It’s International Women’s Day and for the fourth year in a row I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2 – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction. This year I was having trouble deciding on who to write about. I wanted to rewatch Harley Quinn on HBO Max and read Tee Franklin’s Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour but should I write about Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy? Then it hit me! The entire show (and comic which serves as Season 2.5) is anchored in their relationship. I would be hard pressed to write about one without writing about the other. Plus, for a series celebrating “fearlessness,” it’s within their friendship where Harley and Ivy find and demonstrate the most incredible courage. Standing beside each other, they (ultimately) own and face their greatest fears. So I’m writing about Harley and Ivy and the type of friendship we should all be so lucky to have.
Given the focus of this piece it’ll have major spoilers for S1&2 of Harley Quinn as well as light spoilers for Tee Franklin’s (as brilliant as it is beautiful) Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour.
While the show has all the sorts of superpowered menaces you’d expect from a story grounded in the Batman corner of the DC Universe – the Joker, the Legion of Doom, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Injustice League, Darkseid, an army of Parademons, juicy betrayals, and the poisonous monster Mephitic (in the comic series) – the most courageous moments Ivy and Harley have are found within their relationship with each other. This brilliantly written emotional intimacy is part of why I fell in love so quickly with Harley Quinn. I admit, before this show I had trouble “getting” Harley as a character. I couldn’t understand her appeal (admittedly I hadn’t read any of her comics). But since watching the Harley Quinn series, I’ve read every solo issue of her comic from November 20th 2013 through the present, along with events like Heroes in Crisis or The Joker War where Harley features prominently. Hundreds of comics have been read with many new characters let into my heart because of the writing and character development on Harley Quinn.
The first season revolves around Harley ending her relationship with the Joker. She strikes out on her own, builds her own crew, and aspires to join the Legion of Doom (the evil version of the Justice League) to rub it in Joker’s face, all while she tries to navigate the difficult emotional terrain of leaving an abusive relationship. In the first episode, Joker throws Harley to Batman so he can escape. In Arkham, her continued refrain is “Mistah J” is coming for her because he loves her. Ivy’s very first line of dialogue in the show is affirming Harley, “All I’m saying is you can do way better than Joker. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re in control of your own destiny.” After a year Ivy breaks them both out. Back in Ivy’s apartment, she tries to get through to Harley:
Ivy – “You were a genius psychiatrist. Do you remember how you diagnosed me?”
Harley – “Sure, a classic misanthrope with abandonment issues who befriends plants to avoid human intimacy.”
Ivy – “You helped me. I can be around people now. You know, I mean I hate it but I can do it without vomiting. Harleen Quinzel was the only doctor who ever got through to me. [showing her a picture of them in a session] What do you think that she would say to you?”
As Harley converses with her “Inner Harleen,” the voice asks for help with a patient who’s, “fixated on a murderous psychopath and won’t end their relationship no matter how terribly he treats her.” Harley says, “Oh, easy! Classic abusive codependency. You just gotta show her there’s no future with him and she needs to end it and find her own identity and hahhhhhh. Oh, I see.” But as anyone who’s ever had to leave an unhealthy relationship or stood beside a loved one who’s worked to find the courage to leave an unhealthy relationship knows, it is a long and difficult journey. One moment of clarity doesn’t bring liberation.
Deciding to leave an unhealthy relationship and standing beside someone as they can’t see a relationship isn’t healthy, begin to see it, and work to leave that relationship both take an incredible amount of courage. For those of us standing beside a loved on in a situation like that, it can be hard when they don’t see what we see when we see it or move on our timeline. We must work to offer compassion, to listen, to validate and empathize, to see and be with them where they’re at with what they’re capable of processing. For those of us in an unhealthy relationship, we are fighting all the lessons culture has led us to internalize which frames the end of any relationship – a dating relationship, an engagement, a marriage – as a bad thing. Yes, there are often heavy feelings of sadness but relationships end because we grow. Sometimes we find someone with whom we can grow together for the rest of our lives and that’s beautiful. But when we don’t, the healthy thing is to break-up. Seeing that and giving yourself permission to leave and find a place where you can be happy and healthy again takes remarkable courage and deserves to be celebrated, too.
