Harley and Ivy’s Relationship
The Harley and Ivy relationship is one that has long fascinated me. Harley Quinn, as I’ve noted a couple times on this very website is quite possibly my favorite character ever. Cartoons, Television, Movies, Literature, it doesn’t matter she’s always top billing in my eyes.
Initially a psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum, it’s been implied in various media over the years that Harley was quite the athlete earning a gymnastics scholarship to Gotham University whilst applying her goal to write a book about The Joker in the psychiatric department. Some insinuations have been made that she likely kissed her way to achieve the high grades she got in order to later apply to Arkham Asylum where she would fall for The Joker and bust him out one night after Batman roughed up her puddin’ one time too many.
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Harley largely associated herself as a thief, getaway driver, and the henchwoman to The Joker, helping him orchestrate his schemes upon the world if not occasionally helping him hatch up a scheme (albeit inadvertently) such as in the comic version of “Mad Love.” A lot of Harley’s appeal is her near impish delight at savoring the criminal side of life while getting to work alongside Joker. She works at her best as a thief, swiping jewels for the most part, letting the physicality of the scenarios left to Joker and his more physically imposing henchman whom are hired precisely for their muscle while she in effect offers the brains.
Very rarely does Harley physically involve herself solo, with her memorable fight against Batman in the episode, “Harley’s Holiday,” being fairly noteworthy in this regard and even then she uses her limbs and athleticism to keep him at bay and physically away from her. She uses this same technique of fighting from afar with Batgirl in the movie, “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker,” again highlighting that Harley, for all her criminality, is more akin to a thief like Catwoman than a physical fighter. Even Batgirl, the hero, is usually more physically combative than Harley usually is or arguably may ever actually be. In a way, Harley lays low and uses her savvy and intelligence to ‘fight’ against others. When she tries to kill Joker in her self-titled issue, “Batman: Harley Quinn,” she does so by trying to fire him off in a rocket ship.
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Harley masks what she does, the killings and mayhem, underneath a veneer that she isn’t as bad as the people she’s commonly associated with on the villain spectrum. She’s not The Joker or Killer Croc or Mad Hatter. Openly pleading with Veronica in the episode, “Harley’s Holiday,” Harley outright tells Veronica that she won’t be hurt and that Veronica will be returned safe and sound. Even whilst with Ivy, Harley lets three punk teens escape their car before openly blowing it up to smithereens with a bazooka. Part of Harley’s playfulness and child like zeal and zest for the carnage she helps produce and create is a way for her to experience the chaoticness of the bad side of life while keeping an internal distance from it much like the physicality of her fighting.
For all the thievery and crimes, Harley typifies that straddled line between being a ‘good’ person in a bad world and a ‘bad’ person in a good world. She sums up that very attitude by telling Batman, “It’s just a joke,” a mechanism to deflect her own role in the more overt violent aspects of her life. It’s even telling that her main weapons are literally a pop gun complete with stopper to plug in and a mallet. Neither weapon is really thought of as serious, much like her overall, but can pack a wallop all the same without overtly coming off as dangerous as say a machine gun or poison gas.
Ivy’s always intrigued me since she’s largely been treated mostly as an Eco Terrorist, favoring plant life and forestation over the lives of the people around her. Much like Harley, her intelligence related to Botany and plant chemicalization tends to be overlooked if not whittled down in favor of either her physical seductive capabilities or the generalization of her desire to see nature defeat man.
In a lot of ways, Ivy represents the ‘green’ shadow to Harley’s character. Ivy is very willing to kill for what she believes in and makes no mincing of words when it comes to those types of threats. She also very rarely teams up with anybody else, preferring to do the job alone because she’s confident in what she’s after, possesses the smarts to accomplish her act, and isn’t afraid to try and take on Batman physically by ensnaring him with her chemically altered plants.
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Poison Ivy stands out due to her seduction, a trait wherein she has admitted that she can overpower both men and women with a simple kiss and induce mind control. Not only does she utilize her seduction physically, even doing so in a short for the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Holiday Nights,” but even her wardrobe contrasts that of Harley. Harley has a complete bodysuit that leaves everything to the imagination, even most of her face and hair. Poison Ivy’s outfit is nearly the complete opposite exposing her legs, arms, face, hair, and some cleavage.
Ivy isn’t afraid to lean on her natural sexuality and use it to get what she wants whereas Harley, working mostly as a thief, has to use her brain and quick wits. It’s yet another contrast to their personalities as well. The confidence which Ivy exudes correlates to her ability to flare herself to others costume wise and she shows no concern over being so audacious about her physical endowments. In a way, the knowledge of her own self alluring is her most dangerous weapon as Ivy is not only capable of physically controlling men and women through her kiss but now she can accomplish it visually without the need for direct contact. Opposite of Harley’s desire to keep others at bay for the most part, Ivy not only courts them closer but almost demands they be close enough to touch.
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One of the greatest strengths Poison Ivy has as a villain is her immunity to the toxins that incorporate her life. She is able, in essence, to be a super villain reliant upon her intelligence and knowledge of the chemical properties she is working with much like the genius required by Mad Hatter to get his mind control to work through his hats. While Harley relies upon literal weapons that she can wield physically, Ivy is able to mold and wield weapons that she can control through chemistry further increasing their capabilities or tweaking them so that they deliver different effects when so desired.
