath Ledger in the ‘Dark Knight Trilogy,’ Leto’s interpretation of the character isn’t outside of comic book canon, infinitely more aligned with the graphic novels of the late 1980s (and the Batman Animated Series of the 1990s).

The anarchic Joker of the Nolanverse doesn’t have the time or patience to sit for ten hours to have himself tattooed and decorated in the way this new Joker has; he invents convoluted plans to rob banks and execute his enemies (and his accomplices), but is ultimately ruled by chaos. The whimsical Joker of the 1966 Batman series was too in love with gold and jewels and heists to visit any real harm upon another human soul. The Joker of ‘Suicide Squad’ is a crime boss, a violent gangster, an archetypal malcontent. His tattoos and chromed teeth are intentional objects of intimidation; he’s controlled, intelligent, calculating and capable.

This is rich territory. And even with the shortcomings of ‘Suicide Squad,’ this is a rich character, a character well deserving of more exploration. Maybe the writers, directors, executives, and other underlings of the DC Cinematic Universe will find a way to not fuck that one up.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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A Word About Dr. Quinzel

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Any comic book aficionado or perennial nerd – every video-game, graphic-novel, pop-culture freak – can tell you what they think about this character and why. Most of us can tell you which version of the character we were first introduced to, and which iteration we prefer, from the after school cartoon to the decidedly more gritty and demented video game character from the award-winning “Arkham” series of Batman video games.

The more recent comic book and video game depictions of the character aren’t just grittier, but also much more sexualized, and this appears to have informed the direction of the character for the new “Suicide Squad” film. This makes sense for a film targeting a teenage and adult male audience. The character is perfectly tailored to play the seductive role while maintaining her dignity; complete insanity can be fun that way. What’s interesting and attractive about the character goes beyond sex appeal, though, which is probably one of the main reasons why so many people are interested in her. She isn’t a two-dimensional comic foil in a tight outfit. Or, I should say, she isn’t just a comic foil in a tight outfit. Her character is fully formed, she has agency and motivation, and this elevates her from many of the cinematic adaptations of female super-heroes and super-villains. There aren’t any one-liners to pigeonhole this one.

What we might also consider is that Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel isn’t a throwback to the 1950s, or any other earlier era of antiquated Americana. Many comic book stories from the early days of Marvel and DC weren’t very kind to women and their portrayal in popular media. This one is very original. Harley Quinn – a pretty ‘on-the-nose’ pun on the word ‘harlequin’ – was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm back in 1991. Her first appearance was in an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” in September of 1992.

The animated series was undeniably for kids, but it adopted a wonderfully dark tone and took it’s subject matter seriously. The show was illustrated in muted tones and was heavily influenced by art-deco design. The stories were also genre-defining, presenting conflicted characters, gothic atmosphere, and emotionally intelligent plots. The production team respected its audience even though most of them were children; this might explain why the series is still considered relevant today. It’s one of those timeless classics that’ll likely extend much further than it’s original run. Heck, it already has.

In the animated series, Harley Quinn isn’t given an origin story. She just appears as an obvious, humorous female sidekick to The Joker, who disregards her extreme admiration and devotion to him. With a thick Jersey accent and an almost innocent, bubbly desire to please the man of her dreams, much of the humor comes from her obliviousness. She scarcely seems to recognize how psychotic the object of her affection is. This worked well in the cartoon format, with a characterization that remained consistent, more or less, throughout the series.

The origin story didn’t appear until the 1994 graphic novel in the “Batman Adventures” series, titled “Mad Love.” We learn that the good Dr. Quinzel began as an ambitious and uniquely brilliant young psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. Through a drawn-out attempt to psychoanalyze The Joker, she is eventually manipulated by the madman into setting him free. It’s a Stockholm-Syndrome-esque turn-of-events, and the doctor is subsequently twisted into one of The Joker’s puppets. The narrative is under-girded by Harley’s intellectual gifts and her emotional frailty, conflicting characteristics that make her a fascinating victim  – she’s both dangerous and vulnerable. The story was widely praised and won the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best Single Issue Comic of the Year.

From the look of things, this origin story will not be a part of the new “Suicide Squad” film. The origin story may be hinted at, but it won’t be a focus of the film’s narrative. Not enough is revealed by the movie trailers alone to cast judgement, but commentators and fans appear to be split regarding this new incarnation of Harley Quinn. Some say the look is perfect, others wish there would be a more true-to-comic presence. Others are concerned that she doesn’t have that thick Jersey accent that helped define her cartoon countenance (an understandable critique when we watch the trailer and hear the classic ‘joker laugh’ from actor Jared Leto, a clear homage to Mark Hamill’s voice acting in the animated series).

The only way to know if the new Harley is worth a damn, of course, is to buy the ticket, take the ride, and see if works. I, for one, am optimistic that this is going to be a fun ride.

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Harley Quinn Has Arrived

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The new ‘Suicide Squad’ trailer dropped a few days ago, and Harley Quinn has arrived in full-force.

