The Issue with DC’s Harley Quinn Contest

Not many people know this about me – actually, I think no one outside my immediate family knows about what I am going to tell you all right now. I have kept this part of my life a very guarded secret mainly because of the supposed stigma that I felt I would endure if people actually found out about this. But given recent talks on the internet and certain conversations with friends, and given that so much time has passed since the incident, I believe it is okay for me to come out into the open with the matter: back in August 2000 on a Saturday morning, due to a number of factors in my life that led me down a very dark and desperate road, I put a gun to my head, said my goodbyes in a letter to my family, and pulled the trigger. I felt that things in my life got so fucking low that killing myself was the only answer I had to it all.

I don’t know why exactly the gun didn’t go off. It was fully loaded and had been meticulously handled and cleaned days prior to my act, but for some reason or another, all I heard was a click. No loud bang, though I suspect that if it would have been a successful attempt I would not have heard anything. But nothing happened. And I sat there, at the edge of my bed in bewilderment at what happened. Then I spent the next few hours crying my eyes out thinking how stupid I was for even thinking about committing suicide.

That was the last time I allowed myself to sink so low into my own depression that I would ever think thoughts like that ever again. A few days later, I confessed to my mother what I had done and she held me there in her arms telling me things would be all right. We were both going to get through this and everything would be all right in the end. Imagine that, a grown 22 year old man crying like a baby in my mother’s arms with her comforting me as if I was a toddler who had just skinned my knee for the first time. I am not ashamed of the imagery, I have had many a good cries with my mother – but to feel the way I did, that I let things get to me the way they did… that is what bothers me.

I guess that is why I don’t let things get to me nowadays; I mean, how much worst could they get than that Saturday morning? She helped me seek out the right kind of help, and I would eventually come clean with some of my family about what I did, but I did keep a lot of it hidden from a good majority of people. Still, after a few years, I finally felt good enough that I was finally able to cope with reality and really get on with my life. My life began anew after that experience – so if you ever see me and wonder why I don’t sweat things or even seemed phased when things go wrong, there you go… I have been through much, much worst and survived.

Harley Quinn

Ladies and gentlemen: Harley Quinn

So why am I telling you all about my brush with suicide? Well, I am sure a lot of you are familiar with DC’s recent stunt to degrade and belittle women by having up and coming artists essentially “try out” for the company by depicting one of their most popular female characters, Harley Quinn, in a scene of suicide while completely nude. I know that there are a lot of you disgusted with the idea that DC is using such a strong and touchy subject to try and make a buck. Personally I am as well. Suicide is not the kind of subject you simply poke fun at and romanticize. People with thoughts of suicide are lost and confused and looking for a serious outlet for help – and poking fun at their dilemma is not the most sensitive of ideas that DC has ever had. However, and this may surprise you a bit, I am not completely off to the idea either. And that has a lot to with the way Harley Quinn has been portrayed over the years. Let me explain…

In short, Harley Quinn is the consort of the villainous criminal mastermind the Joker. Now, to put up with the Joker’s murderous and insane lifestyle, a character like Harley Quinn has to be just as, if not a little more insane than the Joker. While the Joker does what he does as a game and ploy to bait and tempt his nemesis, Batman, Harley Quinn has been there mostly for the ride, and that takes a certain kind of touched mentality to stick it all out on some twisted ideal of being in love. Even taking into account Harley Quinn’s past as a former psychologist at Arkham Asylum who let herself get seduced by the Joker’s tales could lead to an argument that her hold on reality is less firm than his given that she has the background and education to “know better” than what she allowed herself to get into. That being said, a character with a mental state as far gone as Harley Quinn’s would be expected to suffer from bouts of suicidal thoughts.

Harley Quinn

Look at Harley Quinn and tell me that she is sane in any sense of the word.

That Harley Quinn would contemplate suicide, even if she would never act on them out of some weird sense of morality or honor, should really be no surprise to any reader out there familiar with the character. Even Harley Quinn poking fun at the subject due to her violent and twisted view of the world should come as no surprise to readers and fans. Personally, I would like to see a story that explores if Harley Quinn does indeed suffer or think of suicide, even if it may be a bit humorous in a twisted way so long as it is handled with some taste as well. Trust me, the right writer, like say Joshua Hale Fialkov or Geoff Jones, could really come up with a story about the subject that is tasteful and in tradition with the characterization of Harley Quinn.

What I do have a problem with about the whole DC promotion is what is described in the rules, specifically those for Panel Four:

“Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.”