Ivy is beside Harley every step of the way as she tries to do this. The episode’s climax sees the Riddler holding Harley and Batman over a pit of acid. He lets Joker choose who lives and dies. Joker picks Batman and Harley drops into the acid…which is really margarita mix. Ivy set the whole thing up to show Harley who the Joker really is. Ivy fishes her out and holds Harley as she gasps and cries.
Harley – “Ivy! [hugging her] You saved me from the acid!”
Ivy – “It, it’s actually just margarita mix.”
Harley – “It’s still kinda stingy.”
The Riddler – “Ok, I did my part. So we’re square for you breaking me out of Arkham.”
Harley – “His…his part? What’s he…?”
Ivy – “Don’t go all ‘Harley’ on me, ok? But I did set this whole thing up. I’ve been telling you forever that the Joker’s no good for you but it seemed like such a hard concept for you to understand so I decided to let you see it for yourself.”
Harley – “Ugh, I just want to crawl back into that acid and die.”
Ivy – “Again, it’s, it’s margarita mix so that doesn’t apply but look. Chin up. You, you know you still got me and I care about you so much that I spent my entire Saturday setting up something this fucking stupid.”
Harley – “That’s true. I bet it wasn’t easy.”
Ivy – “You know the biggest pain in the ass was just finding 150 gallons of this shit.”
Back at Ivy’s apartment, she continues to be a beautiful beacon of love, support, and validation for Harley.
Ivy – “Harley, I love you, and in a very odd, hard to articulate way, and if you just stopped sabotaging yourself…”
Harley – “Unlikely.”
Ivy – “Right. But if you did the world would be yours.”
The episode ends with Harley getting a new look, destroying the Joker’s lair, and leaving him in the rubble. Once the lair is destroyed, we see Ivy waiting outside. She was there if Harley needed help but let her do it on her own. After it was done, Ivy validates Harley, her work, and her new look.
Yet ending an unhealthy relationship – particularly an abusive relationship, as Harley shared with Joker – is a journey. Ivy continues to be a beacon of support while trying to reign in some of Harley’s more self-sabotaging tendencies. As Harley charts her next move, Ivy celebrates her:
Ivy – “That’s a first step! You’re a strong, independent woman who doesn’t care what other people think.”
Harley – “Right! Who cares what Joker and his stupid Legion of Doom buddies think?!”
Ivy – “Exactly.”
Harley – “Hell, I’ll show him in person how little I care.”
Ivy – “What? No. What are you doing?”
Harley – “Logging into Joker’s calendar.”
Ivy – “Oh God, we’re off the rails.”
When Harley begins to build her own crew to become her own supervillain, Ivy introduces her to the Queen of Fables – who received a far harsher punishment for her actions than her male counterparts – and the glass ceiling on female supervillains. Sadly, Harley asks, “Did you send me to her ‘cause you think I can’t do this?” Ivy says, “No, Harley, I sent you there because I know that you can. Look, I just…I just wanted you to know what you’re up against. You know, ‘cause, I uh, I love you. Don’t make a thing of it.” Ivy looks out for Harley. She validates her. She, “a classic misanthrope with abandonment issues who befriends plants to avoid human intimacy,” has found the courage to be open and vulnerable enough to tell Harley twice that she loves her.
We all need relationships where we’re fully heard, seen, and accepted just as we are. That’s what Ivy gives Harley. In all her messiness, chaos, and impulsivity, Ivy accepts her, supports her, and loves her for who she is.
But this doesn’t mean their relationship is always easy. Instead of letting issues build, unvoiced, Harley and Ivy practice open communication and active listening as they work to cultivate an ever-growing awareness of and respect for each other’s boundaries. For Harley in particular, the listening takes time. But she always gets there in the end. The Legion of Doom will prove a major point of contention for Harley and Ivy, as Ivy becomes increasingly frustrated with Harley’s drive to join them and Harley becomes increasingly frustrated with Ivy’s refusal to be excited about it. A fight erupts between them over this.
Ivy – “Fine! You wanna join those assholes, go! Be an asshole yourself, be my guest.”
