Shipping, it makes the fandom world go round. Coming from the word “relationship”, it is how people describe the pairs (or more) they like in a given piece of media. “Shippers” can be very passionate, there is a lot of reasons why someone wants a certain relationship to happen and many times it can be very personal. Queer ships many time stem from lack of representation. The same is true of many interracial ships, a lot of times involving women of color who are seen as “needing no one”. Many times these shipers know they will never see this relationship be made canon. But once in a blue moon, some writer decides to go ahead, and you end up with canon representation. And this is just one of the reasons why Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are so important
across the dc universe
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the Batman animated series of the early 90’s, Harley Quinn was introduced as a sidekick for the Joker. She became so popular that DC Comics, the company that owns all of the Batman franchise, added her to the comic books during one of their biggest story events. That introduction included the character that would become key in her story, Poison Ivy. Already having been teamed up in the animated series, it made sense her comic book counterpart would also be close to “Red”, as she affectionally calls her. And from the start there was one thing that was very clear, these two were not just platonic.
The biggest barrier to this ship was simply how Harley had been introduced. She was created as a brilliant psychiatrist that falls in love with the Joker. It gave way for one of the most realistic portrayals of an abusive and toxic relationship in media. The Joker would routinely put her down and physically assault her. When she manages to capture Batman in one of the most intense episodes of the series, Joker answers by getting furious and throwing her out a window. Her introduction in the comics starts with Joker putting her in a rocket and launching her because he thought he might feel something for her. Of course, after all these he would come back to her, tell her he was sorry and would never do it again, and ask her to come back. And she would, to many it was seen as a misunderstood ship. This is something that has continued on, the merchandising that includes them romanticizes this to the degree that Hot Topic has a pair of rubber bracelets that define this as “relationship goals”.
From Whisper to roar
At the same time, the relationship between her and Poison Ivy was also being developed. The feeling was obvious from Ivy’s side, so much so that it is pointed out, if mishandled, during one of their comics. It was as close to validation as many thought we would get. And while it did cement Poison Ivy as a representation of a queer character, it was one that of course had to end in unhappiness. That was until the less than subtle intro Ivy gets in Harley Quinn’s solo comics. Even with this it took them some time to come out and just say it, they officially where a couple consisting of two queer women. Considering with how little representation bisexuals get in media, having a character such as Harley who is so prominent and important being one was a gift. This, of course, did not sit well with those that are not comfortable with this kind of love.
When the new DC film, Suicide Squad, was announced as having Harley in it’s cast there was a mixed reaction. For one, it was great to see more female characters in the movies, specially one as complex as Harley. But on the other hand, the movie also announced the Joker as being in the movie. It didn’t just feel like a step back, it was a almost a run backwards when one considers how more than once Harley Quinn has spoken about leaving the abusive relationship with the Joker, and she more than once clearly severed ties with him. With the film having them both, it brought back this abusive relationship being shown in a romantic way. This is specially visible in merchandise like the above mentioned bracelets, merchandise that is primarily aimed at teens. The more it kept going around the more I wondered, why would anyone consider this ship anything but toxic? Why insist on her coming back to this man? And then it hit me…it is exactly that, having her be with a man.
The blinders of heteronormativity
The only reason to ship Harley with Joker is to keep her in a heterosexual relationship. There is no other reason as to why anyone would try to see the very obvious abuse and violence as what it is. Those who try to defend it use similar arguments as the defense for 50 Shades of Grey, that because Harley does this “willingly” she is not being abused. Not only does this show a fundamental misunderstanding of how victims of abuse can be, it ignores that in a relationship where there is an obvious power imbalance there is no way you can have complete consent. But to accept this and accept her relationship with Poison Ivy, it makes it clear that Harley Quinn is queer. To allow her to be in a happy relationship, have an equal partner, means embracing what the queer side of fandom has already embraced. It means going against the dominant heteronormativity that has been the “norm”
Shipping is important, it says much of ourselves and society. To me, shipping Harley with the Joker means you would prefer a woman be abused and mistreated than to love another woman. It means you have such a need for this character to be heterosexual, maybe because you are yourself, that you would be willing to ignore the obvious signs of toxicity. Again, this is why shipping matters. Harley Quinn is an out and proud queer woman and so is Poison Ivy. They are in a loving relationship and both are very happy. Wanting Harley to return to the Joker is saying you prefer to eliminate her unhappiness rather than let her be. Shipping them means you prefer a negative heterosexual relationship over a queer one. It is similar to how the aforementioned 50 Shades of Grey movie got promotion everywhere but the mere suggestion of queer parents in an ad makes so many clutch their pearls and ask to think of the children.
I am happy that Harley and Ivy have been made official. I am happy this will be something set for posterity. I much prefer children see a happy and healthy relationship and aspire to that, instead of thinking that a kiss with a fist is better. There is truly much more damage in condoning Joker’s constant abuse of Harley than her kissing Ivy. And all I can hope is that they join the legion of long lived comic book pairs. This ship, as so many shippers would say, sails itself. It really should be no contest. But if your discomfort, prejudice, dislike, or outright hate of two queer women in love pushes you to make excuses for said woman being beat,berated, and nearly killed; maybe the real problem is not in in who she loves.
Featured Image From Harley #25, found through Tumblr