Like with any good superhero, you can’t have Batman without his archnemesis, the Joker. The two are like an old married couple sometimes, always fighting but with the Joker devoted to taking down Batman and seizing any chance he can get to get the upper hand. You’d think Joker and Batman were the two in a relationship, not Joker and Harley Quinn with some of the writing, although of course, some iterations do it to make fun of that exact trope. However, was it really Joker who Batman had to worry about out of those two?
It’s no secret that Joker’s relationship with Harley Quinn is infamous, toxic, and has a big fan base. They break up a lot and fight a ton as well. But in the end, is Harley Quinn stronger than Joker? There’s a good amount of evidence to say that she is, or would at least win in a fight.
Harley Quinn and Joker have one of the most tumultuous and toxic relationships in comic book history
While Joker is one of the most well-known villains of all time, it’s no secret that his romance with Harley Quinn is also one of the most adored. But it’s also one of the most toxic.
It’s one of those relationships that has been so regurgitated and put on a pedestal that a lot of people tend to just hold it there. But there’s truly nothing good about it. He beats her and does truly horrendous things to Harley. She’s really there for entertainment purposes for him; she’s useful but he beats on her and doesn’t take her seriously. There are even times when her plans are too good and Joker thwarts them because of it.
So yes, “abusive” doesn’t begin to describe the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship.
The new ‘Harley Quinn’ series shows Harley take back her origin story
It’s not until you get into the adult animated DC Universe-turned-HBO-Max series Harley Quinn that started in 2018, where their relationship turned into something a bit more unexpected. Harley was able to grow apart from Joker, and vice versa and they actually were able to have a semi-platonic working relationship where he even rooted for her and Poison Ivy by season 2.
The show, Harley Quinn also has one of the best scenes where Harley shows her strength over Joker. In season 1, Harley Quinn suffers a mental breakdown and her squad needs to go inside her mind to figure out how to help. As they search through her memories, she realizes that she blacked out part of her origin story because she couldn’t fathom choosing to jump into the vat of chemicals for Joker.
This scene shows Harley beating Joker up, taking back her origin story, and showing that that wasn’t actually when she became Harley Quinn. It was when she actually decided to take control of her life as her own villain.
Harley Quinn has a lot more physical and mental abilities than Joker does
There’s a common phrase, “You can’t fight crazy.” That’s where Joker tends to get a lot of his power. He’s insane, of course, and he’s unpredictable. He’s ruthless and doesn’t care for Harley Quinn even in the throws of their relationship. That’s what makes him the most dangerous.
But with Harley Quinn, she can, at times, be more physically powerful than the Joker and has her wits about her more often than he does. But she is still quite delusional at times thanks to how she was created. While the Joker’s origin is unknown, Harley Quinn was once Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the psychologist who thought she could help Joker at Arkham Asylum. The rest of history, of course, with the two of them falling in love, or rather, with her falling in love with him and then going into the vat of chemicals that also turned her crazy like Joker. But she had a degree and was a doctor, and that comes out often in her character thereafter.
And going back to her physicality, she’s an athlete. Before turning into Harley Quinn, and before being an Arkham psychologist, Harley was a gymnast in a lot of iterations. Then once she does become a villain, she’s powerful and can fight. She knows how to use weapons and on top of being able to come up with a good plan, she’s a formidable opponent.
While comic runs are tough to compare because there are so many — but the same often applies — in Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and HBO Max’s Harley Quinn, Harley is such a three-dimensional character who outshines Joker in all parts. And she can kick all her opponents’ butts in all of these mediums.
In most iterations, Harley thrives on her own and has beaten Joker
Being smart and powerful doesn’t necessarily mean she’s more powerful than Joker, sure. But add her abilities together along with tactfulness that Joker doesn’t really possess, and she just seems to outdo him every time. And this isn’t just hypotheticals either.
While Harley isn’t Joker’s bodyguard, per se, she does act as a form of protection for the Clown Prince of Crime when they’re together. He has henchmen and Harley definitely is a little above them, but not by much. She’d do anything for her Puddin’ and he knows this. This is why he does use Harley as a shield at times and treats her as disposable in a ton of different ways in different comics or cartoons. Even in Suicide Squad, his sweet way with her was only until he could fend for himself, leaving Harley to die after their car went into the water and Batman had to save her.
In every iteration, the opposite isn’t the case: she doesn’t need him to protect her. Despite Joker never having her best interest in mind, she always pulls through. Now, she isn’t always thinking clearly either, clouded by her insane love for the Joker, but in both Birds of Prey and HBO Max’s Harley Quinn, there comes a time when she realizes that Joker does not care for her. And in most versions, when Harley Quinn leaves the Joker, she thrives.
One of the best scenes to show Harley Quinn overpowering Joker is in 2016’s Harley Quinn #25. I09 wrote a fantastic article about how the comic showed Harley “Cut Ties With the Joker in the Most Satisfying Way.” And not only is she able to beat him up to a pulp, but she’s able to regain some semblance of power by reclaiming herself.
Essentially, Joker used Harley Quinn as a punching bag and for his own gain. He essentially held her back often, but in so many iterations, she’s able to beat him at his own game. And get in a good punch here and there too.