Much like I had issues with the original concept for the Britney Spears video for her song Everytime in which she is depicted nude in a bathtub after an attempted suicide attempt via overdose, I feel that DC is trying to sexualize and romanticize what is a very touchy and personal subject for so many people out there. I can at least excuse what Britney Spears and her directorial team were trying to do in the Everytime music video – they are explain the hurt and pain she was feeling during a rough time in her young life; and to their credit they did change the final video to avoid such criticisms. But DC isn’t doing the contest for a reason as personal or even benevolent as that – the fact of the matter is that Harley Quinn is a very popular character which a lot of male fans love to sexualize and having her in that panel, nude and comically or nonchalantly resigning herself to a fate of suicide is just a tad short of a mockery of people who really have to deal with and live with issues that has them contemplating such ideas. I get they are trying to make light of the subject – but when you sexualize it as described in the contest’s rules, whatever meaning – if there was one in the first place – is lost.

Personally, I feel that Harley Quinn is one of the sexiest characters in comics.

Personally, I feel that Harley Quinn is one of the sexiest characters in comics.

And don’t mistake my disdain of the sexualization of suicide for my trying to be some sort of white knight on a high horse criticizing the use of sex in comics. You would be farther from the truth if you are reading my article in such a way. I am all for the open use of sex in comic books. I don’t mind a little sex and sexualization in comic books. Hell, I am a huge fan of Harley Quinn partly because of the sexual connotations that the character has had since her introduction in the mainstream DCU. I am in no way criticizing DC’s use of sexual tones in their artwork… though I do question the use of sex for the sake of just using sex to sell. There has to be some point for the use of such topics to really make them agreeable and relevant to the story and not just there for shock value, which I feels totally devaluates and a sham of a subject. If sex is used in the right way in a comic book story, I am for it. But back to my statement here: I am not against sexually suggestive art and sexualized characters in comics for the most part.

But trying to sexualize and romanticize, and even mock such a serious subject as suicide is what really is bothering me here. Having gone through a state of mind that led me down that path, I can empathize with people who are currently suffering through such a hard path in life. And believe you me; there is nothing romantic, sexual or funny about the topic. Separate the two subjects of sex and suicide and I have no problem with Harley Quinn being featured in either one – hell, I think they make great stories given the history and characterization of her within the DC Universe. But trying to bring them together and then have her apathetically resign herself to it in such a manner described by the rules of the contest, now that I have a problem with.

Harley Quinn 1And don’t you dare try to tell me that I am taking this too seriously. Get it through your heads: I tried to kill myself at one point in my life and it took years, YEARS to get back to some kind of normalcy after that. It’s not a topic I take lightly considering that I have also lost several close friends and acquaintances to suicide in the years since then. If you want to explore Harley Quinn’s mental instability by exploring her possible suicidal tendencies, even in some sort of twisted bit, I am fine with that. You want to have Harley Quinn appear nude in an issue for whatever reason, I am fine with that. But when I read that the rules of the contest mock and sexualize such a serious notion that many people out there must deal with on a daily basis; sorry DC, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and this is where I draw mine. In no way, under no clear conscience could I ever condone in this sort of contest. It is in poor taste, it belittles the pain of many people out there, and it romanticizes a subject that is anything but.

I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but this contest just makes me sick to my stomach.

Richard Cardenas

Created in a lab in Tijuana, Mexico, or cloned in a test tube in Torrance, CA, depending on which story you think is a better origin story, Richard is, if such a thing exist, a second generation nerd. The son of a man who loved sci-fi, comic books and horror, and a woman who loved making costumes, reading sci-fi novels and watching cartoons, Richard was exposed to all this and more since a very young age.

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4 Responses

  1. Erinn Velez says:

    This article is bang on. And I just wanted to say how proud I am of you, my friend, and how brave you were to write it. It took incredible courage to share this so publicly, and I hope it makes at least one person think. *hugs*

    • Richard Cardenas says:

      Thank you, my friend. Believe you me, it took me quite a while to sit and write this. I had pondered it for a few days after seeing the contest before I felt comfortable to share it. But I am glad that I did.

  2. Cornelius says:

    Your story is inspiring even as it makes me want to know more. You’re speaking from a real place and that feels increasingly rare. That being said, your Harley comments have been echoed in many others’ editorials. My question is, is DC listening? I haven’t heard anything from them on this. You’d think, if only for the sake of fans who are disturbed by this kind of line being crossed, they’d have some kind of response other than silence.

    • Richard Cardenas says:

      I make it a point to write from my experiences and memories. I know that is not a popular stance in journalism right now, but I feel that if I can relate to the story the better I can convey my feelings toward it.

      That being said, I haven’t seen one thing from DC that shows that they have been listening. If they did, I missed it. But I haven’t seen one thing to show that DC has shown any compassion to the people who feel that they have gone one step too far. Shame on them for not even acknowledging that there is something about the contest that has upset so many other people.

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