Analysis: Harley Quinn, Polaris, men in their lives

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.

Harley Quinn

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.

Got in a discussion on Twitter about this a bit ago, then saw news on it: the idea of Killing Joke getting cut from DC canon.

I think Killing Joke never should’ve happened and should be cut from two completely different angles.

First and more obvious: the intent behind Killing Joke was terrible. Its whole purpose was to get rid of Batgirl, and use the act of getting rid of her to build up the narratives of other male characters. The editor behind it literally told Alan Moore to “cripple the bitch.” Everything concerning Barbara built up as Oracle was not planned, and happened mostly to salvage the character in the aftermath.

That’s as far as I feel I need to say on that angle, because I think it’s been covered extensively by other people.

Here’s the second, less obvious angle: Killing Joke isn’t even a good story for any of the characters, including Joker, and it doesn’t go far enough.

**SPOILERS for Batman Beyond below**

If you’ve seen the original cut of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, you know what happened to Tim Drake. The Joker kidnapped Tim and tortured him for weeks, until Tim finally snapped. The entire premise was turning Tim from Robin into Joker Jr., which Joker succeeds at.

it demonstrates who the Joker is and how terrifying he can be on multiple angles. This is a guy who is willing to torture children to turn them into a twisted parody of himself. His actual method of torture is representative of who he is. Harley’s willingness to help shows how abusive and persuasive Joker is. It demonstrates the risk of Batman taking on children, both for the harm that could come to those children AND for all the secrets someone like Joker can get out of them.

Everything that happens to Tim Drake, happens because it’s inherently unique to Joker. All of the threats I mentioned a moment ago aren’t just threats. They’re threats laced with Joker’s specific brand of insanity. They were all focused on the goal of taking one of Batman’s kids away from him and turning that kid into a Joker knockoff. Similarly, Tim Drake’s identity as Robin is crucial to this telling. His superhero identity matters.

Tim Drake killing Joker with a gun is uniquely terrifying on so many levels. Not only because it goes against Batman’s code, or because it’s a kid committing murder, or because it’s how Bruce’s parents were killed. It’s all of those things plus the fact Tim Drake is about the same age Bruce was when Bruce’s parents were gunned down. In killing Joker, Tim Drake is a twisted young Bruce murdering the murderer.

The horror of Joker here isn’t how brutal he can be. It’s how his brutality can home in on the psychological weaknesses of his targets and destroy them inside.


Now look at Killing Joke.

Joker does nothing to prey about the psychological weaknesses of Barbara, Commissioner Gordon or Batman. He didn’t target Barbara because she’s Batgirl; he targeted Barbara because she’s Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, and Joker merely played on how any good father wouldn’t want to see his daughter suffer. It doesn’t prey on Batman’s relationship with Commissioner Gordon either, because even if Batman didn’t exist, Gordon would still be Commissioner and still have to face off with Joker.

The exact same thing would’ve happened no matter where Batman was. The only difference is Batman’s existence meant Gordon got saved by someone.

It doesn’t even say much about Joker. It does nothing to represent his identity through his actions or the unique danger he poses. The closest Joker comes to that is framing Barbara’s crippling like pornography, but that’s only a representation of how twisted his worldview can be.

When you get right down to it, Killing Joke isn’t even a good Joker story. Literally any character could’ve done what Joker did. Any random criminal could’ve shown up at Gordon’s house, knocked on his door, blasted Barbara in the spine and taken photos to really fuck with Gordon’s head. You can almost imagine one of Falcone’s men doing exactly that to send a message, in much the same way as the infamous Godfather horse head.

The absolute best anyone can ever say about Killing Joke is that it’s brutal and may have inspired some good content, but even the latter may not be true. For all we know, we might’ve had even better stories if Killing Joke never existed.

If DC Comics is serious about providing good stories and characterization (which is a big assumption; they still haven’t given Harley Quinn back her namesake harlequin theme, and they’re still pushing Man of Steel), they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ditching Killing Joke. Most people I’ve seen in heavy support of Killing Joke do so exclusively because they like “edgy” brutal content and have convinced themselves it’s crucial to Joker’s development without really thinking of what it does(n’t) do for Joker as a character.

