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From Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn: science, symmetry and transformation

Publication date
Friday, 1 Sep 2023

Harley Quinn has become an important and popular character in the DC Universe, especially for representations of women scientists in comics and the associated cinematic and TV adaptations. Understandably, much of the analysis of this character has tended to focus on her relationship with the Joker and the gender-based dimensions of this dynamic. However, to distill her identity to these dimensions would be unnecessarily, even unfairly, reductionist, and would narrow our understandings of a rich and complex character. By focussing on her identity as a scientist, this article offers a different analytical lens through which to understand Harley Quinn. Drawing primarily from Stjepan Šejić’s Harleen (2020), with supporting insights from appearances in other DC comics, we examine the ways in which her scientific training and aspirations shape her transformation from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn. Specifically, we demonstrate how symmetry, as an orienting concept, is useful for analysing how scientific logics and practices inform and enable this transformation. In doing so, we hope to both enrich understandings of Harley Quinn and foreground science as a potentially useful broader lens through which to understand other significant themes and characters in the DC Universe.