Harley Quinn Will Meet Punchline, the Joker’s New Girlfriend, and the Result Is What You’d Expect
Now that Tom King ended his run on Batman, James Tynion IV sits at the helm of the Dark Knight’s solo series. In the past few weeks, he’s made his mark by introducing a new girlfriend for the Joker, just as his old one finally broke out from under his shadow. Preview art for Batman #92 shows that Harley Quinn will meet Punchline, the new girl, on a mission with Catwoman.
Batman will be busy, it seems, facing off with the Riddler in his hunt for the new, mysterious villain known as the Designer. Yet, always in the way, Eddie Nygma (and possibly Deathstroke) designed themselves a death trap that the World’s Greatest Detective has to figure his way out of.
Enter Punchline (and Who Is She, Anyway?)
Catwoman and Harley Quinn are seemingly confronted by Punchline, complete with two Joker goons at her back. Punchline is not just another Harley, since the entire history of Harley Quinn seems aimed at turning her into a hero. (Just like Catwoman.) Punchline is a sadistic killer, and she is also the strong, silent type. Effectively, she’s more of a mirror image to the Joker, in that she is also “a Joker.”
As Tynion wrote to artist Jorge Jiminez, via his newsletter:
“And she is Harley Quinn’s polar opposite. She is Joker’s #2… A silent, terrifying serial killer, sexy as hell. All of his henchmen are terrified of her and they should be. Imagine Joker being Joker and torturing a hostage, and then he gets tired and sighs, handing the scalpel to Punchline, who slits their throat.
“We don’t want her to just be anti-Harley Quinn, and we don’t just want her to be female joker. We don’t want to evoke The Batman Who Laughs or the Dark Multiverse with somebody who looks like she steps out of Hellraiser.
“Like in…Archie Comics where The Joker is Archie, and Harley Quinn is Betty, then Punchline is Veronica. If Harley is the Angel on The Joker’s shoulder, Punchline should be the devil.”
So, while Tynion’s words are not shown in the previews, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on. Honestly, it’s not that hard to guess what will happen when Harley Quin Will Meet Punchline, even without the art. Catwoman and Harley Quinn meet Punchline, and Harley doesn’t seem to grasp who she is. Catwoman, feeling awkward, tells her that she’s the Joker’s new girlfriend.
Harley and Punchline size each other up, and the latter character offers that sadistic smile. Then, Harley and she square off. Harley swings her hammer, and Punchline has a pair of knives.
Batman #92 will be written by Tynion with art from Guillem March and Tomeu Morey (featuring covers by Yasmin Putri and Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau). It hits comics stores on April 1st.
Why Does the Joker Need A Girlfriend, Anyway?
For most of the nearly 80 years of the character’s existence, Joker was a single man. Sure, there have been a number of characters throughout the years who played a girlfriend to Batman, or more accurately, Bruce Wayne. The Joker, on the other hand, had eyes for no girl and, if anything, seems infatuated with Batman and their rivalry. A crew of henchmen around the Joker and other Batman villains are also staples of these stories. Basically, they are the people whose asses Batman kicks before taking on the main villain. Originally, the Joker’s girlfriend was just another one of those hench-people.
When Tim Burton’s Batman swooped onto big screens, this made the “dark knight” version of Batman the most prevalent one. Until then, unless folks were deep into the comics, when they thought of Batman, they likely thought of Adam West’s campy take on the character. That series, as much a product of the late 1960s as the comic source material, often featured villains who had what’s known as the “moll.” Somewhere between a lover and a partner-in-crime, the moll was a female figure in gangster stories. As a nod to this history, Paul Dini created the character of Harley Quinn for what was supposed to be a lone appearance. We’ve already covered the history of Harley Quinn in another article, so we’ll abridge that here.
As Harley’s popularity grew, she became much more than simply the Joker’s girl. Also, because the Joker is a truly despicable and evil creature, she is the victim of domestic abuse. Thus, it became very problematic for fans to find comic relief in his treatment of her. They came to care about this character who seemed far less vile than her puddin’.
Enter Punchline, a New Kind of Girlfriend for the Joker
Interestingly, the story for Punchline, also known as Alexis Kaye, is somewhat similar to Harley Quinn’s. She was a young woman who ended up victimized by the Joker. Alexis Kaye starts out as a student of Snyder College. (This name may be a double honorific, both referencing Zack and Scott Snyder – no relation – who’ve both left their indelible marks on Batman.) While on a “field trip” (you know, those college field trips students always take) to a local TV station, Alexis was part of a group taken hostage by Joker. He held her at gunpoint and forced her to act as the ”anchor” of his twisted newscast. Naturally, Batman swooped in and saved the day, sending the Clown Prince of Crime back to the drawing board. However, for Alexis, and obsession with Joker followed.
Unlike Harley Quinn, Punchline was an identity assumed before actually meeting Joker. Alexis donned her alter-ego in order to try to catch the attention of Gotham’s favorite madman. As part of the “Joker War” storyline, we get to see Harley Quinn meet Punchline. But, as Punchline is only just started her time as Joker’s girl, she’ll be looking to prove herself by taking out her predecessor. It’s unclear if Punchline will continue to be the Joker’s girlfriend in the future (especially depending on how the meet with Harley Quinn goes). Yet, this feels like a character who will have a big future in DC Comics. It’s especially interesting, because this relationship with the Joker and Punchline will be able to develop in the pages of the comics.