You might know actress Margot Robbie as that attractive naked set-piece from Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ She played the role well, but the script relegated her to a second-tier character in the screenplay. This next feature, from the DC Cinematic Universe, provides her with a role that is going to define her career – at least for the near-future.

The character of Harley Quinn (Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D.) is decidedly unique in the DC canon. Created by writer Paul Dini and illustrator Bruce Timm, she is a relatively new addition, having been first introduced not in comic book form, but in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ back in September of 1992. The character became so beloved that she was written into DC Batman comics shortly thereafter.

The Marvel and DC cinematic universes began with a ‘fast and loose’ approach to character and continuity. Ang Lee’s interpretation of The Incredible Hulk in his 2003 film ‘Hulk,’  for instance, is a good example of how plot details and narrative structure ignored key traditional plot points in an attempt to create a stand-alone feature-film adaptation. The film was a disastrous flop. The notion of serializing these stories hadn’t been considered possible in the early 2000s, and the only solution was to simplify the narrative and disregard the multitude of graphic novels that came before. After the 2008 success of ‘Iron Man’ – produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures – a new market was identified and audiences began to see a tightening of canonical comic book lore.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.

Rather than writing new stories that conflict with comic book canon, Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios have begun to retell, story-by-story, comic book tales that have been in the cultural ether for decades. Prior to the release of ‘Iron Man,’ the tech-genius superhero Tony Stark was barely even known to a majority of casual movie-goers. The success of the film adaptation has made Iron Man a household name. Missteps like ‘Wolverine: Origins’, which retconned beloved comic book characters like Deadpool (much to the disappointment of die-hard fans), are being reexamined. The mistakes of the past can’t be undone, but there is nothing to prevent adopting more faithful story adaptations moving forward, which is precisely why we are seeing what appears to be a more true-to-comic ‘Deadpool’ film coming out in February.

Harley Quinn has always been a fan favorite – sexy, smart, and crazy-as-hell. Every man out there feels like he’s dated her before. And, despite the scars, we all kind of want to date her again. Time will tell if ‘The Suicide Squad’ remains faithful to her cartoon and comic book origin story. Something tells me that DC has taken a lot of lessons over the past decade, and the tale will be properly adapted.

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The New Suicide Squad Trailer

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David Ayer’s ‘Suicide Squad’ is continuing along a new approach to film marketing that, if not outright established by ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ has been deeply influenced by it. This new style has become the gold standard for comic book and science fiction movie properties. Comic conventions, cos-players, and self-proclaimed ‘nerdists’ across the spectrum have helped transform film culture. Trailers, in and of themselves, have become event-worthy features.

Disney’s recent acquisition of the Star Wars property has proved successful, but this has been no huge surprise to industry insiders or franchise fans. It was a $4 billion purchase, but it’s recovering those costs faster than expected. ‘The Force Awakens’ has broken box office records across almost every category, although it’s appeal in foreign markets still appears to fall short of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar.’ Needless to say, nostalgia is one hell of a drug, and movie studios have taken note.

Film trailers are transforming how we look at films. They are driving internet traffic, spawning discussion boards and fan theories, and sculpting the final cut. Release dates are set not just for the picture itself, but for the trailer. Bootlegs of these trailers escape from Comic Conventions and quickly leak onto the inter-webs for everybody’s enjoyment. It has even been speculated that trailers are being intentionally leaked so as to curtail low-resolution bootlegs that simply won’t look as good. When a bootleg of the ‘Superman Vs Batman’ film was leaked last spring, Warner Brothers was essentially forced into prematurely releasing a better quality version.

To reiterate: fans are so persistent that studios are possibly leaking their own content. That is a remarkable thing.

Now, a movie trailer has commanded a half hour of television. In an extension of what has been accomplished with programs like Chris Hardwick’s “Talking Dead,” television specials are being used to market films.The Dawn of the Justice League on The CW, which aired Tuesday evening, was nothing more than a back-door pilot for ‘The Suicide Squad’ trailer. They devoted a half hour of network screen-time to debut a movie trailer.

As of this writing, the ‘Suicide Squad’ trailer has racked up 22.5 million views. These are the numbers just from the official Warner Brothers YouTube channel – several other channels have released copies of the trailer as well, all with high view rates. That is a significant number for a two minute video released only two days ago. The movie is still being made – it’s still in post-production. The final edit has not been settled upon. Audiences have seven more months before their appetites will be satiated.

Welcome to the modern film hype.

If there’s anything we all already know, this movie will cement Margot Robbi as the next hot thing in Hollywood. The CW gave a half hour of network time to a movie trailer. The movie trailer gave all of it’s energy to Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn). Fan-boys the world over have set their laser sights on the pig-tailed anti-hero, and they don’t even have to suffer through that 1950s-era Jersey accent from the Batman Animated Series.

The DC Cinematic Universe has struggled to match Marvel’s success, but the tide may be turning. Only time will tell.

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