Monday 19 January 2015

Should Harley Quinn ever come out?

Before we go off to the races let's establish where the starting blocks are. For the purposes of this post let's assume that Harley Quinn is definitely, canonically bisexual: that every joke and innuendo in print and on screen the last twenty-plus years has been made in earnest; that the scene in Harley & Ivy where they seem to be sharing a double bed is not about lacking rent money; and that Harley isn't just being catty when she takes note of Power Girl's curves in Harley Quinn #11.

So, for our purposes today it is 100% established fact that Harley is bi and that at one time at least she and Poison Ivy were lovers. All clear?
Okay, so this was all kicked off by someone telling me Batwoman was cancelled. Between that, the continued absence of Renee Montoya in the New 52 and Alan Scott's increasing backgrounding in the Earth 2 titles that leaves Harley as the only headlining queer character DC has and she's not even out.

But does she need to be?

Let me be clear: queer characters who are out? Good and definitely needed, should be more of them. The Batwoman title in particular will be sorely missed. What I'm arguing here is that perhaps the current portrayal of Harley's queerness has some value in and of itself beyond fun innuendo.

I should like at this stage to point out that whilst I don't view Harley as “out” I don't view her as closeted, especially under her current writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. Anyone who has read their Power Girl run or Painkiller Jane (most any of their work, really) knows that these are creators who are very comfortable with sex as a subject. As creators they proceed from the idea that sex and sexuality are major parts of the adult human psychology and they're unafraid to tackle that. In Painkiller Jane the main character's bisexuality is a simple fact portrayed as attraction completely divorced from gender (according to Palmiotti) whilst their Power Girl directly addresses the fact of her physicality and how it is perceived by her and others.
With Harley they mainly address her sexuality with jokes. Yes, they're presented as Easter Eggs for fans but there's nothing particularly subtle about them (one of them's a beaver joke, for goodness sake!) but I like it because its not presented as an issue at all, just a fact of Harley's personality. It helps that they've reverted her to the carefree, often childlike Harley from before the New 52: no impulse control, no baggage, no sense of limits and because we're talking about the writers we are that attitude informs how her sexuality is represented. Even if we took Harley to be bi (and we are today, remember) I honestly don't think she would ever feel the need or desire to identify that way, or any way, it just isn't her.

It would be easy for me to segue here into one of those tangents about how we don't need labels and I would like that to be the world we lived in (I do, it must be admitted here, identify with one of the... less choosy sexualities and am therefore biased) but on the macro scale I think that's generations off. For the time being, a period probably far longer than our lifetimes, labels serve an important purpose whilst we sort out the social issues surrounding them and probably will continue to serve a purpose long after.

But in this one case whilst we have characters like Batwoman, Bunker and Alan Scott proudly identifying and representing perhaps it serves an equally useful purpose for there to be a bisexual character to whom sexuality is not an issue at all. There's something beautifully Utopian about this carefree, anarchic spirit not even acknowledging genders and labels or even really the need to.

Right now, I admit, its just jokes but I honestly believe one day someone will write an explicitly queer Harley. After all, she's gone from straight to implicitly bisexual on the strength of little more than fan 'shipping entering the mainstream. One day the next generation of fans will take over and to them Harley will just be bisexual. When that day comes I just hope they continue with Harley's sexuality in its present context, that it just is; not an issue to her; not a source of internal conflict; its just her; don't use the labels and just show it in action.

Because of the character's history DC has a chance to present a queer character whose sexuality isn't a revelation on any level because for two decades various levels of authorial intent are on their side. Not even in the “plausible deniability” vein of Comics Code era characters like Northstar where it was a matter of censorship, here its a perfectly natural act of literary evolution. 

No comments: