5 Things I Want to See in the Gotham City Sirens Movie

It’s official.

I’ve been following news regarding the solo Harley Quinn project ever since its first few moments of speculation, increasingly encouraged by every new bit of information that I’ve heard.

A solo Harley Quinn film? I’m cool with that.

It’s going to feature a primarily female cast of characters? Tell me more!

The writer is going to be a woman? Shut up and take my money!

But the most encouraging news of all is what has been most recently announced: the film is going to focus on the Gotham City Sirens, meaning that not only is my all-time-favourite girl Harley Quinn going to be a primary focus (cue the fan-girl squeals for that already), but two more of my favourite DC women are going to play a starring role as well: Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

I may never stop screaming.

And so, I’ve decided to make a list of the things that I’m most hopeful to see in the upcoming Sirens movie. It isn’t a complete list – I decided to focus solely on the things that I could actually see creeping their way into the movie. As much as I’d like to see the abuse between Joker and Harley explored in this film, I will acknowledge that it was swept completely under the rug for Suicide Squad, and so it might be a little late in the game to throw it in. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that I’m hoping to see! Beautiful, wonderful, totally possible things that I’ve collected here and I’m seriously hoping to see!

And so, without further ado, here they are: the top five things that I want to see in the Gotham City Sirens movie!

1. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s relationship

I could potentially mean this in two ways: on the one hand, I want to see them as a couple. I want one of my favourite bisexual comic book characters to be outed for the film audience, and I want to sit in the movie theatre in a puddle of my own tears as I watch one of my favourite comic book couples flirt with each other and care about each other and just be plain-and-simple adorable.

But, at the same time, as hopeful as I am that the studio will have the strength and integrity to represent a bisexual couple for the mainstream audience, I can totally see them deciding that they don’t want to deal with the controversy, especially considering they already wrote out the Joker-Harley-Deadshot love triangle in the Suicide Squad movie, because they wanted to endear Joker and Harley as the main couple (barf). I’m not saying that I agree with that decision – I’m just saying that I can see it happening.

And so I’d settle for a good representation of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn as friends.

I want to see two women care about each other.

I want to see two women support each other and hold each other up, even at the worst of times.

I want to see Poison Ivy realize that, even though she never thought that she’d connect with a human after the experiment that turned her half-plant, she actually really, truly cares about Harley, and wants to keep her safe and happy.

I want to see Harley defend her best friend to the death, against all odds and obstacles.

I just really, really want their relationship to be the main heart of the film, you guys.

2. Poison Ivy’s backstory explored

My primary hope for this film is that all three of the sirens will be represented as complex human beings, rather than the walking sex dolls they’re too often reduced to. And one strong way that I can see this being accomplished is by exploring Poison Ivy’s backstory.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Poison Ivy’s backstory, she was a botanist who was used by her boss for scientific experiments, resulting in her becoming half-plant and having a very difficult time connecting with other human beings, both because she was genetically different from them now, and because her boss violated her trust hugely by turning her into what she became. When explored right, this can make Poison Ivy a very intriguing character, taking the Batman villain who walks around nearly naked and uses pheramones to attract men, and turning her into someone who is very human and very, very hurt.

And I want to see this.

I think it’s only fair, after all – we had Harley Quinn’s backstory explained in Suicide Squad, and as much as I don’t want Catwoman to be simply swept under the rug, she’s already had two live action films that gave her backstory justice. All Poison Ivy got was that terrible Uma Therman adaption that, let’s face it, didn’t explore the conflict of being a half-plant woman in a human society all that well.

And, besides, we can marry this plot line with the first one I suggested – maybe the whole film is about Poison Ivy finding it difficult to connect with anyone after the experiments, but she eventually finds a strong bond in Harley Quinn (and, to a non-lover extent, Catwoman).

3. Catwoman and Batman’s relationship

I know, I know, I already stated that Catwoman’s story has been given its proper dues in two live action movies, and that is true. But, come on – who doesn’t love the complex rooftop trysts between these two?

Like I said, I want Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn to be the main heart of the film, whether they be lovers or friends, but in the background, it would be nice to have the occasional flirtation between these two.

Batman and Catwoman are incredibly complimentary characters – intriguing apart, both of them, but fascinating together. And I always want to see more of them. Not as the film’s main couple or anything like that – I want most of the focus to be on the women, but present nonetheless.