Harley – “What don’t you understand about they have a submarine that turns into a car that shoots missiles?? The Legion’s awesome! Don’t put your insecurities on me!”
Ivy – “Alright, here we go. What, what insecurities?”
Harley – “Uh, you just don’t want me to join because you’re afraid I won’t need you anymore!”
Ivy – “You are delusional.”
Harley – “Am I?! AM I?!!? You loved it when I was all beaten down and broken hearted after breakin’ up with Joker but you can’t stand it now that I’m better and makin’ something of myself.”
Ivy – “That’s not true!”
Harley – “It is true! You can’t handle it, can ya?”
Ivy – “What?!”
Harley – “You’re tryin’ to sabotage me instead a confrontin’ the fact that without me you don’t have a single friend in this world.”
Ivy – “I, uh…I don’t need this shit. Like I’ve always said, I’m not part of your crew, so…”
Harley – “Oh great, go to your stupid planets!”
Ivy – “YOU KNOW THEY HAVE NAMES!”
For as much as the scene twists an emotional knife, the next one is worse. Harley begins to type a text to Ivy on her phone. It reads, “I’m sorry I overreacted. We should talk…” Ivy sees the dots on her phone as Harley types and the anticipation on her face is clear. Then Harley deletes the message. Ivy sees the dots stop. No message arrives. It is a particularly isolating sort of pain to see those little dots disappear with no message to follow and/or to wait with a ragged sort of emotional despair for a message from a loved one with whom you’re fighting that never comes.
But fights and disagreements are a natural part of any close relationship and both Ivy and Harley honor themselves in being honest with the other. It takes courage to wade back into that discomfort, to continue to communicate, and to try and fix things which Harley and Ivy do, meeting for coffee in the very next episode.
Harley – “Ok, look. I know the last time we talked was…shitty. But, you know, I feel like maybe we have an opportunity to start over here.”
Ivy – [texting] “Mmmm.”
Harley – “Ok, we…we can build off ‘hmm.’ I also, obviously, would like to apologize for saying you’re jealous of me and that you got no friends and…”
Ivy – “I, thank you, I remember what you said.”
Harley – “I know you were just trying to protect me and listen, I’m gonna do the same for you, ok? Just ‘cause I’m a card-carrying member of the Legion of Doom now…”
Ivy – “Fuck that place in the ass.”
Harley – “Yes, for sure. Although, listen, I am working there and I hope it doesn’t affect our friendship. I would be dead without you, like a lot.”
Ivy – “I do not disagree with that. I mean I’m glad you’re not dead but…I don’t know. It felt like you were so ready to abandon me.”
Harley – “I would never do that. I will always be there for ya. I will always smash the things you might need smashed, Ive. Wait! I know that look! Is there something you need smashed? C’mon Ive, there’s gotta be something you need smashed.”
Ivy – “There is, there is actually something I’ve been working on.”
Harley – “I knew it! We’re going to do something evil! That is great!”
Ivy – “Yeah, you know if we’re still categorizing ‘fighting to protect the environment’ as evil, then sure.”
Harley owns how she hurt Ivy and works to make amends. For Ivy’s part, she is willing to accept Harley’s efforts and let her in once more. That’s fearless right there, being able to own your mistakes and apologize as well as being able to accept the apology of someone who hurt you so deeply. Ivy is so open with Harley, even in the wake of their fight, she voices her issues with abandonment. She tells Harley exactly what she’s scared of – of letting Harley in and having her abandon her…and that’s just what Harley does. Instead of meeting Ivy, she goes out with Joker again. She lies, saying she’s wrapped up in Legion business at the office. She promised to go with Ivy and then she blew her off, doing exactly what Ivy feared she would.
This rift between them builds for the rest of the season and Harley ultimately learns (from being inside Ivy’s mind care of Dr. Psycho) that she is Ivy’s biggest fear. Amidst a high speed chase through the streets of Gotham, Harley tries to talk about it with Ivy as they leap from moving semitruck to moving semitruck.
Harley – “Hey, now that it’s just me an’ you I was hoping we could talk a little bit about why one bestie would think of the other bestie as her worst nightmare.”
