The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 57: “Harley and Ivy”

Why do we stay with people who hurt us? Why are so-called “toxic” relationships sometimes the hardest ones to leave? And what can we do when those relationships become too dangerous for our psychological or physical well-being? In this episode of The Arkham Sessions, we spend some time reviewing one of the most psychologically relevant episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, “Harley and Ivy.”

It’s an episode that deals with feminism, sexism, and power differentials, one that allows us to deconstruct the interpersonal relationships between Harley and Ivy, Harley and The Joker, and Batman and the Joker. As we discuss, there are moments in this episode that appear to celebrate female empowerment and female agency. Poison Ivy takes Harley Quinn under her leaf and attempts to teach her a lifestyle about independence and self-sufficiency. As Ivy claims, “No man will take us prisoner!” It’s an effective literal and symbolic statement about the role of women, whether they’re villains or not.

joker_quinnYet, despite such strong pro-feminist messages, we’re also faced with several scenes involving the emotional and physical abuse of Harley Quinn, who demonstrates a dependency on her aggressor, The Joker. We didn’t have to do an “analysis” in regards to her treatment — it is inexcusable intimate partner violence and The Joker is a clear perpetrator. The narrative — brilliantly written, we believe — allows us a platform to discuss the Cycle of Domestic Violence and the realities, myths, and complexities of abusive relationships.  We discuss The Joker’s authentic feelings for Harley, asking ourselves if he actually cares for her. We then ask ourselves about our own love affair with The Joker.  Can we separate our adoration of him and his volatile behavior? Can we understand Harley’s loyalty to him, without blaming her for the cyclical nature of her victimization? We admit that there aren’t easy answers to these questions, but we believe it’s worth trying to understand these mixed feelings of love, hatred, loyalty and fear.

If you or someone you know needs help related to intimate partner violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or visit the website Support, resources, and advice about keeping yourself safe are available 24/7, every day of the year.


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One Response to “The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 57: “Harley and Ivy””

  1. PH says:

    I think the relationship between Harley and Joker was portrayed in a clever and subversive way.

    The violence surrounding the Joker is often played for comedic effect. You have scenes where Joker abuses his henchmen and it’s shown as slapstick comedy. For example, there was that scene in the first Burton Batman where the Joker gets angry and asks his henchmen Bob for a gun, and as soon as Bob gives him the gun, he shoots Bob. Similarly, often times when Batman beats up on the Joker, you get these Looney Tunes type reactions from him, or sight gags and jokes. Sometimes, you even have Batman cracking a joke at the Joker’s expense.

    The relationship between Joker and Harley is often portrayed in a way that incorporates the slapstick and cartoonish elements of the Joker’s violence, and they tread a fine line between the serious and the silly. It really emphasizes the insidious nature of abusive relationships. It shows how not only does the abuser downplay the situation and manipulates the victim, but that the victim will sometimes play along with the abuser. Not to mention the element of obsession with the Joker on Harley’s part, and the suggestion that there are genuine feelings involved. Even though some of the violence may be played as slapstick or comedy, there is that dark undercurrent of psychological/emotional manipulation and abuse. It all goes to show how complex these kinds of situations can be, how easily people can misinterpret the relationship, and how difficult it is for the victim to get out of the relationship or to even admit the harmful nature of the relationship.

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