Warning: Spoilers ahead for Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #2
The recent Harley Quinn spinoff tale shows readers a differen origin story for the infamous killer clown couple of Harley and Joker. While fans know their story as a tragic tale of manipulation, obsession, and abuse, Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #2 tells a different tale, and it shows what could have happened between the two if they had met under different circumstances.
In her introduction to DC comics, criminal psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel meets a young Joker in Arkham Asylum. She falls victim to his apparent charm and becomes his sidekick and on-again-off-again girlfriend. Abandoning her career in psychiatry, she transfers into the field of villainy as his accomplice. Through constant gaslighting and manipulation, Joker keeps her under his control. She eventually realizes the extent of their relationship’s toxicity and abandons evil for a more heroic role in later stories, but not until the Joker’s abuse left her forever changed.
While the original story of Harley Quinn finds itself riddled with tragedy and toxicity, the new White Knight rendition differs fairly significantly. This time, Harley first appears as the one with a more dark and wild side, not Joker (aka Jack Napier). After meeting under less than conventional circumstances, Jack Napier and Harley become an item. This latest issue shows the two of them on a fitting date to a nearby carnival, laughing and enjoying each other’s company in a way that paints them as an every day, average couple. Aside from the occasional wild act, such as adopting hyenas, the relationship feels too conventional for soon-to-be villains.
Things change, however, when Jack seems to develop clinically psychotic behavior. His transformation into Joker begins with obnoxious laughing fits in the midst of calm conversation. Harley appears slightly concerned, but concern turns into distress when she becomes the target of his anger. Still a psychiatrist in this timeline, Harley publishes a paper revealing Jack’s irrational behavior. Though she didn’t reveal his name, Jack takes this all too personally, exploding in a fit of rage and leaving Harley for weeks. A visit from Bruce Wayne hints that this trigger led to the inevitable spiral that led him to becoming Gotham’s most dangerous villain.
The “Jarley” ship has always been filled with chaos and unpredictability, but Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn drastically flips the script regarding a notoriously tragic love story. The fascinating twist of a fierce Harley uniting with a compassionate Jack set the stage for a completely different ending. Their relationship appears full of love and respect, and lacks the trademark toxicity of the original Joker. However, despite the wholesome start, the story still takes a heart-wrenching turn. Doomed to experience tragedy no matter the timeline, it seems Harley Quinn and Joker can never catch a break in their pursuit of a fairytale ending. While this may seem like a more light-hearted narrative, it could be seen as even more tragic than before, as there seemed to be a glimmer of hope prior to Jack’s inescapable transformation.