Harley Quinn Costume History
Batman: The Animated Series would be the first time fans were introduced to the Joker’s on again, off again girlfriend/henchwoman, Harley Quinn. According to IMDB, she made her debut appearance in season 1, episode 7 “Joker’s Favor” that aired on September 11th, 1992. Her first comic book appearance would be in the 1993 issue of The Batman Adventures #12. She quickly became a fan favorite and would continue to appear in the cartoons and the comic book tie-ins. However,it would not be until 1999 that Harley would be introduced into the regular DC Universe. She appeared in her own one shot comic book titled Batman: Harley Quinn, which was released during the Batman No Man’s Land storyline. From then on Harley Quinn would be an integral part of Batman’s world and all of the DC Universe. She has branched out from henchwoman to become an independent villain in her own right.
Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created Harley Quinn as a partner for our villainous clown, the Joker. She was inspired by the comedic servant characters found in the Italian theatre Commedia dell’Arte. The actors who played these characters had to be nimble, so they could captivate audiences with their amazing acrobatic feats. These masked characters were called the harlequins and were also known as the clowns. Harley Quinn became so popular that Paul Dini wrote The Batman Adventures: Mad Love which revealed the backstory of Dr. Harleen Quinzel and how she became the Joker obsessed Harley Quinn. This story would win The 1994 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Single Story. For those of you unfamiliar with these awards, it is the Oscars of the comic book industry.
When working as a doctor at Arkham Asylum, Harleen fell in love with the Joker. Suffering from her own psychological scars from having an abusive, criminal for a father, she quickly turns to crime in order to win the affection of the Joker. This origin story would be followed closely for her introduction into the standard DC Universe. However, to fit in with the darker Batman comic book theme, she would be more violent and lose some of her quirky humor. She would befriend Poison Ivy in both Batman worlds but in the comics their friendship would be more vital to her survival in this universe filled with powerful superheroes and villains. When Harley was pricked by one of Ivy’s plants, Ivy gave her an antidote that not only saved her life but also granted her enhanced athletic and tumbling skills, making her a more dangerous threat.
A Quick Note
For this article I will be going outside the usual costume history parameters. Normally these “Costume History” articles focus on the character’s costume evolution within the comic book world and end with how they have been interpreted in real life. For Harley Quinn’s Costume history, we will be exploring her costume changes in comics, video games, cartoons and of course the real life interpretations. This decision was made because she was in the Batman Animated World long before she ever graced the the pages within the main DC Universe, she is one of the few characters to be equally or more prominent in other mediums than the comics that normally inspire these spin offs, and her wardrobe in these other mediums have influenced her future looks in the comic books.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel original costume was much like the traditional Harlequin Jester that her new identity would be named after. The traditional full body costume of the harlequin could be identified by its diamond patches. Harley Quinn’s original costume had a simple red and black base, like the colors from a deck of cards, with some white thrown in. The red and black divided her costume into 4 square like sections that fit together forming large diamonds across her torso. This fit nicely with the card theme. There were smaller diamonds on the opposite color located on her arms and thighs. She also wore a matching jester cap that fit like a hood, white clown costume cuffs, and often a white clown collar. Her entire costume was form fitting but how “form fitting” depended on if she appeared in a kid friendly animated story or for the older comic book audience. To hide her face she put on white makeup, to match the Joker’s appearance, and a black domino mask. Oddly enough, her first appearance in The Batman Adventures comic would have her in a red mask but this would be the only time the mask would be anything besides black.
With the exception of some minor variations brought on by the different artist that drew Harley Quinn, this costume would remain unchanged for almost 20 years. Being the original design and having such a long run, it has become her most identifiable look.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Harley would experience a major wardrobe makeover, not in an animated series or comic books, but in a video game. Rocksteady Studios released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. This game not only helped revive a floundering Batman video game franchise but set a standard for all video games. Batman: Arkham Asylum received universal praise from critics and fans, winning several awards and breaking world records. Using the darker Batman theme, the game was designed for a more mature audience. This was noticeable in both the story and visual design. Harley Quinn had a major role in the story and her new costume was not designed with kids in mind. Although her costume was created for the video game, it would have a major influence on her future comic book appearance as well.