By the time Harley showed up in regular DC continuity, she’d been around for ten years. It will be very cool to see how Joker woos a girlfriend, even a girl as villainous as Punchline, in real time.
Does Giving the Joker a Girlfriend Work for That Character?
There is no denying that Punchline is a cool character, even if she wasn’t the Joker’s girlfriend. I must admit, I do feel a little disappointed that the first time Harley Quinn and Punchline meet in the comics it’s to fight over the Joker. Now, in all fairness to James Tynion IV, the first meeting of the Joker’s girlfriend and his ex is surely going to be about something much more than ‘their man.’ But, this feeling may just because, as much as I love Harley Quinn, I don’t think giving the Joker a girlfriend really works with the best versions of that character. Even in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn moved away from the Joker, eventually headlining her own stories. It seems no one who writes Harley stories ever wants to saddle her with the Joker for too long.
For what it’s worth, I also don’t think giving Batman a girlfriend does much good beyond providing a tension point around his secret identity. Although, pairing him with Catwoman is an inspired choice, and it’s made for some great stories in the comics lately. When Joker is involved, the only relationship I really care about is his relationship to the Batman. Originally, the producers on Batman: The Animated Series fretted about giving the Joker a girlfriend. In her first appearance, Harley Quinn was essentially just a henchwoman. Their fear was that doing so would humanize him far too much. Especially with a character like Harley – who despite her villainy maintains a kind of innocence – knowing that someone could look through her eyes and be loveable makes you think twice about that character. (See: How many more people love Poison Ivy now after she and Harley became the Queens of Crime?)
The Joker doesn’t need anyone.
Why Giving the Joker a Girlfriend Also Makes Sense
So, while the Joker suffers a bit as a character when he gets a girlfriend, it also makes sense in the world of comic books. It’s been 80 years, and they are still telling Batman stories in the pages of DC Comics. That means, they still need to generate new characters that are enmeshed with the world in such a way that it feels like they’ve always been there. Even though I am not particularly a fan of the concept, I will be tuning in to see Harley Quinn meet Punchline. Just as proximity to Batman makes for interesting character origins, so does proximity to his greatest nemesis. It’s also a great way to use that to examine the psyche of the Joker in a way that enriches the character.
Forty years ago, there was one Batman and one Robin. Since then, we’ve gotten Jason Todd, Carrie Kelly, Tim Drake, Damien Wayne, and a host of other members of the Bat-family. The things that make characters like Batwing or Red Hood interesting is the way the respond to Batman’s influence. The same can be true for a Joker girl, as she takes the place of a Robin in his story cycle.
This could be an indefatigable engine for character creation, creating a kind of ‘Joker Family’ to mirror the Bat-family. A group of people all committed to a cause, but who have varying approaches to executing it.
Where Is Punchline Going As a Character?
With Harley, the prevailing punchline to being the Joker’s girlfriend was that you meet with horrific abuse. This makes sense because the Joker is aa truly despicable character. Yet, countless talented storytellers have encased his pure chaos into compelling narratives and philosophies. When Punchline makes her inevitable escape from the Joker’s side, she may take with her a different facet of what it means to be the Joker. What ideas she rejects from her time with him, and which ones she carries over, are informative about his character. Red Hood (who’s got his own Joker issues) is a dark reflection of Batman’s vengeful motivations. Perhaps Punchline’s inevitable destination is a reflection of the Joker’s callous violence?
Also, with the Red Hood showing up on the third season of Titans, we’ll see a new version of that story. One where the two sons of Batman face off rather than going up against the man himself. Nightwing represents one interpretation of the Batman philosophy yet tempered with restraint. Red Hood represents the opposite of that, no restraint. I will say that I can’t wait to see Harley Quinn meet Punchline for the first time when they are both ex-girlfriends of the Joker. I feel like Harley would represent the restraint side of things, and I can see Punchline leaving the Joker because he doesn’t go far enough for her.
Pity the citizens of Gotham, especially if a whole bunch of the Joker’s exes are unleashed upon the hapless masses.
What the Creators Have to Say About Punchline
Speculating about the future of comic book characters is very fun. Yet, the people who know them best – the storytellers – get to decide. James Tynion IV said that Punchline was born from him missing the Harley and Joker interactions. However, because no one else can be Harley Quinn, he wanted to make a character that is “radically different” than her. He stresses that Punchline’s motivations for being a supervillain are a key part of her story. Of course, the real trick is her look. Artist Jorge Jimenez had to carefully thread a needle that made her look unique yet still evoke both the Joker and Harley’s original look, which the Joker gave her.
As he said, via DC Comics:
“As soon as I read the description, I was very clear on what I wanted to do: the anti-Harley Quinn. Could there be anything more fun? I added freckles that give personality to her face, and I have noticed that it is fashionable in makeup to place a point just below the eye, and I thought it would be super cool to add this to her cold and tenebrous look. As soon as I finished the drawing, I felt that this was just what James was looking for, and I was very happy when I found out that I was right.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how it works when it comes to life in comics, cartoons…and I think I’d love to see cosplay and action figures of this!”
It’s not unfair to be nervous upon hearing that the Joker is getting a new girlfriend in the comics. However, given the care put into Punchline, look and her story, this feels like a character that will stick around.
What do you think? Share your reactions in the comments below.
All images via DC
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.