I don’t talk about Harley Quinn as much on here as other topics. My main view is that she was my favorite character of DC comics, the “rebirth” ruined her by throwing away her entire harlequin character theme to make her more or less “clown girl,” and any popularity we see for her today is much less than she could’ve had if DC hadn’t thrown away her identity.
Right now, I’m bringing this up not for Harley Quinn, but for Polaris and the way @marvelentertainment seems to see and treat her.
Despite my complaints, my reasons for those complaints, and what I’m certain would be happening if DC did things right by Harley Quinn, there’s still an important truth that must be acknowledged: Harley Quinn is currently incredibly popular. She could be more popular if done right, and much of her popularity right now is due to DC shoving their “reimagining” of Harley down everyone’s throats, but it doesn’t change the end result.
So why is current “Harley Quinn” popular? People can cite a lot of different things. People can disagree, or bring up a huge mishmash of elements. However, there’s one specific aspect of her newfound popularity that applies here: the popularity of “Harley Quinn” is not because of Harley’s connection to Joker but in spite of it.
Harley Quinn was created to be Joker’s henchgirl in the animated TV series. She became popular with her initial appearance and got recurring roles. This led to Harley getting fleshed out as a former psychiatrist that was seduced by Joker’s nature and ultimately became a domestic abuse survivor. Essentially, that was her origins – to be “beneath” Joker, to be his victim that was once a smart professional woman.
Fast forward. As Harley grew as a character, her horizons expanded. She developed a lesbian relationship with Poison Ivy. She had zany adventures in her own solo series (which I read, and was great up until somewhere around issue 25 or so). That was, I believe, the height of her popularity pre-”rebirth”. History with Joker came up, but amazingly, it was stories not involving Joker that got pursued the most when she was at her best.
Likewise, the popularity of the current “Harley Quinn” is never tied to stories involving Joker. One of the most popular relationships “Harley” has had in recent years is with Power Girl, to the point where a whole set of comics was made focused on it. When the Suicide Squad film came out, most of the tweets I saw concerning that version of “Harley Quinn” were about how great she was in the film when Joker wasn’t part of the story. And, as WB plans to make a Joker solo film, I see TONS of complaints from people about how shitty such a film would be vs wanting a Gotham Sirens sort of film featuring Harley.
Long story short? Harley Quinn was created to be “beneath” Joker, but when she finally got real, deliberate focus on herself as her own character, people came to love her more than Joker. The guy she’s supposedly “beneath.”
Here’s the connection for Polaris: Havok.
I’m going to be fair to Havok, for Havok fans. He’s not a villain like Joker. When he’s actually written respectfully, he’s not an abusive shitheel.
However, how he is when written well does not change how their relationship was written for decades and how it always gets written when writers at Marvel try to bring it back.
Polaris was created as the daughter of Magneto who wants to be her own woman. The late 60s did still have sexism which trickled into some of her treatment, but Lorna was quite independent and more feminist than your average female character at the time.
Over time, and especially in the 70s and 80s, the idea of Lorna as “beneath” Havok (and several other characters) got pushed more and more at Marvel. Unlike DC with Harley Quinn, she wasn’t created with that toxic relationship. The toxic relationship was forced on her.
Their relationship is always Lorna acting as a supporting character for Havok’s stories.
Sometimes she’s written crying on his shoulder and blaming herself for crimes she didn’t commit, for no reason other than for the “big strong man” Havok to look good “comforting” her.
Sometimes she’s being tortured by the villain so we can see Havok’s “suffering” at hearing her in pain.
Sometimes, for no damn reason whatsoever, any concept of agency for herself is thrown out so she can spout about “what Alex would do.”
Sometimes, her entire purpose on a book is exclusively to be a reminder of “how wonderful the great and glorious Havok” is supposed to be, through things like having her spout “this isn’t you” or having her memories used to “restore” him after a multiple-issue story with him at the center.
And sometimes, big moments for her – like when she gets her origin story, or when she leads her own team for the first time – just have to have Havok shoved into them just so he can benefit.
Long story short: Marvel’s attitude toward Lorna is that she’s “beneath” Havok, and they keep going back to that over and over and over again.
They keep giving Havok opportunities they refuse to give Polaris. They keep forcing him into her stories and giving him a big voice, often even letting him hijack her whole damn story.
Marvel keeps refusing to let Lorna be her own character with her own amazing stories told, new relationships developed, her own spotlight that has nothing to do with this toxic relationship she’s had with this specific man that executives and editors and writers working at Marvel can’t stop nutting over.
And you know what?
Harley’s Success Could Be Polaris’
Harley Quinn is popular and succeeding right now in spite of setbacks like throwing out her harlequin theme. As said, “Harley Quinn’s” popularity comes because Joker isn’t forced into her stories and dragging her down. In fact, during the whole “rebirth,” the initial Suicide Squad stories where the Joker connection was played up most are actually the least liked.
The same applies with Lorna. Aside from some Austen moments, the great majority of full-bore Polaris fans do not fan over her because of Havok. They’re fans because of her mental health difficulties. Or her support of mutant rights issues when treated well. Or her history and subsequent development as a survivor of the Genoshan genocide. Or her place within the broad Magnus family, or so many other things.
Polaris is an awesome badass with many layers of complexity and massive amounts of untapped potential. What’s happening with Harley Quinn demonstrates that even if Lorna was a pale imitation of her full self, she would still be immensely popular as long as Marvel stopped dicking her over by forcing Havok on her and treating her like she’s “beneath” him.
Hell, we see that right now with Gifted. That version of Polaris isn’t really the full, true Lorna, it’s just one aspect and interpretation of her. It’s more faithful than what Marvel tends to do with her, but it’s still not fully her. And in spite of that, she’s the most popular character on the show. She’s more popular than Havok was in the films.
Lorna couldn’t just be as successful as Harley, she could be more successful. She has decades of history to draw from. Decades of fandom. Immense untapped potential. And a real, proper focus on her would be something more than what DC does for Harley, giving Lorna an edge.
The only thing standing in Lorna’s way is old, awful, entrenched fanboy biases against her at Marvel. Any argument made by anyone at Marvel along the lines of “she’s not popular enough” or “she’s not enough of a character” or anything like that is just people at Marvel trying to justify their bias.
Harley Quinn started out as a minor supporting character for Joker’s stories and look where she is now. Lorna didn’t even start out as that. She started as her own character and got turned into a minor supporting character for Havok’s stories.
If DC can do great things for Harley, then Marvel sure as hell can do them for Lorna too. They just have to care and stop making excuses.