The game is set in the Gotham City mental institution, Arkham Asylum, where the Joker has taken over the mental hospital/prison with the help of Harley Quinn. To make Harley appear more insane her costume has undergone a major makeover. Her base colors are now a darker blood red and a deep purple that matches the Joker’s purple suit. Since this takes place in a medical facility, the amount of white has been increased by having her wear a nurse outfit over her Harley costume. Actually, it is more like a naughty nurses costume. It consists of a short white mini skirt, white puffy shoulders, a normal white collar. The shirt is so low cut and open that she might as well have worn her bra on the outside. The bra almost completely exposed, like Madonna, will be a recurring theme for her future costumes. The jester hat is gone and been replaced with a nurse’s cap. Harley’s blond hair is now worn in two pig-tails to give the same shape as the jester cap. The rest of her costume looked more like a psychotic punk rocker. Rather than have the colors split the costume, the red and purple would rotate. One boot red, one boot purple, one glove purple, one glove red, and so on. Black was now used only as an accent color. Her platform, thigh high boots were probably not the best thing to be performing acrobatics in but they would be great for stomping somebody when they are down on the ground. To make sure these bulky boots did not give her blisters, she had black fishnet stocking that add some much needed class to this get-up. A thick black belt was used to keep up her miniskirt, which was about the same size. She was given a corset, which would fit in with women’s clothing of the time period in which harlequin’s were popular. However, harlequin’s would not have worn them because they would restrict their movement. Women would have also worn them under their clothes to remain decent in public. The clown collar was replaced with a black choker. Harley is still painting her face white to match the Joker, but the mask is now purple.
Comic Book Video Game Crossover
The video game was so successful that they decided to do a comic that would tie in the events that happened between Batman: Arkham Asylum and the sequel, Batman: Arkham City. For the comics, they scrapped the nurses outfit but the punk look was enhanced. They added a chain at the hip and bigger spikes on her gloves. The corset no longer closed all the way, leaving more of her abdomen exposed, and the white bra worn prominently displayed has been replaced with one that matched the rest of the outfit. They did attempt to bring in some more of the characteristics from Harley’s original costume. The colors were once again red and black and the fishnets were replaced with tight red and black pants that had diamonds on each leg, in the opposite color. Rather than wearing a mask over her painted white clown face, Harley just went crazy with her eye shadow makeup.
Batman: Arkham City
For the video game Batman: Arkham City, Harley’s costume would stick closely to that of the comic book tie-in. The few changes made were to help her transition from the comic book art form to video game graphics. The colors remained the same but were muted to blend in with the new setting. Her corset was cinched closed, so she wouldn’t catch a cold in the snow. (Mr. Freeze tampered with the weather in the game.) The huge spikes on her wrist were brought down to stud size, to make sure she would not impale herself every time her arms moved. She still wore pig-tails but they were now dyed at the ends with clownish colors.
To once again show the popularity of Harley Quinn, especially outside the main DC Universe, Harley Quinn’s Revenge was released as a downloadable sequel to Batman: Arkham City.
DC has rebooted their universe again and as usual it has been met with mixed results. However, almost every review I have read, by fans, has been negative when it comes to Harley Quinn’s new interpretation. This is especially true when it comes to her outfit. It is not hard to see why. Harley Quinn’s new look seems to get more of its inspiration from a harlot than a harlequin. (If you have read my previous articles you know I love to use bad puns. Sorry.) Many are upset with sacrificing her quirky jester qualities in an attempt to give her more sex appeal. The only justification given for these changes was "People liked her look in Arkham Asylum".
Harley’s new outfit has made a dramatic turn from her full bodysuit animated origins. The red and purple (or black depending on inker) color scheme is the same but that is where the similarities end. She is now wearing thigh high socks instead of boots. Her pants have been replaced with panties or if you want to be more modest they could be bikini shorts. Either way they don’t cover much. Since a belt is no longer needed to hold up pants, Harley wears a gun holster with an H on the buckle. The corset covers a lot less of her torso and because of a significant increase in the endowment of her chest, it looks as if it might burst apart at any moment. With no secret identity to hide, the gloves were scratched and replaced with guards for her forearms. Like the video game, the mask has been switched with an excess of eyeshadow that would make Mimi, from the Drew Carey Show, blush.
The most radical change to Harley Quinn is not her clothing but her face. Rather than choosing to paint her face a clownish white, she has been chemically scarred white by a batch of chemicals, just like the Joker. This is not only a drastic change in her appearance but to her character as well. Taking her choice away has altered her character’s identity.
Despite Harley Quinn’s popularity, she has yet to make a big screen appearance. However, she did make her live action debut on the short lived Birds of Prey televisions series. Originally Harley was played by Sherilyn Fenn in an unaired pilot. The part would be recast with Mia Sara. As the main antagonist of the series, this Harley Quinn was more calculating as she manipulated events from behind the scenes.
Although not as well known outside of the comic book world as Catwoman or Batgirl, Harley Quinn's popularity within the Batman universe has spawned many mass market Halloween Costumes.
Fans and models have also created their own costume.
If you enjoyed this article, you can find links to my other Costume History Hubs by clicking on the link above. Explore the history of some of the greatest female superheroes in comics through their costumes.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)
And of course: Reading way too many comic books.