Margot Robbie Played Harley Quinn, But DC Played Themselves

Margot Robbie with text by Paul Flynn, Love Magazine a/w 2016

Let’s talk about this excerpt from Paul Flynn’s Margot Robbie profile in the Autumn/Winter issue of LOVE Magazine. Let’s talk about how harsh a burn it is, against the art form comics. Let’s talk about how disastrous a proof it is of Harley Quinn’s degraded graphic cache.image

Harley Quinn’s already iconic look upends the original comic sketches. ‘With David at the helm, everything was going to be more urban and real, not your typically polished comic book look,’ she says. ‘We probably tried on a hundred different versions of the outfit, and at some point [costume designer] Kate Hawley came across a picture of Debbie Harry and we were like, “Oh, that’s it. That’s dope.”‘ The corset and tutu were out – ‘There was something about that that made it feel like she dressed for a guy as opposed to dressing for herself.’ Something fresher, with more attitude, was in.

The section above comes on the second page of a long interview/feature hybrid. It’s two thirds through the first page of Flynn’s narrated profile section (the interview chunks are a transcribed chat between Robbie and Cara Delevingne). Prior to this dismissive reference to sketches, the word “comic” has appeared only in the phrasing “comic-book franchise” and “comic-book film.” One gets the feeling that comics themselves don’t exist to Flynn, the voice of the magazine. Think about how culturally microscopic comics must be to a person who can describe a twenty year design history as “comic sketches” and then provides a “corset and tutu” for bridging context as Robbie explains the wardrobe department’s rejection of the “comic book look.” My goodness. The accidental disdain. I can’t help but relish it. This is awful.

What piques my interest is this: Why does Flynn even know about “the” corset and tutu? His narration introduces it, not Robbie’s quoted answers. There is no corset and tutu, is there? There’s a bell-shaped, ruffled skirt that would pass for a tutu in Arkham Knight, and it comes with a frothy petticoat. But Arkham Knight? Is that seminal? Is a grim’n’shitty video game aesthetic, really the dominant visual outside of comics, for fan-fave Harley Quinn? Is Flynn himself a video game fan? (But surely, in that case, games would have been mentioned as the origin for that costume? Perhaps not? Maybe one just assumes that the design of a character is always the same, like Batman always looks like Batman if you don’t look too hard?) Or was the Arkham Knight outfit the most prevalent result in an image search? One has to assume the latter. The original Timm/Dini Harley Quinn outfit is too eye catching–too recognisable, too actually cited, and pictured twice on Wikipedia–to go unmentioned if Flynn ever saw it during the research period. Right?

The way Flynn says the corset and tutu were out–the implication is that the reader knows “the” corset and tutu or if they don’t that they should associate it with his invocation of “comic sketches.” It’s baffling me. The original comic sketches. Original. Does he really mean the comics? Is he speaking about some sheaf of half-hearted drawings that DC sent over to the Suicide Squad set that Flynn just forgot to mention? Does he mean the initial Animated Series sketches that were “comic” as in “comedic?” Obviously not the latter, because those didn’t have corsets or tutus. It’s either unmentioned literal sketches or its comics. Monthly comic books, published under the title Harley Quinn (or Suicide Squad?) called “sketches?” Hah. Ouch.

I think it’s fascinating when people who don’t care about comics talk about comics…

The ignorance of Harley Quinn as an established cultural presence is the most telling section of the interview and makes me glad that Flynn did (apparently) no research. I think it’s fascinating when people who don’t care about comics talk about comics, when people with no investment (no reason to “deal with” any element of a big successful product with industry cache) respond truthfully, surprised, and reveal how accurate their assumptions are–it’s a breath of fresh air. I want to know how people outside of the established readership think about the product, because then I can better understand why so many people don’t buy or read comics (and why so many do, but not those comics). Basically, it shows what the old guard are doing wrong in today’s market. And clearly one of the things that is being done wrong is dressing Harley, in the minds eye of the collective, like a polyester Halloween sex clown.

The Harley Quinn costume tutu is a real thing, if you look to official merchandise for your explanation of what a character wears or looks like. DC officially licenses this, which you can buy at Party City. And there is no iconic Harley look that’s on a level with the original. There is no reliable Harley look to counter that sort of casual visibility right now. Bombshells has a (terrible) set outfit, but Bombshells is set in an alternate reality and cannot be said to contain “the” Harley Quinn, and Harley Quinn features multiple digressions on the red/black quartered theme, in the key of club girl. Diffuse options in niche books–comic books, who the fuck reads those–can’t fix that image problem when (even standing combined) they’re up against video games and licensed costume-shop merchandise (and movies). You done fucked up, design team, licensing team, marketing team. And like, duh. Obviously. So sue me. I’m happy to see it set down in red black and white. Flynn and Robbie’s sentences merge together to create a vision of Harley Quinn (and of comics, entirely) that can be dismissed squarely because of its (perceived) poor costuming. Amen, my friends. Possibly the only thing that can fix this is Funkos.

This is the funniest, rudest, sheer heart attack shadiest reference to DC Comics I have ever so gleefully read. If it was the “comic sketches” thing alone, I’d be side-eyeing Paul Flynn. Give comics some respect, good sir! But the reference directly to tutu and corset, its abrupt dismissal from both Robbie’s anecdote and the profile itself, and the clear assumption that Harley Quinn’s comic look sucks and has always sucked … Oh, my goodness, DC Comics, look what you did. You had graphic perfection, you had grassroots fan investment, and you ran both so hard into the ground–with video games and twenty-five dollar tat–that nobody in the real world even knows or cares that Classic Harley ever existed or that Sexy Hotpant Cruella DeVille knew life before David Ayer reached down a gentle hand and pulled sad old comic book Harley Quinn from the tacky, try-hard, ugly pulp subculture she was mired in.

Comic sketches are dead, long live comic-book franchises! You chumps. You glorious chumps. Now that’s a killer joke.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money

3 thoughts on “Margot Robbie Played Harley Quinn, But DC Played Themselves

  1. I’m impressed that you’re able to create such a dense diatribe off the back of a single sentence. We need to get you doing analysis on the US elections, maybe we can untangle what Trump is really saying and get him out.

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