4. A new costume for Harley Quinn

This one’s mostly a nitpick.

Because, look, I didn’t hate the costume from Suicide Squad. It was nice and recognizable and all, but it just didn’t fit into Harley’s whole clown theme for me. I think that her costume has a lot of potential for improvement, and a new film is a good opportunity to take advantage of that.

And another reason why Harley needs a new costume: because Harley changes her costume all the bloody time in the comics. The girl loves her fashion, and any chance she gets to change her look, she’ll take. So all I’m saying is that it would fit her character to have her suddenly decide “yeah, that look was cute – but now it’s time to move on to something new!”

5. Lots and lots of badass, beautiful, and complex women

This is what it all boils down to for me. This is what I am most excited to see in this film.

Because, as a feminist, a woman, and a fan of DC, I will admit that the comics have occasionally dropped the ball for these characters. Some have downplayed their brilliance. Some have forced them to take a back seat to the male characters. Some have reduced them to nothing more than empty shells of a person with huge boobs for men to ogle at. And as much as I love Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s relationship, I will confess that there have been times in the comics when the only purpose it played was to make men drool at hot, bisexual women.

But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for this movie.

This movie has the potential to be brilliant, because it takes (at least) three women who are incredibly complex and strong when they’re written right, and it puts them in the role of the main characters. They can be thoroughly explored, they can be established. They can be weak and cry, and then pull themselves right back up and kick some ass.

I want these women to be complex.

I want them to be vulnerable, and strong, and above all, human.

I want to see three of my favourite comic book characters be done justice.

And as much as I have no evidence that that is what’s going to happen with this film yet, it’s still early enough for me to dream.

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Why Harley Quinn and the Joker are Not ‘Relationship Goals’

I became a Batman fan roughly five years ago, when a passing interest in the cultural icon that was the Joker prompted me to pick up a couple of comic books and to watch the old Batman the Animated Series show. It wasn’t very long before I was hooked – not on Batman in particular, to be totally honest, but on the villains. I fell in love with the Riddler, both a massive dork in his own right and a very interesting man plagued by a plethora of mental illnesses. I fell in love with Poison Ivy, a woman with an entirely unique perspective, having been human at one point but now existing just beyond that boundary, on the outside of society looking in. I fell in love with Scarecrow, just because he was a fucking jerk who enjoyed tormenting people with their worst fears.

But above all, my favourite character in the Batman universe was Harley Quinn.

I found her to be a very fun and unique character, full of contradictions. She was strong, but also hyper-feminine, with her blonde pigtails and her bubbly personality. She’s one of the very few people who Riddler has confessed to being (nearly) as intelligent as he is, but she dumbs herself down, either for the sake of the Joker’s ego or for her performance – it’s never really been explained either way. And then there was her relationship with the Joker – something that I found highly intriguing.

On the one hand, their relationship could be fun – almost sweet, even. They could be the dangerous lovers, holding hands and dancing through the death and destruction around them. They could torture children for the sake of making them their own. They could celebrate the end of Gotham with a kiss. I liked this side of their relationship, the contrast between romance and death. I’ve always been a sucker for villainous couples, and this one certainly had its moments.

But then there was the other side of their relationship – the abusive side. The side that made me, as a Harley fan, want to hunt the Joker down and punch him in his stupid grinning face and then pull her into my arms and tell her that she deserved better. It was the side that humanized a woman guilty of murder, the side that made readers everywhere see her as a fragile, complex individual who needed help. I liked this side of their relationship too, but for entirely different reasons. I liked it because of what it did for Harley’s character, how it fleshed her out and made her more than just a cut-and-dry bad guy. She was a woman in a situation that many before her have experienced – a lost, desperate lover who wanted only to find her happiness through any means and any sacrifice.

Because of the complex nature of their relationship, my personal feelings about it shifted often. Depending on the comic I had most recently read, I could either be looking up goofy fan art of them, or I could be fantasizing about the Joker’s brutal and totally justified death. Sometimes, I liked them together. Sometimes I didn’t. But even when I liked them together, it was never with the assumption that they were an admirable or even healthy relationship.

