It’s unlikely that Rocksteady Studios’ upcoming game, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, would have been able to get off the runway without the revived interest generated by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn on the big screen in both Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. Though the two versions of Harley are both based on the character who first appeared as the Joker’s sidekick in Batman: The Animated Series, there are significant differences.
Robbie’s Harley exists within the DC Extended Universe, while Rocksteady’s Harley exists within the “Arkhamverse” that first launched with Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. Here are some of the differences between the two versions, and what those differences might mean fans can expect from the character in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
The early life of the DC Extended Universe’s Harley Quinn is mostly established in Birds of Prey. Harley explains a difficult relationship with her father, who she claims traded her for a six-pack of beer at a young age and eventually sent her to a nunnery, though it’s likely that, like the Joker’s, Harley’s backstory may be partially exaggerated or fabricated. After that, however, Harley was able to go to college, gain a PhD, and begin working at Arkham Asylum as Doctor Harleen Quinzel.
As with almost all versions of Harley Quinn’s origin story, it was there that she met the Joker and was manipulated by him into aiding his escape. It is after the escape, however, that the DC Extended Universe begins to commit to clearer divergences from other Batman universes. The DCEU’s Joker was created at Ace Chemicals, just one of the Joker’s many origin stories over the years. Though the details are few and far between, whoever the Joker was before his transformation fell into a vat at Ace Chemicals and emerged as the Clown Prince of Crime.
Harley’s transformation takes place in a similar way. Suicide Squad reveals that after his escape, the Joker took her to Ace Chemicals, where she swore to die for him and let herself fall into the same vat, undergoing the same physical and mental transformation that the Joker underwent years before.
At some point during the ensuing crime spree, the Joker and Harley murder Dick Grayson, AKA Robin. He is beaten to death in a similar way to Jason Todd, the second Robin in the comics. She is captured by Batman at the start of Suicide Squad, leading to her recruitment into Task Force X. After defeating Enchantress she is rescued from her cell by the Joker.
Harley and the Joker’s break-up is the inciting incident for Birds of Prey, leading to a line which more-or-less summarizes Harley’s journey through the DC Extended Universe so far. Explaining how Cassandra Cain could be more like her, Harley says:
“Become a psychiatrist. Work in an asylum. Fall in love with your patient. Break said patient out of said asylum. Begin a life of crime. Jump into a vat of chemicals to prove yourself to a madman. Get arrested by the Batman. Go back to jail. Get out of jail with a bomb in your neck. Save the world. Go back to jail and break out of jail before breaking up with the aforementioned madman and going out on your own.”
By the end of Birds of Prey Harley has blown up the Ace Chemical plant where she was born anew and with Cassandra has founded Harley Quinn and Associates, a mercenary team, seemingly freeing herself from the Joker’s influence once and for all.
The life of the Harley seen in the Arkhamverse follows some similar plot-points. Arkhamverse Harley was also once Doctor Harleen Quinzel, the Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. She became obsessed with the Joker, who manipulated her into helping orchestrate his escape, and they began to terrorize Gotham City.
Both movie and Arkhamverse Harley are involved in incidents based on the brutal murder of Jason Todd in the comics. While movie Harley helped beat Dick Grayson to death at some point in the past, Arkham’s Harley and Joker beat Jason Todd to near-death, leading to his transformation into the Arkham Knight.
In Arkham Origins, the Joker reveals a supposed origin that aligns closely with the one in the DCEU, claiming that he too fell into a vat at Ace Chemicals and emerged as the Joker. It is not known, however, whether Harley Quinn and the Joker ever returned to Ace Chemicals as they do in the DCEU.
The most significant difference between movie and Arkham Harley is that while the DCEU’s version of the character breaks free of the Joker’s influence of her own volition over the course of Birds of Prey, the Arkhamverse’s Harley never had the chance to explicitly reject the Joker, who died at the end of Batman: Arkham City.
Not only that, but the Arkhamverse’s Harley is already established to have been in the Suicide Squad before the events leading to the Joker’s death in the animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, which takes place two years before the events of Arkham Asylum. It will be up to the storytellers at Rocksteady to decide whether the Arkhamverse’s Harley has been able to move on after the Joker’s death and the events of Arkham Knight, or possibly whether that will be part of her arc in Kill the Justice League.
By the end of Birds of Prey, there’s no doubt that Harley is fully emancipated, if not fully redeemed. At the start of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League Harley may not be emancipated at all, physically or mentally. She’s still imprisoned and forced to be a part of Task Force X, and while the Joker is dead it’s not yet clear whether or not she’s still ultimately influenced by his past manipulation.
It’s likely, however, that Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League will, like the DCEU, take the opportunity to show the fun and sympathetic side of Harley Quinn when she’s outside the Joker’s control. Unlike the Joker, Harley has always been a character who has retained the possibility of redemption, and while that hasn’t been fully explored yet in the Arkhamverse like it has been on the big screen, fans can expect Harley’s transformation from villain to anti-hero to be one of the central focuses of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League is currently in development for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X.