Getting crazy with Jimmy Palmiotti

It is undisputable that the most popular heroine created over the past 30 years is Harley Quinn. Her character recently received household name status as the shining light of the Suicide Squad movie. Quinn’s visage is a staple of cosplayers and her comic is amongst the top sellers at DC Comics, out-selling titles with names like Aquaman, Green Lanterns, and Action Comics. Her comics are the epitome of fun and unpredictable zaniness. But at its heart, the series Harley Quinn is about a fascinatingly complex character who could only be truly channeled under the adept scribing of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. I was exceedingly fortunate to have the privilege to interview the latter, one of my all-time favorite writers.

Unlike most comic book characters, Quinn’s star was born on television on the legendary show Batman: The Animated Series, and created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.  What was supposed to be a single television appearance would grow into a recurring role as the sidekick/love interest of The Joker. Harley would soon take on a life of her own and the character would be teamed with Poison Ivy.  She would enter the world of comics with the 1994 graphic novel Mad Love, also be Paul Dini. Her popularity has skyrocketed ever since.

Harley Quinn’s backstory is that she was a psychiatrist and had The Joker as her patient. Instead of Dr. Quinzel treating him, she was turned by The Joker. Her love for The Joker has been on again/off again, and is often characterized as abusive on the part of The Joker.  Harley Quinn has enjoyed a solo career in recent years, thanks to the launch of her title during the New 52.

I asked Palmiotti what he felt was Quinn’s primary appeal and whether he felt that Quinn’s audience tended to be predominantly male or female.

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“Based on the people we meet at conventions all over the world, Harley Quinn fans are probably the most diverse group of people reading comics today,” he replied. “We have found that the standout are mothers and daughters saying they both read the books together which warms our hearts. I think the appeal of the character happens on a couple of different levels. First, she is visually appealing and one of the very few characters that is able to change her costume every other issue and not have it be a headline. Second, there is a sense of fun and joy in the unpredictable nature of the character that a lot of younger readers find appealing and the older readers appreciate after reading a lot of darker themed books surrounding her on the racks. Last, Harley is a wish fulfillment character in every way and who doesn’t like that in a character? I could go on and on, but Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created an amazing, multi-layered character that will always be considered one of the greats.”

In order words, Quinn provides something that is increasingly needed in the industry: a character who has mass appeal, crosses gender lines and pulls in non-comic fans.

One would think that writing such a standout character would bring with it added pressure on the writer. Apparently, if you are a skilled veteran like Palmiotti, that’s not necessarily the case.

“DC has been the perfect partner and amazing at letting us go crazy and do our own thing and part of that is acknowledging that we are one part of the reason it happened and they understand why ruin a good thing by pressuring us to go one way or the other with the character,” according to Palmiotti. “They have been awesome, and for us, we love all the attention Harley is getting. The only thing the attention does it makes us work harder to bring the readers the best book possible. We put that strain on ourselves and with the book coming out twice a month, we are now working harder than ever. We have surrounded ourselves with the best editors, the best artists and now with issue 17, added Paul Dini to the team working on the backup story with us. I think success of a book is great, but you can never get lazy and always have to keep challenging the reader.”

Currently, Quinn also appears in the DC title The Suicide Squad. I asked Mr. Palmiotti if that meant that readers would have to buy The Suicide Squad in order to follow Quinn’s main title.

“Not so much, mainly because we look at the events of the Suicide Squad books as something that happened before Harley moved to Brooklyn and this series began,” Palmiotti said. “It is in her past, in our minds and reference, so readers can either look at our book as a tomorrow title and SS as happening now, or our title happening now and SS yesterday. Honestly, there is really no reason to tie these two books together because one is a team book and Harley is just one of many characters in the team. Both titles should be looked at as the adventures of Harley and enjoy them both. That all said, the SS book has been a ton of fun.”

Still, that is not Quinn’s only, or even most defining, relationship. Linked as closely as they are, can The Joker and Harley ever truly remain separate entities or is Fate fixated on drawing them together?

“Since we can never truly leave the past behind in comics, fate will bring them together from time to time, but to us, they are separate entities that have past together and now have totally separate lives,” according to Palmiotti. “Fans of them together will love the backups starting in issue 17.”

So how does he differentiate these two tightly entwined characters?

“Harley has a ton of empathy that makes its way into a lot of her decisions in life,” he said. “Joker has none unless it helps him or entertains him in some way. Simple as that.”

One of the reasons Quinn has proven such a popular character is that Palmiotti and Conner have populated the Harley Quinn series with stellar supporting characters. One such character, the Red Tool, is a mercenary who bears some resemblance to another famous comic mercenary. The Red Tool has been shown to have strong affections for Harley, and I asked Palmiotti how Quinn feels about the Red Tool.

“Harley knows Red Tool is crushing on her and really enjoys his company, but really doesn’t want to take it much further at the moment,” Palmiotti explained. “She understands as well his obsession on her and deep down she is flattered. Harley also understands the good having someone like him around is for her. She feels she cannot have enough friends and enjoys the variety in the people around her.”

So, Red Tool has been friend-zoned. That’s unfortunate since, according to Palmiotti, “Red Tool’s affections for Harley are way more than physical. We learned when he poured his heart to her that he sees a person that others do not see in Harley and that was part of his undying love and affection. He also wants to express this and getting physical is one way, he thinks, of doing so. Red Tool is like a dangerous puppy dog around her…and their relationship will continue to grow only if Harley decides she wants it to go that way.”

Another fascinating character introduced into Quinn’s world is the villainous Ms. Berkowitz. While her intentions definitely seem hostile, does Ms. Berkowitz view herself as a villain?

“She totally views herself as an opportunist and will do anything to get ahead in life as we learn in the next few issues,” Palmiotti said. “There might be a good person in there, but she is also a revisionist with the things she does, so she makes herself believe things differently than what is really happening. She is like a lot of politicians who are looking for fame and attention.”

What can readers look forward to in future issues of Harley Quinn? A lot of awesomeness it seems.

“The backups by me, Paul Dini, Bret Blevins, J.Bone and Alex Sinclair [start] with issue 17 and [run] for a while, as well as Power Girl, Atlee and a lot of other unannounced guest stars making their way into the book,” he said. “You can also look forward to Harley Sinn making her way into Harley’s life again, a group of cannibals, a contest winner from the future sent back on a crazy mission, an ancient god of the underworld and some more Bernie the Beaver. With the book coming out twice a month, we are upping our game and bringing chaos into the mix.”

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