Ivy isn’t confined to a box when it comes to how dangerous she can be and the contrast with Harley becomes further clarified in the episode that initially put them together, “Harley and Ivy,” where Harley is able to use her athleticism to very nearly steal a diamond without tripping an alarm yet Ivy trips the alarm in her goal to steal toxins without much forethought to how to escape if come upon by police. It’s a credit that their partnership begins with Harley appropriating a toxin with her own pop gun weapon as a means for the two of them to escape from Montoya and the police. A scenario that relied upon Harley’s smarts instead of Ivy’s physicality.
The Harley and Ivy Relationship
Initially teaming up in a Batman: The Animated Series episode, it’s immediately apparent to see how well they mesh with Ivy even inoculating Harley so she won’t die from the toxin fumes surrounding Ivy’s hideout. Ivy’s willingness for companionship becomes a true partnership with Harley; Ivy usually the dominant figure in the scheming while Harley nearly worships Ivy’s confidence and take charge nature. This is subdued compared to The Joker, whom Harley has just received the boot from; literally in this case.
The sexual subtext of the relationship has subsequently become text over the years, with even Paul Dini and Bruce Timm confirming the two as having a romantic relationship. Albeit abusive at times, the relationship works very well as a give and take for both Harley and Ivy. Harley is able to offer up a form of close companionship for Ivy while supporting Ivy with what I would call field smarts during their stealing methods. Ivy, for her part, deeply cares for Harley in a manner that Joker rarely offers up and Ivy tries to build up Harley from the inside out. In a lot of ways, Ivy sees Harley as the ideal form of nature’s woman betrothed to the man intent upon ruination physically. For every instance that Harley builds up her confidence and her own ability to stand on her own two feet thanks to Ivy, the progress gets hampered when Joker gets involved.
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One of my favorite aspects of their relationship is that Harley cares so much for Ivy that she will get herself physically involved to defend her. In their three part mini-series, Harley openly beats up a prison guard with a plunger after she dared to injure Ivy. Harley continues to use guile in their relationship by physically using Ivy’s kiss as a method to get what they want, aware of her companion’s outright sexual magnetism. It’s another subtle way of both Harley being submissive in their relationship while also employing a way for her own dominance to shine through. Harley is also willing to stand up to Batman, as shown in the episode, “Holiday Nights,” including showing off a more confident demeanor. Even in their initial episode, Harley clearly cares enough about Ivy in the short time they’ve been together to be distraught after Joker’s attempt to poison Ivy with a whiff of his flower.
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It’s worth noting that for all of Harley’s goofiness on actual robbery attempts, Ivy never shies away Harley’s side. While some can see Ivy as an exasperated partner constantly enduring Harley’s antics and mannerisms, I think it’s as much a tactic on Harley’s end to try and get Ivy to loosen up while preferring Ivy’s serious nature when it comes to scheming without the fear of physical abuse. Harley insofar admits as such, calling Ivy her best friend as the reason that Harley can’t ever be truly mad at ‘Red’ and expects the same from Ivy towards herself.
On some level, Ivy recognizes the need for what Harley offers her within the relationship and between her genuine fondness and desire for compatibility with another person, Ivy is able to open herself somewhat around Harley and reciprocate her own inner strengths. I believe the relationship transitioned greatly from one of necessity to escape in the moment to one of symbiotic give and take to the point that it’s arguably developed into a legit relationship of love on a deeper level than just pure sexual desire.
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The sexualized aspect of Harley and Ivy is, in many ways, a byproduct of their close friendship and love for one another. As a duo, they complement one another while offering just enough contrast to be their own individual around the other. Harley retains her dark and dangerous whimsical style, perhaps made better due to the contrast of Ivy’s core beliefs and desire to make her own idealized world in the face of the people around her. Some people argue that Harley loves Joker and won’t ever settle for anything else. I can buy that but I also don’t see the nature of the Harley and Ivy relationship as one sided as most fans can paint it as.
While Ivy is often portrayed as the one chasing Harley with a desire of pushing the relationship from friends with benefits to a true romance, I think it under develops Harley’s own desire to truly settle down with somebody that treats her as an equal and loves her for being her. Harley, usually, gets that opportunity more with Ivy than she does with Joker. The balance of their relationship has helped Harley and Ivy to actually evolve as a substantive, if not outright ideal, lesbian relationship of love (over fornication) through the years aided by Harley’s care towards Ivy through the initial bonds of friendship and Ivy’s care towards Harley through the initial bonds of companionship.
Their tandem is really a fascinating relationship to follow. For all of Harley’s qualities good and bad, Ivy allows Harley a way to not be Harley Quinn and vice versa as Harley allows Ivy to, for all intents and purposes, let her hair down as well. Rather than being just villains known by their monikers, they attribute nicknames to one another in the form of Harls and Red. They, in essence, are full people around one another becoming Harleen and Pamela without a need to camouflage their bad traits or cover up what makes them good and desirable to stay in the villain spotlight. The hugs, the sexy shirt switching, the teasing of mistletoe, their lack of personal space with one another, it all is one hundred percent genuine in a world covered up in aliases.
I’ll close this out with a personal favorite series of panels with regards to this relationship.
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