Harley Quinn and Gotham City have a…complicated relationship, to put it mildly. But as DC fans know, Harley’s been on a path towards something resembling redemption for some time now, as seen mostly recently in last year’s Batman storyline “The Joker War,” where she fought alongside the Dark Knight against the Joker’s all-out assault on Gotham.
In the new Harley Quinn ongoing series, debuting this week as part of DC’s current Infinite Frontier era, Future State: Harley Quinn writer Stephanie Phillips and superstar artist Riley Rossmo team up to tell the story of Harley returning to Gotham City to make amends for the sins of the past—whether or not the city’s ready for Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s distinct brand of healing.
With Harley Quinn #1 in stores today, DC Nation spoke with Phillips and Rossmo about Harley’s new status quo, new costume and what redemption might look like for one of the most chaotic individuals in the DC Universe.
Harley Quinn is one of DC’s most popular characters—one of the most popular characters anywhere, really—but what most appeals to you about the character? When did you first become a Harley fan?
Stephanie Phillips: I loved Harley in Batman: The Animated Series when I watched it as a kid. I think Harley is one of the most unique characters in the DC Universe because she’s often the smartest person in the room, but she’s constantly underestimated. She’s creative, funny and really clever, but also someone with a troubled past. Sometimes the funniest people are also the saddest and we’re trying to explore that line between sad and funny through the eyes of an oftentimes unreliable narrator.
Riley Rossmo: The Batman cartoon for me too. Like Stephanie said, I love how Harley can be both funny and sad, kind and scary.
What was your process in designing Harley’s new costume? What elements were you looking to add, what did you know you had to keep?
Rossmo: I love Harley’s original costume. The simple graphic elements are really good to design illustrations around and any clown-like imagery makes a significant amount of people a little nervous. I took all those things I like about the classic costume and mashed ‘em up with the things I like from more recent versions, but trying to keep it as clean and simple as possible. I did a whole pile of iterations to get the most “Harleyish” design possible.
Harley’s back in Gotham. What brings her back into town? Will we see through lines from Future State: Harley Quinn in this new series?
Phillips: After the events of “The Joker War,” Harley is invested in returning to Gotham and making amends for her past where she often enabled the Joker. I think seeing the destruction that the Joker caused with Punchline makes Harley really reexamine her own role in the city’s history and want to find a new purpose that tries to make a much more positive impact on its future.
As someone very closely connected to Joker, there are a lot of issues around the city that are uniquely suited to Harley’s skills and experiences. But she has been away from Gotham for quite a while, so Harley is also going to have to contend with the fact that not everything is like she left it when she moved away.
Harley has been riding the line between hero and villain for a while, but this series sees her actively looking to make up for her past sins. How does that shape your approach to the character and the series as a whole?
Phillips: Being “good” really isn’t always easy and often means taking the high road, which is perhaps not always Harley’s strong suit. Harley is really trying her best, but that will of course come with some trial and error as we see her dealing with issues around Gotham in a uniquely Harley way. This also means that we get to see Harley interact with the other characters of Gotham and watch them react to her. Given that she hasn’t always been on the right side of the law, this gives us a ton of fun to play with a variety of different characters from Harley’s past and maybe bring a couple of new ones into her future.
How do you describe the overall look and tone for the series? What does Harley’s corner of Gotham look like?
Rossmo: We’ve talked a lot about that. There are going to be some super-modern elements that show up from time to time showing how Gotham is changing, but Harley’s going to spend more of her time in the more lived-in parts of Gotham. Harley’s Gotham will have lots of neon lights, rundown community centers, little grocery stores and large franchise coffee shops popping up on corners that used to have really good bookstores with great fashion sections.
I’m using Taxi Driver and Cool World as inspiration for street scenes. Maybe borrowing a little from Paul Pope’s street scenes in 100%.
Harley Quinn #1 by Stephanie Phillips, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia and Deron Bennett is now available in print and as a digital comic book.