CLEARWATER — She doesn’t always play well with others. And, well, she has a propensity for bludgeoning those she doesn’t like.
Yet comic book character Harley Quinn has become a pop culture force of nature. Cosplayers at comic conventions don her colorful yet skimpy attire and carry her signature oversized wooden mallet or bat painted with the phrase “Good Night.” And on Halloween, little girls are known to dress as the antihero and scream in their best Brooklyn accent, “Trick or treat.”
Married Clearwater couple and comic co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have much to do with this popularity. The more independent-minded version of Quinn they began creating in 2013 is the one depicted in the new movie Birds of Prey, in theaters now.
Palmiotti and Conner will further evolve the character in their Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic book miniseries with its first of four editions released this month.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke with the duo about Quinn, her transformation and which character they hope she teams with in a future film.
The movie is about Harley Quinn breaking up with the Joker and working with Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save Cassandra Cain from an evil crime lord. The miniseries is about Harley Quinn working with that same cast of heroines, post-Joker. Are the projects connected?
Palmiotti: No. The book is not directly based on the movie. But if you like the movie, you’ll probably get into the book pretty quick.
Conner: In the four-issue miniseries, Harley heads back to Gotham to take care of business. It has every kind of character we have done over the years. It is a really big, fun book.
My daughters have been obsessed with Harley Quinn, a character who kills people with a giant mallet. Should I be worried?
Conner: (laughs) It all depends. She is also a very strong and independent woman and less of a killer now that she has broken up with the Joker. That is a move in the right direction, I guess.
Palmiotti: She also likes animals.
Conner: I think what appeals to young kids is the fashion sense of Harley. Unlike Batman, Superman or even Wonder Woman, she can make anything into her costume. Harley is one of those characters who has this color and design theme that, no matter what she wears, it is still recognizable as Harley.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Harley Quinn, explain what makes her origin unique.
Palmiotti: Comic books are usually the beginning of the ideas. A lot of the ideas, a lot of the characters, they are in the comics and then make their way into the culture like television, film, merchandising, licensing. But it all starts as a comic. What we do is we create things from nowhere and then they take off.
But Harley was introduced in Batman: The Animated Series and she was so popular that she was brought into the comic, which is completely the opposite of how it is done.
With the comic over the years, the character evolved and changed. And then we got the character and we continued the evolution to what you see on the screen.
Which is what?
Conner: The original version was as Joker’s sidekick. Everything she did was for the Joker and she was very beholden to him. But when Jimmy and I took over the character, we had a fear that if we kept her in Gotham, she would be a secondary character in her own book. She would always be secondary to the Joker. She would always be secondary to Batman. So, we decided that it would be a good idea to take her back to her roots, which is Brooklyn.
Palmiotti: Also, she was in an abusive relationship with the Joker before we got the book. We couldn’t do a series about a character like that. What we did was have her break up with the Joker, separate from him and start her own life and get her own supporting cast and characters that were part of her story. That seemed to resonate big time.
Conner: It was disturbing that such an abused character was so popular. We wanted her to grow and evolve and show that even somebody who has it rough and has been in a rotten relationship can get out on her own and make change for herself.
And then she started helping people, but she didn’t totally change her approach. Why not?
Conner: She went from a villain to an antihero but we call her an antivillain. She still does pretty horrible things but, in her mind, she thinks she is a hero. She is doing good for the world even though her methods are questionable.
She sees the world as a place that can be made better and she does some pretty horrible things to get it there.
Her character in Suicide Squad was very much focused on being reunited with the Joker. Did that bother you?
Conner: No. It is part of a story line. It was taking place at a time in her life when that was important to her.
Palmiotti: Birds of Prey continues her story naturally. We were happy with how she was portrayed in Suicide Squad, mostly because Margot Robbie was amazing and stole the movie as that character. With Bird of Prey, Margot takes it to the next level.
You teamed Harley Quinn with Wonder Woman in an issue of Harley’s Little Black Book. What inspired that odd couple?
Conner: We make Harley an every girl. We try and make it so that so many different girls and women can identify with her. I grew up idolizing Wonder Woman. Why wouldn’t Harley have grown up idolizing Woman Woman?
Would you like to see those two team up in a movie?
Palmiotti: Since we are both writing Harley and Wonder Woman right now, we would simply love to see them team up on the big screen in the future. Just think of the fun time we would have watching Wonder Woman clean up after all the chaos Harley Quinn leaves behind.
Meet Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
The writers will meet fans and sign comic books from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Yancy Street Comics in the Gulf View Square Mall, 9409 U.S. 19 N, Port Richey, and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 15 at Emerald City Comics, 4902 113th Ave. N, Clearwater.