In sum: there’s no reason at all to keep Killing Joke canon. It may have become an iconic Alan Moore and Joker story, but it was created with poor intentions and does nothing for any of the characters involved. If DC’s going to have something like Killing Joke in canon, it needs to be more psychologically extreme and character-driven than this. “Joker shot Barbara in the spine, took porno-style pictures and showed them to a crawling, leashed and naked Gordon before Batman saved him and arguably killed Joker” isn’t enough.

“True Fans,” Fandom, and Gatekeeping

If you’ve been active on social media at all, or even taken part in something that would get a lot of spread on social media, you know how volatile people have become.

A lot of people are getting their names and reputations dragged through the mud, receiving harassment and death threats online, and some have even been SWATted (where a fake threat is called to police to get a SWAT team to raid someone’s house – which can result in actual physical harm and threats) and essentially chased out of their homes.

All of this activity can ultimately be traced back to one thing: the concept of a “true fan”, and attempts to dominate fandom and control who is or isn’t considered a fan.

As much as I’ve been active on Twitter, I haven’t been nearly active enough about this on Tumblr, and it’s time for me to say something here.

There is a lot of loaded language wrapped up in this concept, so there’s no perfect place to begin. We have to just jump right in and elaborate from there.

We’ve seen a lot of volatility as of late in fandom everywhere. There’s GamerGate, full of people who insist they’re fighting for ethics in games journalism – when really, the language of most GGers is stilted in things like “fighting the SJW menace” and “exposing <insert female critic, developer, research, etc>’s lies.” Many GGers insist the people they target are “not real gamers.”

When the Batgirl cover referencing the Killing Joke came out, and many people complained and criticized it (I believe rightfully so), many people insisted demands to pull the cover amounted to censorship… and some of the people who demanded the cover be pulled received harassment and death threats, and calls that they weren’t “true comic book fans” or “true Batman fans.”

I’ve experienced this first-hand, of course. Nowhere near to the same degree as so many others have received it. But practically any time where I’ve criticized a company or product or shown concern that something bad might happen to something I love, there will be someone who comes along with this insistence they’re a “true fan,” and that I’m not because I said something they didn’t like.

So here’s the critical question in all of this: what makes someone a “true fan”?

If I buy absolutely anything and everything a company makes, even if they openly insult me as a consumer and all the things I care about – am I a true fan?

If I buy absolutely nothing, never have and never will, and say something needs to radically change into something else before I’ll buy it – am I a true fan?

We know the dictionary definition of a fan, but there are so many individual, personal semantic definitions. One person thinks you’re not a fan unless you defend a company and what it does to the death, no matter how bad it is. Another person thinks you’re not a fan unless you mercilessly criticize everything and show no appreciation. Still another person thinks neither route is correct, that you need a mix.

Or is it something else? Are you a true fan if you play X number of games or read X number of comics featuring something? Are you a true fan if you paid to commission fanart, or write fanfiction?

Depending on your definition, who counts as a “true fan” changes.

Suddenly, a person who’s read comic books about their favorite character for years and bought countless comics and art commissions isn’t a “true fan” because they’re willing to complain about the company that owns that character’s rights.

Suddenly, a woman who makes experimental video games or cares about better representation for women in video games isn’t a “true gamer”, while a man who’s never played a game before and has regularly insulted gaming as a whole is an “honorary gamer” for supporting certain people and playing a little bit of one video game.

Suddenly, people who deeply love and respect something “don’t count” as “true fans.” And here’s the reason: power.

Fiction has cultural power, and whoever has the loudest voice gets the most say in its shape. Whether explicitly or implicitly, most people are starting to realize this.

Want a character to get raped? Silence all dissenting voices, and it might happen.

Want a certain person to quit the video game industry? Send him or her enough death threats, make up things like “she has sex with dogs” or “she’s a rapist”, hack his or her bank account, all sorts of nastiness, and it might happen.

That is the shape “fandom” is increasingly taking right now: smear jobs, character assassination, real life harassment even to friends and family just for being associated with the intended target.

