Thumbnail: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy Sitting in a Tree
A few days ago DC casually outed two characters that everybody had always thought were a couple, even if it had never been actually stated on-panel anywhere. Responding to the question, "Are Harley and Ivy girlfriends?" the official DC Twitter account confirmed:
That's a breakthrough of sorts, but it’s not as though DC could do anything but confirm the relationship, at this point! The best creative team in comics could tell a decade-long story in which Harley falls in love and marries a man, has kids, and settles down into monogamy, and fans would still stoke the fires driving the Harley/Ivy ship onwards.
Some stories don’t really belong solely to a publisher anymore, and the Ivy/Harley shipping fandom has grown so strong – and more importantly, has been so happily accepted by basically the entire readership – that DC simply can’t negate the relationship. It's reached a point where, if the pair aren't heavily intimating a sexual relationship whenever they meet, they just aren't being written in character.
This is who they are. Fans know about their relationship, creators know about it, and DC now confirms that it too sees what everyone else can see. Mutual attraction sweeps off them both in waves; powerful pheromones drifting off the page and smoking straight to the reader.
You can certainly see how the fan-pairing started. In the current Harley Quinn series, Harley is the only character Ivy has any real affection for – she demonstrates a full awareness (and quiet concern) for the hold Joker once held on her, and pushes for her to show independence at every possibly moment. Her relationship with Harley develops and explores her powerful instinct to aggressively protect those she loves, a side of her we usually only see when somebody sets a geranium on fire.
The relationship makes her more reflective and interesting as a character --- it takes a grandstanding Batman villain and turns her into a smart, complex, and emotionally empathetic figure.
In turn, Harley’s relationship with Ivy has been hugely important to her growth as a character as well. Bruce Timm worked such magic with her Joker obsession that other writers simply weren’t able to wrestle her away from the dynamic. Even as she became more popular with fans, she became a victim of diminishing returns, fading into the supporting role.
It was pairing her with Ivy that gave her something to do besides pout and fawn, and the two women's chemistry surely helped shape Harley as a character away from Mistah J, finally making her a viable lead in her own right. The lead in what we must remember is the most successful female-led comic at the Big Two.
DC’s standard choice with Ivy and Harley was always to cover them in innuendos and let fans work their way through the tendrils, wrestling subtext and jokes into a workable secret context. Because both characters are so confident in themselves (which is partly through mutual psychosis – they are mass murderers, let’s not forget), their playful sexuality reads as both a statement of possible sexual interest in one another and as a subversive game they play.
With DC's confirmation of the relationship, the question now is whether the subtext needs to become text, or if it works better as an unstated bond, understood by all parties concerned. The current Harley Quinn comic thus far refuses to say what everybody already knows and loves about the pair; it continues a proud legacy of overt jokes, flirtation and entendres, which feeds the characters' unique, chaotic chemistry. But if the characters themselves say what DC was happy to say on Twitter, does that break the connection? If they share a romantic kiss, do they lose the magic?