The last thing Joker and Harley Quinn should look is cool
New photos of Joker and Harley Quinn have surfaced from the upcoming Suicide Squad film. The reaction has been considerably less than what Warner Bros was probably looking for.
Things began with the photo of Joker having some cheap looking tattoos referencing his character in the comic books (don’t even try to consider the meta of that), where people freaked about the tattoos looking cheap and awful. Since they were. Jared Leto’s Joker looked like a lot of the bands he was competing against when he started 30 Seconds to Mars. Gaunt, skinny metal dudes with tattoos and weird hair. He looked more like Marilyn Manson than the usual image of the Joker.
Harley Quinn seemed to be handled a little better. She has been blonde in the past so not having red hair or a full body suit covering her head isn’t a big deal. It still wasn’t the “ideal” image people wanted for this character.
It’s around this point it feels like people forget that these are villains. These are horrible human beings that inflict harm and violence. They are criminals. They are terrorists. They are vile, reprehensible and disgusting. Even in a WB cartoon, Joker was inflicting harassment on Harley Quinn. The comics are like most comic books. Open any random issue of a Joker focused Batman comic to see him emotionally abusing Miss Quinn and her accepting the abuse. Comic writers have very little understanding of the abuse delivered but they sure love to play on it because it feels gritty and dark. I don’t mean to be picking on comic books. I’m a pro wrestling fan. We’ve accepted a lot worse.
I’ve always had a problem with the Joker/Harley Quinn dynamic, and have always felt a little disturbed by those who love the characters. Nothing wrong with liking something, but there always feels like an extra layer of mental gymnastics involved in the tightrope of loving two characters defined by being damaged with one damaging the other. The relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn was anything but healthy, an authority to subordinate with sexual tension and emotional scarring. Abusing Harley Quinn isn’t just a story mechanic, it’s a Joker trope. So common in fact, we already have a photo of Joker backhanding Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. I guess I should add they are supposed to be anti-hero protagonists in the film. Yikes.
Too often I see young girls idolize Harley Quinn and appreciate her sick sense of humour and adoration to Joker and wonder if she’s a role model for an abused woman who keeps her composure. Far be it from me to analyze without admitting I have no place in doing it but too often I see women think that the Joker/Quinn dynamic is more than just a comic story they enjoy. It’s their ideal scenario. They proclaim themselves fucked up and want someone to be fucked up with them. But Quinn’s moments of standing up to the clown are never as appreciating as much as her staying with Joker. Despite saving his hide on too many occasions, Quinn will always be treated as lesser than the clown.
Let’s get back to the look of Joker. So he has metal fillings, gaunt complexion, tattoos. 14 years ago this would have been your basic rap-metal frontman. He’s clearly behind the times in terms of what looks stylish. Wait, why do you care? Why do you want Joker to look like something you appreciate? He’s a villain! When Heath Ledger played him in The Dark Knight, he went dark and disturbing. That’s exactly what you wanted. It made him someone you wanted to cheer and see win. That’s the completely wrong angle of such a character. Nobody should be rooting for Joker. He’s not the protagonist. If you read Great Gatsby and come out preferring Tom Buchanan, you’re probably a terrible person. If you watch a Batman movie and want Joker to win? You’re either a terrible person or they did a terrible job of making you want to see Batman win. In Suicide Squad, Joker is technically a protagonist. I can understand people wishing he looked more like their self-projected ideals of Joker (and Quinn), but Joker shouldn’t be cool. Joker should be reprehensible. Joker should be out of touch and unlikable. It will be through the performance by Leto, through his actions, through his deeds in the Suicide Squad that will turn you around for him. If you like him immediately, there’s no redemption to see a villain performing good deeds. You already like him. Everything he does will be liked regardless.
As someone who doesn’t read comic books as much anymore and is already exhausted from comic book films, everything I see developing from Suicide Squad feels like the production was doing the right thing but fan reaction has been self-centered. They don’t want to dislike Joker or Harley Quinn. They want to like them immediately. They want to dress up like them and feel cool or dark or edgy. The last thing they want to do is actually have to consider the disturbing, awful aspects of these two villains and what it says about themselves. Suicide Squad isn’t making Joker badly. They are making Joker bad, which is exactly what he is. They are not making Harley Quinn the way you want because you shouldn’t get to decide her image. You want your comic book movies to feel mature and real? Here you have it. Real and mature. Time to start reflecting on why you like these people and stop turning your brains off for the action. Time to start asking why you want this. That’s maturity. That’s realism. That’s the Joker and Harley Quinn you deserve.
Further better reading on the Joker/Quinn dynamic (TW): Nothing Romantic about Harley Quinn & Joker by Jason Levine of Arousing Grammar