Because here’s the thing: I love Harley Quinn. If she were a real woman (and wasn’t guilty of quite so many murders) I would want to seek her out, give her a good, long hug, and then spend all night explaining to her how she needs to get herself help, and that I will be there for her through it all. But she isn’t a real woman. She is a character in a fictional universe, and in order for me to keep on enjoying her, she needs to keep on having a story. And in order for her to have a story, she needs to have conflicts, demons, suffering. If there isn’t anything wrong with her life, then there isn’t really a story there. So when I say that I enjoy the storyline of Harley and the Joker as a couple, it isn’t because I think that any real woman deserves to be treated that way, or even because I think that their relationship should be emulated by real couples. It is because Harley and the Joker exist in a contained, fictional universe where these issues that I find intriguing can be explored to their fullest extent without anyone actually getting hurt.

And when I started to notice other people being interested in Harley and the Joker’s relationship, I assumed that this was the case for them too. They had to know about the abuse between them – how could they not? It was Harley’s primary story arch, for pete’s sake! And if they didn’t know about it, well, then they couldn’t possibly have known their characters, and they just liked the image of them together. They weren’t actually ignoring the most important part of their relationship in order to praise the other, less substantial side, were they?

It was around the time that the Suicide Squad movie was released that I began to see it more and more often, however: fully grown, socially competent people who were actually holding the Joker and Harley Quinn up as a relationship to emulated. The pictures were all over my Facebook feed, tagged with phrases like ‘relationship goals’.

jokerharley

I almost couldn’t believe it. It seemed impossible that so many intelligent, critically-thinking adults could look at Harley and the Joker and forget the time that he pushed her out of a window because she dared try to do his job better. Or the time that he shot her just because he was tired of her being around. Or, hell, even just all the times that he yelled at her until she cowered beneath him. I mean, sure, there have been times where I liked their relationship, particularly in the moments where they were sweet and in love, but I never forgot the other side of their relationship. I never held them up as an image to be emulated.

And as much as I tried to tell myself that these people who ‘wanted a relationship like theirs’ were fully aware that there was a whole other side to it that they didn’t want, that they were just holding the more endearing side up as something desirable, I saw no evidence of that. In all the pictures of couples dressed up as Harley and the Joker, marked with countless people describing them as ‘cute’ and ‘relationship goals’, I never once saw someone even mention the abuse. In all the fan art that called them the perfect couple, I never noticed anyone pointing out their flaws. So as much as it might be harsh to say that these people are condoning violence against women, I will say that it doesn’t seem like they care all that much about it. Somehow, Harley being punched in the face and endlessly manipulated for years doesn’t stop them from being ‘relationship goals’.

So I’m still a fan of Harley Quinn. I’m still going to actively seek out comic books and video games and movies/TV with her in it, because she and her story are still incredibly intriguing to me. I still think that her story has value, being a reflection of issues that real women unfortunately go through in our society. But the side of her and the Joker’s relationship that I used to like, the side that everyone praises as being ‘sweet’ and ‘perfect’, has been tainted for me. This side exists for a reason – it is what keeps Harley from leaving. These are the good times that she always remembers when she’s wiping the blood and the tears away, telling herself that it’s her fault and that he’s a good guy, honestly, he just gets a little carried away sometimes. This side is just as ugly as its reflection, and we need to stop praising it. Because, no, Harley is not a real woman, but there are plenty of real women (and men) like her, and they are just as present as anyone else when you point to an abusive relationship and call it ideal. You normalize their abuse – you tell them that the other side of their relationship, the happy side that keeps them there, is totally worth everything else. And that most certainly is not the case. It isn’t the case in the fictional example of Harley and the Joker, and it isn’t the case in real life.

This needs to stop. The normalizing of abusive relationships through Harley and the Joker needs to stop. And if you are in an abusive relationship currently, you need to get help, please. You need to reach out to someone and get yourself out of that situation, through whatever means necessary. Your health and your happiness is so much more important than that.

My Problem With The Suicide Squad Movie

When I first saw the Suicide Squad movie with its August release in theatres, I’m not going to lie, I was sort of conflicted. There was plenty about it to like, and Margot Robbie’s performance of my favourite character Harley Quinn was no small part of that, but there was also a lot that left me confused – like their odd choice to write out any direct reference to abuse between the Joker and Harley. Ultimately, however, I really wanted to like the movie, and I had remembered wishing in the past that the Joker and Harley were a bit more like other villainous couples where their love stands as a direct contrast to their cruelty (I’m thinking about Spike and Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular). And that was what Suicide Squad gave me: a quirky narrative where the main couple both adored each other and wanted to watch the world burn. So, really, what did I have to complain about?

