Exploring Harley Quinn’s Origin Story in Suicide Squad

It’s kind of amazing just how iconic Harley Quinn has become, considering she was originally introduced as a one-off character on the animated series. 

Despite that humble introduction, fans loved her, and she was finally given an origin story a couple of years later. In the comic Mad Love, Quinn is revealed to be Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist who had been interning at Arkham Asylum. There she meets the Joker, and over the course of their sessions together, she falls in love with him and helps him escape.

She subsequently takes on the alternate identity of Harley Quinn, and becomes the Joker’s “partner” in crime. This begins a long and tumultuous relationship between the two of them, although the fact that the Joker is just manipulating her is pretty obvious to everyone but Harley.

That relationship dynamic seems to have carried over to the DC Extended Universe, with Harley Quinn making her live-action debut next year in Suicide Squad, played by Margot Robbie. However, from the trailer that’s been released, it seems pretty clear that her origin story is getting some big changes.

First of all, trailer below if you need a refresher:

So it’s out of order, but there’s a lot of Harley in this trailer. Let’s piece it all together.

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There’s this shot of Margot Robbie as a pre-Harley Dr. Harleen Quinzel. A lot of people have been saying that the man on the left is Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg. This was the part that was originally meant for Tom Hardy to play, so you we know that Flagg likely has a pretty significant role in the story.

Being romantically involved with Harley Quinn before the Joker got to her would be a pretty interesting dynamic, something we haven’t seen explored so much in the comics.

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Here we see what I’m pretty sure is the start to the revised Harley Quinn origin story in Suicide Squad. This is just speculation, but I think what we’re seeing in these shots is the Joker’s gang assaulting Arkham Asylum to break their boss out.

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Our biggest piece of evidence for this is this scene, where you can clearly read “Arkham” on the Joker’s pants, and also spot pill bottles and medication on the shelf behind him.

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During the attack, the Joker attacks Dr. Quinzel and has her strapped to a table. My guess is that the film is keeping the original Harleen/Joker relationship intact, with her acting as his psychiatrist before his escape.

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However, the implied torture that follows makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t just fall in love with him. Instead, his torture likely breaks her mind, somehow leading to her working for the Joker prior to their capture by Batman.

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And as for Harley Quinn’s appearance, well, there’s another big theory floating around right now.

Earlier this week, Margot Robbie’s stunt double Ingrid Kleinig posted this to Instagram, then deleted her entire account just hours later:

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That’s a sign for Ace Chemicals, which played a huge role in one of the Joker’s comic book origin stories.

In Detective Comics #168 (and subsequently revised in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke), a criminal going by the name Red Hood attempted to rob an Ace Chemicals plant. Batman intervenes, and in the struggle, the Red Hood falls into a vat of toxic chemicals. He manages to survive and swim to safety, but the chemicals permanently disfigure him, turning his skin white and his hair green. He subsequently goes insane, taking on the new criminal identity of the Joker.

This is important because in the New 52 comics chronology, Harley Quinn’s origin story got an update. In addition to meeting the Joker in Arkham and falling in love with him, she’s also kicked into a vat of toxins by him, at the same Ace Chemicals plant where he was “born.”

If Harley’s stunt double is prowling about an Ace Chemicals set, it seems very possible that Suicide Squad might be pulling inspiration from the New 52 for her backstory. This in turn may indicate that the DEU version of Harley may not just be wearing white facepaint, her skin might be bleached white due to exposure to chemicals. 

So all of this taken together, if we’re right about any of it of course, seems to indicate that Suicide Squad is going to present an extremely abusive start to Harley and Joker’s relationship (even by Joker/Harley standards).

Could this be a sign that we’ll see Harley break out of that situation, and grow into a more independent character in the DEU? We can’t know for sure, but it definitely feels like Suicide Squad is setting that up to me.

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