When we think of comic book characters, the ones who probably pop up in our heads are likely older than us. Superman is over 80-years-old. So is Batman. Spider-Man is a child compared to those two – he’s only 58! The great spandex heroes and villains of the four-color page are, for the most part, collecting social security now.
That’s why it’s so impressive that a character like Harley Quinn has broken through to the masses. And while she’s well into her 30s – she first showed up on the classic Batman: The Animated Series back in 1992 – she’s still a new kid on the block when it comes to pop culture significance.
This weekend, everyone’s favorite therapist turned criminal turned antihero will be showing up in her second movie, Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn), and seeing all the ads made me think about Harley in another form of entertainment; video games.
Harley Quinn Starts Her Game Career
Just two years after she debuted as Joker’s sidekick on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn made her first video game appearance in 1994’s The Adventures of Batman & Robin. Depending on what version of the game you played, Harley’s part would be different. On the Super NES, where the game was a platformer where you play as Batman and beat up random thugs before getting to the level boss. In this version, Harley makes a quick cameo.
For the Sega Genesis, the game is a run n’ gun where you can play as Batman or Robin (or you can get in on some 2-player co-op!). For this version of the game, Harley is a level boss, flying around in a chair dropping bombs while a giant claw swings around.
The Sega CD version of the game (remember when different consoles would have wildly different versions of the same game?) is a chase game where you use the Batmobile or Batplane to take down Batman’s baddies. Harley has a speaking role in this one!
Harley didn’t show up in a game again until 2001’s Batman: Chaos In Gotham. Released for the Game Boy Color, the game had a pretty basic Batman story – everyone has escaped from Arkham and now you have to bring them back in. For this one, Harley is teamed up with Joker and they… well, they juggle. They stand at the top of the screen juggling bowling pins while you jump over a hyena that keeps running by. Sooner or later, Joker and Harley get tired of juggling and fall down. Not exactly the most exciting fight in Batman’s career.
That same year, Harley also showed up in Batman: Vengeance. Harley plays a big role in this game, showing up multiple times and even showing signs of her slow turn from criminal to antihero. This marked Harley Quinn’s first appearance as a 3D model, and while Batman: Vengeance is a great looking game, it wasn’t much fun to play.
Harley Quinn Builds On Past Successes
In 2008, Traveler’s Tales expanded its world of Lego games. What had started with Lego Star Wars in 2005 and was followed up with Lego Star Wars II in 2006 and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga in 2007, the studio tackled their first non-Lucas Film property with Lego Batman. Harley Quinn plays a big part in this, the first of what would come to be four (so far) Lego DC Comics games. Along with her appearances in Lego Batman, Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, and Lego DC Supervillains, Harley also pops up in Lego Dimensions along with the other DC heroes and 29 other well-known franchises (but not Marvel. We gamers are still waiting for the day we get a game with Spider-Man and Batman in it).
The Lego games surely helped introduce Harley Quinn to a new generation of fans. Batman: The Animated Series was already 16 years old when Lego Batman came out, and the lightness of these puzzle games gave kids a chance to see the quirky fun of the character.
But for an older audience, there was a game that showed a different version of Harley Quinn. A darker version.
Harley Quinn Becomes Her Own Boss
When Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham in 2009, they changed the world of Batman games – and comic book based games in general. For the first time ever, players could really get a feel of what it would be like to be Batman. From solving clues to using bat-themed gadgets, to beating the hell out of thugs, Batman: Arkham was just about perfect.
Rocksteady’s redesigns of Batman and his rogues’ gallery was also praised, but if I’m being honest, I’m not a fan of the Harley Quinn design. I don’t think a person would look at her and get a sense of Harley’s namesake. Gone is the classic harlequin outfit, replaced with a “sexy nurse” look. This concept – not the nurse thing, but the “Harley Quinn should dress sexier” idea – would also show up in the comics, and these days there’s literally nothing about the character that connects her to her namesake.
But for as much as I’m not a fan of the changes to Harley Quinn’s look, Rocksteady deserves a lot of credit for helping turn Harley from a sidekick to her own character. Across Batman: Arkham, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Knight, Harley Quinn grows as a character. She moves from being Joker’s right-hand woman to leading her own crew, becoming a serious threat to Batman.
And, for old fuddy-duddies like me, Harley even shows up in her original costume if you play the Batgirl: A Matter of Family DLC for Arkham Knight.
Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy continues to be one of the most loved game series, and it’s been 5 years since the last one came out. Lately, WB Montreal, who created the Arkham series prequel, Arkham Origins, has been heavily hinting at a new Batman game, and word on the street is that it will be the start of a connected DC Universe game series (which Rocksteady is making a game for as well). It’s hard to think Harley Quinn won’t show up in this new series.
Harley Quinn Gets In The Fight
When NetherRealm Studios took on the task of creating a fighting game based on DC Comics, there was some reason for fans to be nervous. Not because of NetherRealm, but because… well, the last time there was a fighting game based on DC Comics, it was… rough
Still, it had been almost 20 years, and NetherRealm had just revitalized Mortal Kombat a few years earlier, so they had some solid fighting game chops.
Building off her role in the success of Rocksteady’s games, Harley Quinn would hit a new level of fame thanks to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s comic series and NetherRealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us game. Not only was the Injustice game a big old hit, but the story it created – a world where Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane, driving the Kryptonian insane and leading to a not so great world where an evil Superman runs the planet – was so popular that it was turned into an online comic that ran for three years and was collected as 60 issues for sale in comic shops as well as a series of trade paperbacks.
With 2017’s Injustice 2, NetherRealm built on the first game to create something bigger and better.
Harley Quinn plays a major role in both games and in the comics based on the games. The crossover success of the Injustice series really pushed Harley to new levels of pop culture awareness.
Harley Quinn Leaves The Dark Knight For Fortnite
And now word has leaked that Harley Quinn will be a purchasable skin in Fortnite. She even has her own challenges for players to take on in order to unlock a secondary skin. It seems a little weird that Fortnite is being used to publicize an R-rated movie, but they already had John Wick in the game so I guess anything goes now.
Harley Quinn’s Other Bits And Bobs
Those aren’t all of Harley Quinn’s game appearances, just the big ones. She’s in DC Universe Online, she shows up in Batman: The Enemy Within, and she’s a DLC character in Mortal Kombat 11. And I didn’t even mention the bomb that was Infinite Crisis or her part in Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure. Oh, and then there are the games on your phone. It’s pretty much endless!
And with a new movie coming out, Harley Quinn isn’t about to vanish from the world. You can be sure that Harley Quinn will be popping up in plenty more games in the years to come.