Ivy – “Not now!”
Harley – “Uh, what about now?”
Ivy – “FINE. You wanna know what my biggest fear is? Finally allowing myself to count on someone and then having them ditch me.”
Harley – “But I was still plannin’ on helpin’ you.”
Ivy – “You were my one friend and I asked you for one favor but instead you ditched me for the Joker who treats you like shit! I though you could change but I was wrong! [Ivy begins crying] You still live your entire life based on what he might think!”
Harley – “So how do we fix this?”
Ivy – “I don’t know.”
Personally, as someone with his own issues with abandonment and feelings of unworthiness within relationships, I can’t watch this scene without crying. All those parts of myself are triggered by what moves between Ivy and Harley. Later, when Sy Borgmann (their elderly half robot landlord and sometimes criminal partner) asks Harley, “So what’s the situation?” she tells him, “Ivy’s mad at me for months of emotional neglect.” She doesn’t deny it! She doesn’t dodge, deflect, or redirect it! Ivy has the courage to be open about how Harley’s hurt her and Harley has the courage to own that. She completely validates and accepts Ivy’s version of events.
Through their open communication, active listening, and willingness to make amends with the other, Harley and Ivy repair their friendship. As Season Two begins, they are as close as ever. Harley is enjoying the chaos a Joker-less, Legion-less, and hero-less Gotham has become while Ivy has taken her relationship with the (very D-list) villain Kite Man to the next level, accepting his (third) marriage proposal. However, they run afoul of Two Face in the lawless land that is New New Gotham and find themselves sent to “the Pit,” a correctional facility run by Bane.
In the euphoria of their escape, they passionately kiss. Then they stare at each other in stunned silence. It becomes very awkward between them after. They talk about it, awkwardly and hurriedly, both saying it was just a crazy-spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Both avoid their confused feelings in their own way as Ivy throws herself into wedding planning and Harley goes to Apokolips to get an evil army of Parademons from Darkseid.
When the Parademons invade Gotham, Ivy goes to Harley. Ivy affirms she is Harley’s ride-or-die in anything but asks if this is really what she wants. Harley admits it isn’t and owns – to herself – the fact that it’s Ivy. She is preparing to tell Ivy when Kite Man arrives. Seeing Ivy talking about spending the rest of her life with Kite Man, Harley redirects their conversation to talking about the bachelorette party.
Let’s talking falling in love with your best friend, hm?
For all their open communication and actively listening, both Harley and Ivy do their best to avoid acknowledging – both with each other and with themselves – these deeper feelings. That’s only natural. In falling in love with your best friend you have everything to gain…and you have everything to lose.
Again, in praise of the writers of Harley Quinn, they don’t go any sort of superficial insta-love route here. When Ivy first frees Harley from Arkham, they know each other mainly as therapist/patient and then as mutual Arkham inmates. We see them build a very real friendship, tentatively at first and then their intimacy grows. Together they find the courage to let their walls down. Ivy shares her fear of abandonment with Harley while letting herself trust Harley, too. Harley works through her emotions over leaving Joker while also learning to listen and be more present with Ivy. Both learn, for the first time, what a mutually symbiotic relationship can be with the other. Tee Franklin beautifully captures this when Ivy tells Harley, “I never had this support, Harls. Not in the way you’ve given me.” This is as true for Harley as it is for Ivy. From this solid foundation of a friendship where each is allowed to be who they are – wounding, trauma, baggage, and all – and are loved for it, a romantic love blossoms.
Ivy and Harley will be forced to face all the feelings they’ve been avoiding more directly during the bachelorette party on Themyscria. After their night at the Hedonikka resort, Harley and Ivy wake up in bed together.
Ivy – “Oh shit, OH SHIT. We shouldn’t’ve done this! We shouldn’t’ve done this!”
Harley – “The mind-blowing orgasmic sex? Or the staying over?”
Ivy – “The all of it. The all of it!”
Harley – “Right, of course, and we don’t want it to happen again…”
Ivy – “No, no, no we do not, never.”
