Harley Quinn: Where Do I Start?

If the Joker is the Clown Prince of Crime, then his sometimes-sidekick Harley Quinn is undoubtedly the Clown Princess. Originally introduced in the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, she quickly fell into place in comics as the latest in the long line of players in the world of Batman and Gotham City. She’s been a team player, whether it be beside her main man the Joker to team books like Birds of Prey, Secret Six and currently as part of Suicide Squad. For a time she even carried her own solo series featuring stunning early work by current Defenders artist Terry Dodson, but if there’s one comic creator perennially attached to this dark jester it’s her co-creator Paul Dini.

Dini co-created Harley Quinn with Bruce Timm in the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series, and it was Dini with his frequent work in comics that ushered her to the comics universe and played host to some of her most memorable stories. Her origin portrays her as a former psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum that falls madly in love with the Joker and trades in her normal life for one of crime, face-paint and a jester’s outfit.

For this edition of Where Do I Start we’ll be delving into both graphic novels and collected editions, but I’ll also be pointing out a few one-off issues of ongoing series that stand out for their high Harley Quinn quotient.

Batman: Mad Love & Other Stories: This collection pulls together the comic adaptation of Harley’s original origin from Batman: TAS, and done by no less than the people who masterminded her debut: Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. This story profiles the jester’s transformation from straight-laced psychiatrist to the love-mad criminal trickster, and is a cartooning tour-de-force to boot. Come for the fun, stay for the well-timed use of the plastic swordfish!

Detective Comics #831: Harley’s co-creator Paul Dini returns to the scene of the crime years later in this riveting done-in-one issue that shows Harley wallowing in the confines of Arkham trying to play it straight to land parole until she’s forcibly drafted to be a stooge for Mr. Scarface. Being forced to be an accomplice to a whole new round of crimes, you see Harley trying to stay straight to get parole while also leaning back into her criminal past. This standalone story was later collected in Detective Comics: Death And The City, but if you don’t want to spend the money for the whole book just track down this sole issue in back issue bins.

Batman: Harley & Ivy: If Harley has one other accomplice she’s most known to hang around it’s Poison Ivy, and this collection brings together three late-90s stories that are worth the cover price and then some. Their team-up is reminiscent of a funhouse-mirror version of Thelma & Louise except with more violence, but all coated in a bouncy layer of fun echoing her origins in cartoons.

Harley Quinn #25: Another one-off issue, but one tracking down. This story by Karl Kesel and Craig Rousseau really hits a home run as the Joker attempts to win Harley over after dumping her years prior. But this love story soon goes south as Harley’s given up on the Joker and has a new man on her mind. I won’t reveal too much more, but looking at the cover at the right will give you a better picture. This story turns into a twisted romantic comedy straight out of a movie as Joker goes to great lengths to woo his former love.


  1. Pretty solid list, though I’d toss in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Harley and Ivy” as well which showcased the first meeting between the two gal pals and was written by Paul Dini.

  2. This character has always been a source of troubling conflict for me. I have loved her interesting dichotomy of “peppy Brooklyn babe” and “psychotic, violent harlequin.” I’ve found myself admiring how Harley’s more talented writers make you walk that fence between finding her endearing and scary. But all that said? Harley’s Joker-based origin still makes me cringe – especially in the animated series (strong enough for adults, but made for children). There, we see that she is the epitome of the battered wife addicted to her abusive husband – and it’s presented as light and comical, for kids to laugh at and for adults to find amusing as well. I know that Harley’s connection to her “Mr. J” seems to be embedded in the character; but if DC ever decided to revise her origin to extract “the charm” of her addiction to being abused, I wouldn’t argue.

    • wow. i’ve actually never thought of it that way before….

      i actually would go in the opposite route and suggest they keep that aspect. it gives it a real world grounding and adds some more psychological depth to the character. that component may not necessarily be appropriate for kids but does mirror the real world pattern of intimate partner violence (event, apology, honeymoon period, progressive escalation, even worse event, etc). this also can mirror some of the conflict inherent in the character; a desire to leave, but with nowhere to go.



    • Make no mistake: I am in no way advocating that Harley’s origin – or any depiction of “battered wife syndrome” – be extracted from or avoided in any storytelling. Stuff like that is a part of our world and deserves/needs to be reflected in our fiction as much as anything else does. What I’m against is presenting it as funny, charming, cartoonish, acceptable, or rootable in any way, which many (at least early) depictions of Harley did.

    • on this point, you and i agree. well said, sir.

  3. The Harley Quinn issue of Joker’s Asylum is also very good.

  4. you start with the damn cartoon is where you start.

  5. Excellent list, especially with that Paul Dini Detective Comics issue. That entire run is so incredibly fun.

  6. even though i love her to death, i always think of her as a relativly new edition to the batman mythos. but realising she has now been around for 20 years makes me feel old