It’s all gatekeeping. It’s all an attempt to take possession of the keys, and then dictate who’s allowed to have them. “You’re not a true gamer unless you accept games as they are.” “You’re not a true Batgirl fan unless you accept her being presented first and foremost as Joker’s victim.” “You’re not a true Polaris fan unless you never complain about Marvel and never worry they might do something bad to her.”

And while it looks recent, this has actually been going on for years. Probably far longer than I’m even consciously aware.

When Anita Sarkeesian launched her Tropes vs Video Games Kickstarter in 2012, she received a wave of harassment and threats simply for the IDEA of criticizing video games through a feminist perspective, suggesting that as great as they are, they can be better.

When a woman working for Bioware said video games should permit a “skip gameplay” option to be able to enjoy only the story, also back in 2012, she received a swarm of harassment for daring to suggest games don’t need gameplay.

This behavior looks new, but it’s not. It’s been a very gradual escalation across several years. It only looks new because most people weren’t watching the horizon and what was slowly spilling over it.

The more people who think this is the right approach to fandom, the more extreme people will become when they get desperate. Right now, GamerGate laughs off the idea that any of the people they target will ever get killed. But is it really so laughable? In the span of 3 years, we’ve gone from internet harassment and some online death threats to women like Anita Sarkeesian, to people getting SWATted, and smeared as supposedly being rapists or fucking dogs or selling their kids for drug money.

All in an attempt to become the gatekeepers of fandom, and terrorize and chase out anyone who disagrees with them. If 3 years is enough for people to turn out like that and think it’s perfectly acceptable, what will 3 more years bring us?

Any time you see the words “true fan”, always, ALWAYS ask: who’s using them, how, and why. We can’t afford to not ask those questions when lives are on the line – right now, professional lives, the ability to actually get a job. But perhaps some day, the ability to continue living at all.


hmmm still not sure i agree

Once again, this is not a “double standard.”

Batman isn’t treated like being drugged, raped and thereby forced to become a father is the biggest, most important thing a person needs to know about who Batman is as a character. His identity is not defined by Talia having raped him. And even completely disregarding Batgirl, the narrative of Talia having raped Batman didn’t exist exclusively to make Batman a mere prop in the service of making Talia look more threatening for another woman to have to face her.

None of the above can be said about Batgirl. What Joker did to Batgirl in Killing Joke, her moment of victimization, is treated as THE most defining aspect about who she is and what she’s about, more important than her origins or her identity… and it existed solely to make the Joker look more threatening for Batman and Jim Gordon. With Batman, we know his parents’ murder fueled becoming Batman, we know Bane broke his back, we know Talia raped him, we know he took Robin in, and in all of that the emphasis is on how he struggles and triumphs over those tragedies… while the emphasis for Batgirl is on how she suffered, and still suffers.

As exemplified in the cover that was rightfully pulled by DC, at the artist’s request because people criticizing it were getting attacked. The Joker variant cover does not show Batgirl resisting, fighting back, pushing to triumph over what he did to her. That cover is all about emphasizing Batgirl as a victim first and foremost, not as a hero who fights and struggles to overcome such adversity and horrors to be her badass hero self.

There was literally no reason for Batgirl to be depicted that way. Joker did not need her depicted that way. He would have been just as threatening if the cover allowed her to have an angry glare and perhaps signs of trying to break herself free. That’s literally all it would’ve taken for the cover to be okay with most people: a simple sign that Batgirl is her own character with her own personality that deserves to be treated as such, after far too many cases of being defined purely as a symbol of how dangerous the Joker can be.


Labyrinth” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Towards the end, Our Heroine Sarah realizes that her adversary-slash-paramour Jareth The Goblin King has only a silver tongue and esteem damaging words in his arsenal. With the magic words (above), she breaks his magic crystal ball of spying and Jareth disintegrates in a flashy fashion fit for David Bowie. 

What does this have to do with comics you ask?  I was struck by how much imagery Labyrinth and Barbara Gordon shared (clocks, shiny round lenses, goblins, ect), and really wish they shared just a little more.

Lineart in Manga Studio, color in Photoshop. I will have text free 11×17 prints of this image at East Coast Comic Expo next weekend. I’m also available for commissions.