This month marks 25 years since Harley Quinn made her introduction to the comic world and began her domination of fans’ hearts. She brought a new style of sass and fun (and destruction) that made her different than other female villains and a perfect fit to ride along Joker. Her unique personality just drew fans to her like moths to a flame. Harley Quinn was and still is the kind of crazy that keeps things interesting.
As an adult, I love Harley Quinn. Though as a parent, I wasn’t sure at first if this was the type of character I wanted my young daughter to fan girl over. There is no mystery to why my daughter or many other children are drawn to Harley Quinn. First, her outfit is patterned after a court jester. The costume is funny to children. Second, Harley is silly, goofy, and makes kids laugh. Children are taken in by her crazy stunts and plans. Many children like to dress-up and do silly things to make people laugh; so in a way they see themselves in her.
Now here is where as a parent, I begin to struggle with my child loving Harley Quinn. Do I want my daughter to see herself in Harley Quinn? This character belongs in a psych ward as she is pretty much totally insane. Her love interest, that she follows around like a puppy, is a psychopath who treats her poorly. Not to mention she is a criminal. She was an intelligent woman made crazy by an inmate. Is this really who I want my child to look to? No, but it’s not that cut and dry.
My child was introduced to Harley Quinn through comic art. It was the character’s look that caught her attention. She was not aware of the character’s entire backstory. Harley had blonde hair like her and was depicted in the middle of hi-jinks like my daughter gets into when pranking her grandfather (long story there). She connected with Harley on those two things. Like people in the real world, Harley has two sides. One side is fun, crazy, and almost childlike. The other side is destructive, unlawful, and scary. In the real world, I would tell my child to stay as far away from a person like Harley as possible, but she exists in Gotham and it is not the real world.
Gotham is fictional, and being so allows for stories to be changed and altered in a way to provide young fans age-appropriate materials. There has been some backlash on the internet about making comics kid-appropriate and how it harms the character by doing so. Then there are also people who think that certain characters’ personas in adult comics shouldn’t be altered into kid-friendly versions because they are just too sexy and kids might come across the adult version at some point. As a parent of comic-loving children, I think all of it is ridiculous. I believe there is enough room for a variety of versions to offer fans of all ages access to their favorite heroes and villains.
Seriously, I haven’t seen nearly as much griping about Tony Stark’s alcoholism being an influence on children as I have seen about Harley Quinn’s outfits and relationship with the Joker. There are so many Iron Man stories out there for kids that don’t showcase his dark side; so there is no reason to try to stop children’s stories about Harley Quinn or Black Widow or any other female character that is sexier and deadlier in the adult comics. I do understand where these arguments to keep certain characters from being available to younger fans are coming from, as I did struggle with allowing my daughter to love a sexy, unhinged character.
Though at the end of the day, I had to see the character through my child’s eyes not my own. She wasn’t looking at the adult version of Harley. My child was looking at censored images of a fictional character, and she was creating her own stories about Harley and what she was up to based on drawings. When she reached an age where she wanted to read comics with Harley, it was up to me as her parent to be the clearinghouse of what materials were made available to her. There have been many times she has asked to read or watch something, and we say no.
Now that she is entering her teen years, we have started telling her about Harley’s other side and why we don’t want her reading or watching certain things. As she learns more about Harley Quinn, she may decide that Harley isn’t the character that she wants to be a fan of any more. That is her choice.
As a parent, we have to pick our battles. The things that we are going to stand our ground on. At first glance, Harley Quinn is not a character many would want their impressionable children to gravitate towards. It was hard at times to convince myself that there was no harm in letting her love a crazy character like Harley. I just had to recognize what she loved about the character and then keep her focus on the positive side of the character and not the negative. When an adult looks at her from a child’s perspective, it is easy to see her appeal. Harley Quinn’s fun, prankster side is perfect for young fans. Thankfully after 25 years of fan love, there are choices for fans of all ages to love Harley and parents don’t have to second guess if Harley Quinn is appropriate. I wish all of the choices available now were out six years ago when my daughter’s love of Harley began, but they were worth the wait.
Happy 25th, Harley Quinn!