The HBO Max animated series Harley Quinn continues the character’s astounding run in animation, where she began thirty years ago in the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, While Harley originated and continues to occupy other media beyond the comics, her history in comics plays as big a role in the icon she’s become.
DC Comics fans know Harley’s evolution from a Batman villain to a complicated antihero owes a huge debt to the comics. The last three decades took the original character and ran with her, transforming her in unexpected ways and echoing the developments in TV shows and movies that continue into the present.
10 The Batman Adventures
Harley Quinn first appeared in “Joker’s Favor,” easily among the most definitive Batman: The Animated Series episodes, on September 11th, 1992. DC Comics fans know she made her first appearance on the page in The Batman Adventures #12 in 1993. This spinoff comic depicted stories set in the B:TAS universe.
The issue teamed her up with Poison Ivy, foreshadowing their relationship for decades to come, against Batgirl. This Harley marked a major new beginning in Batman comics, but in many ways, it was just the first of many beginnings.
9 Mad Love
Harley routinely appeared in The Batman Adventures during its run, but her next major comic book milestone came in 1994. Mad Love, written by Paul Dini and drawn by Bruce Timm, her co-creators, told her origin for the first time. Her core backstory, including her being a psychiatrist who falls under the Joker’s spell, emerges here.
This Eisner Award-winning one-shot counts among the best Harley Quinn comic books ever and also the most influential. Though her character evolves in later comics and other media, her core origin remains faithful to what was established here.
Harley remained isolated to the animated spinoffs in comic books until Thrillkiller, a 1997 Elseworlds story. She appears in non-B:TAS continuity for the first time, supporting a female Joker. Hayley Fitzpatrick served as the Joker’s chief ally in a story set in the early 1960s in a dramatically different reality from most Batman comics.
Though Harley doesn’t play a major role in the story, written by Howard Chaykin and illustrated by Dan Brereton, it remains significant in her comic book history as it opened the door to her joining the DC Universe proper.
7 No Man’s Land
Harley Quinn officially enters mainstream DC Comics continuity in 1999, with another landmark one-shot. Batman: Harley Quinn, written again by Dini, introduces her during No Man’s Land, among the best Batman comic book storylines ever. In the storyline, a powerful earthquake devastates Gotham.
The one-shot alters Harley’s backstory a little, with the Joker much more antagonistic toward her in the beginning. In fact, he tries to kill her, but this leads to her heightened strength and endurance, something that later iterations adopted.
6 The Quintets
Harley mostly worked with the Joker in her early adventures, but when she got her own ongoing series in 2000, she branched out on her own. She formed The Quintets, her own gang of thugs, to help her with her crimes. This group all dressed up in similar jester costumes like hers.
The gang’s general lack of success in robberies and heists, not to mention the run-ins with Batman, eventually led the gang to turn on Harley. Though she forms others groups in other media, she hasn’t gone back to this concept.
5 Gotham City Sirens
Comic book fans know Harley Quinn shares a close connection to Poison Ivy going back to her earliest animated appearances. That bond continued and deepened in Gotham City Sirens, a series from the early 2000s that teamed the duo up with Catwoman, another powerful Batman villain who sometimes drifts into being an antihero.
This series saw the trio take on heroes and villains alike, including The Riddler and The Joker. Most importantly, this series allowed Dini to continue to expand on her origins, and her family life in New York City begins to emerge here.
4 The Suicide Squad
Casual fans know Harley shares strong ties to the Suicide Squad movies, but she plays a big part in their adventures in the comics as well. She helped revitalize the team in 2011, joining a new roster that included Deadshot and King Shark, now prominent figures associated with her in other media as well.
Comic book fans know the Suicide Squad’s membership fluctuates often, and Harley departed the team not long after. She does remain associated with them in recent versions, though.
3 Visual Reboot
Harley’s tenure with the Suicide Squad also generated arguably the comic’s biggest contribution to her iconography. The New 52 era in 2011 rebooted her visually, jettisoning her classic harlequin costume for a more revealing look. This look has since become her default in most media, though with some alterations depending on the iteration.
Her hair also changed, and she now wore it in ponytails that were colored pink and blue. This also became a fixture both in live-action and animation. This change didn’t come without controversy, though, as some felt the costume change sexualized the iconic character too much.
2 Continued Evolution
Harley continued to evolve in the 2010s, particularly with the ongoing series from creators Amanda Palmer and Jimmy Palmiotti. Their take on the character brought back many visual motifs from the harlequin look while also advancing the newer style into a more roller derby concept.
The run also considerably lightened Harley’s character, steering her away from the gritty take in The Suicide Squad and placing her in a more humorous vein that clearly inspired the new HBO Max animated series.
1 Tangled Vines
The Palmer and Palmiotti run also significantly contributes to the ongoing romance between Harley and Poison Ivy, with what had been mostly subtextual hints becoming more and more obvious. DC Comics fans know that the comics contributed as much to this relationship as other media.
The idea that a romance existed or could exist between Harley and Ivy goes back nearly to the beginning, with the first hints in comics coming in the animated spin-offs. Harley first alludes to a relationship in Batgirl Adventures #1 from 1997, in which she implies her and Ivy are a couple.