Saturday, June 13, 2015

Writers Confirm Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy Romantically Polyamorous, Free World Doesn't Collapse

During a recent live chat over the official DC Comics Twitter account, Harley Quinn writers Amanda Conner and Jim Palmiotti confirmed the canonicity of Harley and Poison Ivy's long-suspected romantic relationship in the pre-New 52 continuity.

Of course, since the revelation that all previous DC continuities will be canon following this Summer's Convergence storyline, this makes them officially a coupling. The ship has sailed!

The innuendos have been there for years. The Batman: The Animated Series era under Paul Dini:

Mostly girlpower, very little pants in this episode. Even for Joker.

The associated comics featuring more of Bruce Timm's character designs:
They were very aware of headcanon.

And quite a bit in the New 52 with Harley's  recent cementing as an anti-hero with a … particular costume update:

Well, I'm assuming that's the dog's name…

Okay, so I guess it was an actual beaver she owns now.

In the past, DC Comics has come under fire for their handling of non-binary and non-heteronormative characters. Power Girl and Terra, two of DC's younger heroes also penned by Palmiotti and Conner, have followed similar relationship arcs and exhibiting the same flirtatious, homosocial behavior as Ivy and Harley, but it was rumored that DC put the kibosh on an actual romantic relationship.

This past week, John Constantine openly flirted with his bisexual history for the first time in years (shockingly right after a series of posts made the rounds online criticizing the quietly ignored character trait). However in years past DC was blasted for their unwillingness to show Batwoman Kathy Kane get married to her long-time girlfriend, and ultimately ending the engagement altogether. This in the same month that Marvel comics hosted the My Big Fat Canadian Mutant Wedding of Alpha Flight's Northstar (also the first openly gay comic book character published in America).

DC also attempted to use the New 52 multiverse to tout its own progressiveness, announcing they would 'out' as gay one of their core franchise characters. The let-down came when this was revealed to be Alan Scott, once-Golden Age Green Lantern, now updated to a modern-day incarnation on "Earth-2," effectively reducing the impact and importance of this revelation.

Quite interestingly, there seems to have been no major backlash to either this announcement or Constantine's return to form. While DC Comics as a whole hasn't made an official proclamation one way or the other, the support of the current creative team helming the character is a hard bell to un-ring.

So why is it that these character relationships float when so many similar ships sink, often in flames, as it were?

The grand difference seems to be that Batwoman, Power Girl, Terra, John Constantine, and Earth-2 Green Lantern are all heroes and heroes aren’t allowed to be happy.

It's a long-running debate, but whether it should or shouldn't be the case, practically speaking it's the way entertainment industries are run. One-shot characters and closed tales can have a happy ending, but franchise characters run the risk of "ending" and taking with them entire production companies. This is one of the driving impetuses for rebooting comics continuities every few years. Beyond keeping a simpler timeline of events and recycling old plot points that have been made unfeasible by recent developments, it ensures that our heroes never fully overcome their emotional trials and greatest foes.

Marvel Comics has teased with their first-ever truly universe resetting Secret Wars event the return of Peter Parker's marriage to Maryjane Watson, and even the birth of their daughter May. The loss of these events in the One More Day story was much maligned, as it was one of the few instances of comics showing a hero grow up and adjust his hero's life to also being a part of the society he protects. Superman can't do that. Superman's marriage to Lois Lane effectively ends his secret identity, his conflict of dichotomy, and technically shifts his priorities, placing his personal family above his adoptive species-family. DC Comics can't survive without their Big Two, and so the need to reset Batman and Superman is generally the editorial cue to reset the entire universe. Again.

Heroes always have to have something to fight for and overcome obstacles and dark tragic pasts, blah blah blah. But bad guys, they can change constantly….

Harley Quinn was a fan favorite almost immediately, originally created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as a throwaway henchwoman for the Joker. She eventually made her way from the animated series to the comics, and from there into her own co-starring and starring titles, eventually ending up in the modern continuity as something of an antihero in her own solo titles and as a member of the Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie will be playing this incarnation in the upcoming SS film adaptation.

Ivy is generally a straight-up (pun unintentional; sorry) villain, though she has her redeeming qualities in being vocally feminist and technically an environmentalist of sorts. Affiliating with Harley, some of that fan good will is transitive. While both characters are often portrayed as violent, manipulative, psychotic, and frequently murderous, the fans love their more adorable, gentle qualities, and so their lapses in … shall we say decorum, are forgiven. Perhaps their acts of murder are inexcusable, but they are not necessarily unforgivable.

They can have an emotionally-functional polyamorous lesbian relationship on-panel because they’re ostensibly not characters to be emulated on the whole. While Superman and Batman can only ever fall back to one true and unwavering iteration, antiheroes and obviously villains are not supposed to be rock-solid scions of traditionalist virtue. This makes them malleable. They can change and adapt and still be beloved by fans because they end up being the most flexible, human characters on the page.

And as far as DC Comics has to be concerned, their asses are already covered. Antiheroes are non-conformists, so adding non-heteronormative qualities to their characterizations merely reinforces exactly why they’re liked by the people who like them, and cements their “villainousness” amongst consumers who already disliked the characters. No 'conservative' readers have ingested a decade of innuendo and snide, knowing glances between characters and gone unaware. There is no one who would have been shocked by this who wasn't already well-aware of it. Everyone basically already knew. The only possible backlash is from the traditional assortment of right-wing notjob groups and funeral picketers wishing to protest DC's open support of these characterizations, which of course DC has yet to and doesn't actually have to officially comment on.

Try to do all this with a hero and the perception of possible controversy alienates the few conservative readers who prefer to "pre-" versions of their heroes when heterosexuality was the assumed norm. That controversy causes a backlash instead of increased sales, even if it's just a reinterpretation of a long-dead alternate version of a character from a previous universe that is no longer within continuity (unless he is again).

But antiheroes, those ephemeral, changing, human characters, the B-listers on the comic pages, when  they get realistic and messy and hurt and evolve in their quest for personal happiness they sell comics.

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