Harley – “Of course not. That would be awkward. And you have real future plans. Plus there’s no room in the itinerary for…”
[Ivy leaves Harley’s room]
They kissed. They realized they had deeper feelings for each other, feelings they both promptly tried to ignore. Now they’ve had sex. Everything is shifting around them as they try in vain to hold on to the simpler relationship they had. Navigating romantic feelings arising with your best friend is scary enough but having sex with them? Ivy tries to get off the island, can’t, and locks herself in her room. With some pleading, Harley convinces her it was just a drunken mistake and to come out and give the weekend another shot. Despite all the fear and all the potential implication, they still talk it out. Harley works to ease Ivy’s mind and Ivy believes her.
At breakfast that morning, Harley tells everyone Eris, the woman running the resort, wants to sell Themyscria to Lex Luthor. Harley’s been scoping it out for weeks and brought them there so they could enjoy the spa and then kill Eris, saving, “this beautiful island and it’s natural resources! You know, environment shit!” Ivy loves it :). Harley knows Ivy so well. Through the entire series we see, again and again, no one knows Ivy better than Harley. Ivy is as excited as she is appreciative, “Oh my God, Harley, this is so thoughtful of you. This is exactly my taste. This is like my thing.” After they save the island, Hippolyta throws a party in their honor.
Harley – “Are you having fun?”
Ivy – “I’m just glad you talked me into coming back. You know, it’s like, aside from the horrible mistake that we made earlier, this has been my dream vacation. I mean relaxation, partying, murder, I mean…man. You know me better than anyone.”
Harley – “You’re easy to celebrate.”
Ivy – “And you’re…fun to celebrate with.”
In their comfort with each other, and with the drinking they do that night which loosens their inhibitions, they spend the night together again.
Ivy – “Oh shit, fuck…”
Harley – “Fuck.”
Ivy – “…for the ding of fuck nuts. I can’t…what is wrong…how can I…oh my God. We have talked about this. We cannot do this again. We just said that we weren’t going to do it and then we did it.”
Harley – “You’re right. You’re totally right. We can’t do this. We…wait, why can’t we do this?”
Ivy – “Because you’re my best friend and I can’t stand the idea of losing you. I…I…”
Harley – “You don’t have to. We’d be closer than we’ve ever been before. Well, not closer than last night. That was crazy.”
Ivy – “Yeah that was fuckin’ crazy.”.
Harley – “Don’t you wanna feel this way all the time? Our whole lives could be going around the world, saving nature, freeing all-female armies, partying, getting free stuff. It would be so fun. I love you. Just think about it, ok?”
Harley leaves the balcony as Ivy considers it. Harley has committed. Despite all her very natural and very valid fears and anxieties, Harley has said how she feels and she’s invited Ivy to do the same. Ivy isn’t hesitant to begin a romantic relationship with Harley because of her feelings for Kite Man. Rather, she’s worried about it not working out and losing Harley. Ultimately, her fear will shape her response. As they get off the plane coming home, Ivy tells Harley, “I thought about what you said. This weekend was so special, amazing, really, and you’re right that we have had these high highs together. But Harley, you run from one thing to the next and at some point, that’s gonna be me. And the truth is I trust you with my life but I…don’t trust you with my heart. So I’m marrying Kite Man.”
When Kite Man asks Ivy if she wants to postpone their marriage until the Parademon invasion is over, we see Ivy’s fear in her response, “No! Absolutely not! I’m ready to move forward with my life and leave some things behind and if we don’t do it right now those things might catch up with us and we can’t have that. And…also, like, I wanna marry, like, love and marriage, I wanna do that…thing with you.” OF COURSE she’s scared! Who wouldn’t be?!? Anyone in a similar situation who wasn’t scared would be in denial of the reality of what’s at stake. You’ve everything to gain and everything to lose. We see Harley’s on her own emotional edge as well, when she and Joker are reunited to try and end the Parademon invasion and he uses Harley as an inspiration to get his own act together.
Joker – “Seeing you toss away your chance with Ivy’s got me thinking about my own love life. I mean I don’t wanna biff it like you did.”
Harley – “Hey, I told Ivy how I felt AND SHE DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY, END OF STORY! WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE!”
