One of Your Many Toys

"Harley Quinn" | Art by WisesnailArt. Used with permission.
“You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys… don’t tell me what to do and don’t tell me what to say and when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.

These are the lyrics for the song playing when the infamous Harley Quinn is introduced for the first time. She’s hanging from the bars of a cell in the center of a room and surrounded by several guards. “I sleep where I want and with who I want” she states to the head guard. She’s a take-no-crap, hard-as-nails, super woman who will put anyone into the hospital for coming near her.

Not only is she tough, but she is smokin’ hot and we are reminded that over and over, between almost every male’s comments and her strutting her stuff in short shorts and a tight tee. But with every remark on her beauty, there is also a statement about how crazy she is. And it’s the crazy that is her ticket to the party that is the Suicide Squad. Each person on the squad has a special set of skills and a particular destructive bent that brings them to the squad, but Harley is unique. Where each other member has an internal system of morals or ethics, a thieves’ code if you will, Harley has none because Harley isn’t a villain by choice, she’s a villain by design.

No amount of obsession can resolve an evil heart.

Deadshot doesn’t kill women or children, Croc only eats people who get in his way, Captain Boomerang is a thief but far from a soulless killer, and Diablo is a pacifist recognizing that his anger cost him everything. Harley is a creature broken, damaged, and destroyed. She is the product of loving a real villain: the Joker. Out of a misplaced affection for a client, Dr. Harleen Quinzell is twisted into the person she is now, only its tough to call her a villain; she is more a victim of deep psychological abuse.

It’s easy to see her as strong and romanticise her relationship with the Joker, but all I could see was a broken person ruined by a one-sided, dysfunctional relationship. While she loves the Joker with something bordering on manic obsession, she is little more than a favourite plaything… just one of his many toys. She’s out on display while the Joker is making deals in the club and he gives her to his business partner to do with as he pleases. The person receiving her refuses the gift because she is Joker’s “girl” and ends up getting killed for disrespecting her as a gift. That is the kind of relationship I have with a screwdriver, not a person.

The worst of it is she knows she is little more than a thing to him, but is helpless. She has been conditioned to not just be willing to die for the Joker, but to live for him. He has broken her down to the point where she will do anything, everything, to prove that she is living for him, and that is what makes her his favourite toy. She does everything he wants whenever he wants it. Actually she’ll do things he doesn’t even know he wants yet. Even when she swan-dives into a vat of acid and he follows her in, the kiss they share is his reward for her being malleable and obedient, rather than beloved.

Harley isn’t a villain by choice, she’s a villain by design.

The thing that makes the Joker the worst of villains is not his penchant for violence or his manic destruction, nor is it his casual disregard for human life; it is his abuse of love. Love should be self-sacrificing. It should put the other first. It should seek to create hope and goodness. It should make someone better. What the Joker does to Harley is take love and make it sorrow, abuse, sickness, pain and brokenness. All she longs for is his love, but she knows it is never going to happen. She snaps and says “what did you expect, a normal life? People like us don’t get normal.” And yet when the Enchantress is presenting each of them with their dreams, she sees herself married to a normal Joker with a suit and tie and little baby…

The squad finds her crying atop a police car when she thinks the Joker is dead, because if he has died than any chance of him loving her back is ruined. She has to admit that if the Joker is dead, really dead, then she will never have her love returned and all the suffering, all the violence, all of the torment was actually for nothing. What she doesn’t realize is that it is all for nothing whether he is dead or alive.

The sad reality is that Harleys never change Jokers. No amount of obsession can resolve an evil heart. It doesn’t matter how many times you think you can change someone or if you think you know them better than anyone else, or even if you think you can find some good in them… it’s not wrong to hope that other people can change, but sacrificing yourself due to obsession with the hope that you can change them is a bad idea. Only the Joker can stop being who he is, and Harley will never make him change. The only thing Harley can do is suffer at his hands or walk away. Thankfully, in the comics she’s been doing a bit more of that and in those moments I think we see a truly powerful woman who is taking back hope and healing… but in The Suicide Squad all we get to see is the pain of love unrequited in a wounded girl.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg