Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey Indulges Character’s R-Rated Dreams

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are bringing Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey to DC's Black Label.

There’s something distinctly Looney Tunes about Harley Quinn, probably the combination of self-awareness and ultraviolent slapstick comedy. So when you ask Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti about the magnificent, luridly poetic profanity in Harley Quinn & The Birds of Prey, their new Black Label collaboration on the character they steered for the better part of a decade, it’s hard not to hear Conner’s slow laugh as the glee of a cartoon artist’s paintbrush, getting ready to draw an anvil over Wile E. Coyote’s head. “That’s all Amanda, by the way,” says Palmiotti. “She’s the one [who makes] the sailors come running out of the bar, you know?”

“It’s funny, because when we were doing regular Harley,” Conner says, referring to the pair’s time writing the New 52-era, mainstream DC Universe book, “we were not allowed to put any swear words in, which is totally understandable. So I had to get really, really, really creative with non-swear words, and every once in a while, I would come up with something that actually sounded worse than the swear word that it had replaced. And then when we started doing this book, I’m thinking, ‘Well, if I just put regular swears in, it’s just anti-climactic.’ So I had to be really creative with my swear words.” And thus was borne the entire interruption sequence in the exclusive preview pages you see here.

Conner and Palmiotti have probably the strongest claim to Harley out of any creators this side of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, having written her solo book for 7+ years and 80 issues. They are perhaps most responsible for cementing her voice as the comic reader’s id. “[W]hat does it for me is seeing her interact and drive other characters nuts,” says Conner. To Palmiotti, her voice comes out in the structure of the story. “The worst thing that can happen is the reader thinks they know where it’s leading to, because she has all the multiple personalities, and…on a dime, she changes her mind or gets distracted,” he says. “A good Harley story is not predictable. A bad Harley story is insanely predictable.”

read more: Every DC Comics and DCEU Easter Egg in the Birds of Prey Movie

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In fact, Harley’s unpredictability presents a unique challenge to her writers. “I’m on the third issue right now and we’re writing that, and it’s nothing like we pitched for the first two,” Palmiotti says. Harley has as much chance of getting away from her writers as the other characters in the story. But as for the readers, Harley’s unpredictability is great for her creators. “So long as we know where it’s going in the end, I think the great thing about the character is that she gets out from under us all the time, and we have to corral her back into the story. But that’s also what makes her charming,” he says. “When you see the Birds of Prey film, it’s actually right there on the big screen, the same thing.”

Quinn’s uniqueness isn’t limited to her unpredictability. She was first created not as a comic character, but for Batman: The Animated Series by Dini and Timm in 1992, and is maybe the third most popular Batman character to adapt to other mediums behind Batman himself, and her shitty ex, the Joker. And her depictions in other media – in the Arkham games, the Injustice games, her own cartoon on DC Universe, and in films – have traditionally talked to each other and influenced each other in a way uncommon to other comic characters. That’s changing, a little, with Conner and Palmiotti’s definitive take. The cartoon is, among other things, an incredible translation of the zaniness and comedy of their comics run, and Margot Robbie’s movie Harley, particularly in this latest incarnation, is a conscious attempt on Robbie’s part to distill Conner and Palmiotti’s comics Harley to the screen. “I feel like [she] really nailed Harley perfectly the way we’ve been writing her,” Conner says. Palmiotti responds “We’ve been lucky to see her immediately after the screening of Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, and our conversation goes right to her going “How did I do? What do you guys think?” To Palmiotti, it’s surprisingly the subtlety of Robbie’s performance is what makes it successful. “I think the stand out with her is…her facial expressions. She’s able to contort and have her emotion right there.”

read more: Birds of Prey Ending Explained

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey gives Conner and Palmiotti a chance to do more with and around Harley than they have before. “I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy Renee Montoya,” Conner says. “We have Atlee coming up,” Palmiotti says. “We have more Ivy. We have pretty much Batman’s whole rogues gallery come into play at one point. We have a scene with Harley and Alfred that will be quite memorable…but we do mess with the Joker.” Harley Quinn & the Birds of Prey Joker gets it as good as douchebag ex-boyfriend Joker of the Harley Quinn animated series. “Harley really knows how to push Joker’s buttons…she exposes some of his weak spots, and it’s kind of funny how she does it,” Palmiotti tells us. “It’s not the darkest comic.”

Here’s what DC has to say about the book.

HARLEY QUINN AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #1 written by AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTIart and cover by AMANDA CONNERvariant cover by ARTHUR ADAMSThe creative team that transformed Harley Quinn forever returns to shake up her world once more—and this time, the gloves are off!Harley Quinn has avoided Gotham City ever since she broke up with The Joker and found a home, and a kind of family, in Coney Island. But when she gets an offer she can’t refuse, she has no choice but to slip back into the city as quietly as she can, hoping to be gone before anyone—especially her ex—learns she’s been there. But for Harley, “as quietly as she can” is plenty loud…and before she can say “Holee bounty hunters, Batman,” The Joker’s sicced every super-villain in the city on her pretty ombré head—and the only team tough enough (or crazy enough) to come to her defense is the Birds of Prey!The foul-mouthed, no-holds-barred sequel to one of DC’s raciest runs is here! Get on board early, before we come to our senses!

And here are the preview pages. Take a look, and for more on Harley, the Birds, or the rest of the Black Label Stable, stick with Den of Geek!

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