When I got home that night, however, I began to read about how much of the movie had been cut out by Warner Brothers, and how initially, the abuse was supposed to be addressed, but the studio hadn’t wanted to deal with the controversy of it. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know everything about what went on there, but I am going to say this: upon my second viewing of the movie, it became blatantly clear to me that the lack of abuse was a huge problem.

Now, there are a few reasons for this. One of the biggest ones is the simple fact that so much of Harley’s character revolves around her experience with abuse. In the comics, her main arc revolves around coming to recognize that she has been abused, deciding that she doesn’t want to let that happen to her anymore, and finding a way to build a life of her own separate from the abuser that she sometimes still loves. Now, this story has been done exceptionally well and it has been done terribly, but the fact remains that it is a huge part of Harley’s character. Not the only part, of course, and I’m sure that the movies can proceed without ever addressing it, but it’s still a huge chunk of her story being ripped out – kind of like doing a Spiderman movie where Uncle Ben never gets killed.

But that isn’t the only reason why Warner Brothers’ decision to rid the movie of abuse is a bad one. The main one that bothers me is that, as much as they took out scenes of the Joker punching Harley across the face, they still kept in subtle hints of the abuse. Things like Harley having ‘Property of Joker’ written in large, gold letters across her back. Things like the Joker crashing the car into the lake while Harley screams “I can’t swim”, followed by him then leaving his unconscious girlfriend to drown. Things like the Joker inexplicably torturing Dr. Harleen Quinzel, and then never having it addressed again.

Now, I’ve heard the argument that “of course there’s still abuse between them – you can’t write that out entirely. They’re a villainous couple who murders people, for crying out loud!” And I’ve also heard it said that people who worry about their relationship being romanticized are “taking it too seriously”, because the general audience knows right from wrong, and when they say that they want a relationship like Joker and Harley, what they are saying is that they want someone to accept them despite their crazy, not that they want to be abused. And I wish that I could believe that, I do, but we’re taking about the same general audience that made Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight famous, and when I look at the way that the Joker and Harley are written in the Suicide Squad movie, that’s what I see – abuse that is so watered down, made so digestible, that it can’t even be recognized for what it is.

In the comics, there is no way to deny that the Joker and Harley’s relationship is abusive. You see him push her out a window, you see her cower before him, case closed. And before the release of the Suicide Squad movie, whenever anyone said that they wanted a relationship like Harley and the Joker, I figured that they really knew very little about the comics and they just liked the image of them together. But now we have the movie, and the movie is so much more subtle in the way that they approach it that I am actually concerned that people might look at their relationship and think that it’s okay, that just because the Joker isn’t actively punching her across the face, then it isn’t abuse.

Now the thing that set me off on this whole rant was just an image that I saw on the internet, of Harley and the Joker with the famous quote “find what you love and let it kill you”. And that was probably the most disturbing thing that I have ever seen in terms of their relationship. I have heard Harley excuse the Joker’s violence by saying that it was “her fault”, I have read comics where the Joker actively decides to murder Harley, and none of that disturbed me nearly as much, because at least the reader was supposed to understand that that wasn’t okay. This image from the internet wasn’t supposed to be disturbing – it was supposed to be romantic. And that isn’t okay.

I can’t believe it even needs to be said, but when it comes to people, don’t find one you love and let them kill you. If you feel like a person in your life is killing you, physically or mentally, get the fuck away from them now. Reach out and talk to someone, get help, please. That advice might be good for a passion or a career, but not for a person. Never for a person.

As I hope has been implied by this whole post, I am a huge fan of Harley Quinn, and I have never taken offence to the abuse narrative in the past. Abusive relationships are an unfortunate part of society, and their inner workings should be explored by our writing. We should see the perspective of the abuse victim and we should see the perspective of the abuser, because, with a little bit of luck, that might be the only way that some of us will ever be able to experience or understand that perspective. It is a very important narrative, and one that I believe whole-heartedly should be shared. That isn’t what I take issue with in the Suicide Squad movie. What I take issue with is the romanticization of abuse – the way that the movie presents aspects of their relationship that just linger on the line of ‘not okay’, but never fully crosses that line, making it totally acceptable for the audience to say that they want a relationship like that, when they don’t. They shouldn’t. Just because he isn’t actively striking her and just because the movie refuses to address it, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still abuse.