Joker – “Right, right. The screaming about it at the mere mention of her name certainly backs that up. [….] Look at these hideous monsters. Aww, Bethany and I used to cuddle just like that. God, we could just sit on the couch and talk about nothing for hours. We just got each other. She always had my back. Good God! That’s true love!”
Harley – “Then you can’t just give up. Love’s a risk and it may not always go in your favor but if it’s true love you have to fight for it.”
Love’s a risk and it may not always go in your favor but it it’s true love you have to fight for it. Harley will find the courage to take her own advice. Once the Parademons are gone she tells Ivy, “Ivy, you call me out on all my bullshit but you don’t judge me for it. We have fun whether we’re sittin’ on the couch or murderin’ a group of investment bankers. You showed me what the best version of myself could be and you held me to it. I’m in love with you. I wanna be with you. And yes, it might be messy. It might not work. It might even destroy our friendship forever. But love is a risk. I’d rather risk our friendship than pretend these feelings aren’t real. You don’t give up on love. Take a risk. Take a leap of faith and be with me.”
What a beautiful model of a loving relationship – whether romantic or platonic! You call me out on all my bullshit but you don’t judge me for it. You showed me what the best version of myself could be and you held me to it. It’s important to note Harley doesn’t say Ivy “saved” her or “made” her the best version of herself. Another unhealthy romantic trope we internalize from culture is the idea that someone – anyone – else can save us. That is a recipe for unhealthy attachment issues and unfair responsibilities given to one partner from another. No, a loving partner or friend doesn’t “save us.” We have to do that on our own. But a loving partner or friend can stand beside us, support us, and help guide us along the way. If we’re willing to do the work, they can help shoulder some of the burden. This is exactly what Harley and Ivy have in each other!
While it takes Ivy a little while longer to come around to the idea, she does find the courage to take that leap of faith. As they drive off into the sunset together we see, in romantic love as in the love of their friendship, they begin with acceptance and love the other as they are.
Harley – “You don’t think I’m chaotic and crazy and make a buncha messes?”
Ivy – “No, no you definitely do that. But you’re trying to grow and actually doing it and that, I mean for me, that’s what matters.”
Harley – “I love you Ive.”
Ivy – “I love you too, Harls.”
Care of Harley Quinn and Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour we get one of pop culture’s best depictions of a healthy, supportive, loving relationship – for friends as well as for romantic partners – in Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. They have the courage to open themselves to one another, laying their wounds and traumas bare, and they have the love to receive the other as they are. It’s beautiful. In their fearless love of one another, in all its forms, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn offer us so much. They give us something to aspire to in our own relationships. They provide a model for what healthy, loving, symbiotic relationships look like and illustrate all they can accomplish. Finally, they serve as a mirror to reflect the healthiest, loving relationships in our own lives – relationships for which we should always fight as courageously to protect and be as passionately thankful for as Harley and Ivy are of each other.
Be sure to keep checking back here all month to see the other characters and relationships profiled in this series by Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2!
4 thoughts on “Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy – Fiction’s Fearless Females”
“We all need relationships where we’re fully heard, seen, and accepted just as we are.” <—YES! Not only are your words true, but its a sad fact that true female friendships are rarely shown accurately in books or on screen. That the term 'Bechdel test' is a thing (which I'm sure I'll mention in my FFF post later this month) shows that female friendship representation is lacking, so your idea of writing about female friendships this year was a breath of fresh air. Friendships are worth fighting for!
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Thank you Nancy! It wasn’t an idea I expected everyone to roll with when I decided to write about Harley and Ivy but I’m excited that you liked it, too :). I’m really looking forward to all the posts to come! And I love that you’ll be talking about the Bechdel test. There was a version of this piece where I brought that into it but, as it all came together, it didn’t seem to organically fit anymore. So I’m happy to know it’ll show up in yours.
Also, I love that of my whole piece *that* was the line you chose to quote. it’s a line that means a lot to me as it synthesizes so much of what I’ve learned in therapy about the healthiest relationships in my life and what to seek in relationship with others. So it fills my heart to know that resonated with you, too.
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