Harley Quinn by Terry and Rachel Dodson
(Photo Credit: DC Comics)

The History of Harley Quinn (and Harlequin) at DC Comics

The Clown Queen of Crime — or Crime-Fighting, dependent on her mood — Harley Quinn is the most popular DC Comics character created in modern times. Few know, however, that Harleen Quinzel was the fifth clown-themed character to use the Harlequin name. (Or something close to it.)

Molly Mayne – The Original Harlequin

Molly Mayne Harlequin with Alan Scott Green Lantern

Molly Mayne was the first Harlequin and an enemy of the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Far from malicious, this Harlequin had a crush on Green Lantern and turned to crime to get his attention. In this, she’s comparable to Harley Quinn, who turned to crime to romance The Joker. The difference is that Molly’s scheme worked in the Post-Crisis timeline, where she became Alan’s second wife.

Molly’s history in the Modern Age, where Alan Scott is gay, is unclear, She gave birth to a son, Michael, whose father is unknown. Michael followed in his mother’s footsteps, becoming The Harlequin’s Son after stealing her illusion generating technology.

Duela Dent – The Joker’s Daughter

Joker's Daughter Duela Dent Harlequin II

Duela Dent has one of the most complicated origins in the DC Universe. She was originally an enemy of Dick Grayson’s Robin. First posing as The Joker’s Daughter, Duela went through several other identities, claiming to be the daughter of several Batman enemies. Dick deduced that Duela was the daughter of Two-Face, Harvey Dent, but this later turned out to be a lie.

Whoever she was, Duela had pit herself against Robin as an audition for the Teen Titans. It was here that Duela adopted the Harlequin codename, acting as a comedic foil much like Harley Quinn. Duela was ultimately confirmed to be the daughter of the heroic Joker and Two-Face of Earth-3, where all the villains are heroes.

Marcie Cooper – Harlequin III

Marcie Cooper Harlequin III

The granddaughter of the original Manhunter, Dan Richards, Marcie Cooper was recruited by the alien Manhunters as part of their invasion plans during the Millennium event. She befriended several members of Infinity Inc. and a retired Molly Mayne. Marcie stole Molly’s illusion-generating glasses and attacked her friends, claiming the Harlequin name for herself. She later joined Injustice Unlimited, and played a role in killing Skyman Sylvester Pemberton.

Harlequin IV

Harlequin IV

The fourth Harlequin has never been given a background or a secret identity. She only appeared in a few Alan Scott Green Lantern stories throughout the 1990s and the Underworld Unleashed event.

Like Molly Mayne, this Harlequin had illusion powers and an obsession with the first Green Lantern. Unlike the original Harlequin, however, this newcomer seemed to be a metahuman with psychic powers or a magic user. In either case, Alan Scott lost what little patience he had with the stalker after she attacked Molly.

Harleen Quinzel – Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn DC Comics by Amanda Conner

Created by writer Paul Dini and artist Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn was originally created for Batman The Animated Series. Harleen Quinzel was an ambitious psychiatrist, manipulated into helping The Joker, even as she hoped to cure him.

Dini claimed to have ignored the earlier Harlequin characters in creating Harley Quinn. His chief inspiration was the various thematic molls employed by the villains in the 1966 Batman show.

Dini also took inspiration from his friend, actress Arleen Sorkin, who played played a similar jester on Days of Our Lives. Sorkin became the first voice of Harley Quinn. The character proved popular enough to be introduced into the Batman comics in 1999.

The Prank Question

Prank and The Trickster in The Flash 1990 Show

Some theorize that Prank, a character created for The Flash show from 1990, could also have inspired Harley Quinn. The Prank identity was created by serial killer James Jesse, as a female counterpart to his Trickster identity. He originally tried to turn private investigator Megan Lockhart into Prank, but she resisted Jesse’s manipulation. The Trickster later found his match in Zoey Clark, the demented heiress to a toy empire, who gleefully became his Prank.

Given their backgrounds as groupies to a comedic killer, it is easy to draw parallels between Prank and Harley Quinn. The fact that actor Mark Hamill is connected to both characters also invites comparison. However, as the history of Harlequin has shown, DC had many similar characters before Prank was created.