First and foremost if you don’t like feminist rants then this post is not for you.
As you may have seen in one of my previous posts I have been playing through Arkham Asylum. I like this game, nowhere near as much as I liked Arkham Knight (it’s obvious why this is the least popular of the Arkham series) but it’s ok. There is something that keeps recurring in these games though, that (just when I’m ready to start praising them) holds me back and makes me angry. The portrayal of Harley Quinn.
Before I get started, there are a couple of points I want to clarify before I begin: firstly, I am not a massive die-hard Harley Quinn fan. I think she is a cool character and I like her story line, and thanks to a friend of mine (who is a super fan) I know a lot about her. This post is not a fan-girl screaming for more Harley Quinn it’s a comment on her existing presence in the games. Secondly, I do not read comic books so the majority of my post is based on what I have seen in movies and games but, again thanks to my friend, I know a lot about Harley’s story in the comic books. As a result, if I were to start reading them, I would probably choose one where she was a main character.
The main thing I like about Harley is that she is a funny, complex, strong female character who can kick ass, take names, and sass anyone and everyone. This is a welcome break from other female characters (who seem to be few and far between in the male-dominated world of comic books as it is) who tend to be more reserved and just not as engaging. Compared to her female counterparts in DC (Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Wonder Woman, etc) she is more interesting to watch and is – in a kind of weird way – more relatable.
I was never a big fan of any female superheroes growing up, other than some of the women in X-Men, and even then I use the word ‘fan’ very loosely. It’s pretty common knowledge now that there’s a lot of pressure on comic books and movies to start including more interesting, relatable, female characters. So enter Harley Quinn who fills a huge gap in the market simply by being an interesting female character. I know I said I’m not a die-hard fan but if I had to pick a female superhero/villain as my favourite it would be her.
DC have obviously acknowledged that Harley is a popular character, how could you not? She’s one of, if not THE, most popular female cosplays at conventions, she has featured in numerous comic books, not to mention her own series (New 52) and with her as one of the main characters of Suicide Squad (arguably THE main character) she’s making a lot of headway. Unfortunately this just does not come through in the games. Yes, they are quite old now – Arkham Asylum was released back in 2009, and Arkham City in 2011, so the hype that built up around Harley was nowhere near as pronounced as it is now. But Arkham Knight was released in 2015, just a year before Suicide Squad – so they knew what sort of role she would be playing in the movie, and despite that, she played the same part in Knight as in the previous games: annoying and disappointing.
To be honest her being annoying wouldn’t be a problem if there had been a suitable resolution to her story arc – she’s meant to be annoying. For comparison, there is a part in God of War 3 where you encounter Hermes who is super annoying, not unlike Harley actually. That game did it right, there is a long, irritating chase while Hermes calls you names and takes the piss out of you. It just makes you want to kill him, and that is exactly what you get to do, very slowly and very painfully. That is the Kratos way of course. I don’t want to torture Harley, not at all. What I’m saying is that there should be a satisfying resolution when you can finally get your hands on her after she spends almost half the game tormenting you. Instead what you get is a battle with a few extra henchman than you’re used to and then you hit her on the head, knock her out, sling her over your shoulder like a child and carry her to the Batmobile. (here are some videos that demonstrate my point, skip to 6.45 for the first one, also sort of spoiler warning for the second!)
How demeaning and patronising is that?! She finally comes to confront you and you just knock her down like she’s an annoying child!!! It’s not just these cutscenes either – right at the beginning of the game Arkham Asylum, in the tutorial area, Batman gets trapped in a room by Harley. He says “Harley thinks she has me trapped. She never was very bright.” The fact that Batman dismisses her as ‘not very bright’ almost as soon as her character is introduced immediately detracts from her threat, reducing her to a mere annoyance from the get go. Harley Quinn is a psychologist who was so good at her job that they put her in charge of THE JOKER, GOTHAM’S MOST NOTORIOUSLY TWISTED, AND PSYCHOTIC CRIMINAL. So we have to assume she was pretty good at her job and therefore the opposite of stupid. Yes, Joker broke her, but he didn’t kill her and she’s one of the only characters for who the Joker has genuine affection (albeit it horrible, psychotic, abusive affection, but that makes her a threat to him hence his numerous attempts to kill her when they get too close). She might have her head in the clouds but she is also extremely smart. The head in the clouds thing is really put forward in games, but the Brainiac thing… not so much.
This brings me to my demand for the next Batman game: I want a Harley Quinn boss battle. I’m not talking some “ooh Harley’s going to shoot stuff at me from a distance while her henchmen attack me then I knock her out”. WHAT IS THAT? THAT IS NOT A BOSS BATTLE. I want a REAL boss battle. I want Harley to be somersaulting across the screen as I try to hit her, she’s supposed to have inhuman acrobatic abilities but all I’ve seen her do are cartwheels so far, if she was so agile she’d be a pain in the arse to manage to hit and have you seen that hammer she lugs around? Don’t tell me she hasn’t built up some muscle from that.
When I threw this idea at a couple of friends they all brought up the same issue: Batman doesn’t hit women. Obviously that’s a good thing but you know what? If someone IS TRYING TO KILL YOU, you are allowed to defend yourself. If it’s really scaring off the developers then they could just have you play as Catwoman while you fight her, I would be happy with that. It should be a challenging fight that establishes her as a character who is not going to take any shit and will require a couple of attempts to finish off. Let’s see a game where she plays the bimbo card and Batman keeps up his dismissive “she’s just a dim-witted lackey” attitude and tries and knock her out as per usual but she backflips out of his way, kicking him in the face as she goes, grabs her massive hammer, or cricket bat, or gun, whatever. There are no henchmen, just her, and she lays into Batman somersaulting away, being annoyingly fast on her feet and giving Batman a really difficult time of it. That is what I want.
Rant over! *Mic drop*