Telltale Games’ ongoing creation of its own unique Dark Knight continuity—which began with last year’s Batman: The Telltale Series—has been fascinating to play through. The changes made to the people in Bruce Wayne’s double life have been surprisingly dramatic and the best one may be yet to come.
Released last week, the first episode of Batman: The Enemy Within ends with a reversal of expectations. The trailers and teasers made it seem like players would be facing off against the Riddler in a battle of wits that would run across the whole five-episode season. Instead, Edward Nigma winds up dead in the final act of episode one, which ends with a brief mention tease that got me very excited. Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Amanda Waller talk about the fearsome threat Gotham City is about to face. Waller says the late Riddler’s compatriots are “the worst criminal minds from all over the world” and calls one out by name: Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
This excites me greatly because, underneath the shock reveal of Bruce’s next opponent, there are tantalizing possibilities about how this Harleen stands apart from the killer clown she’s been tied to for years.
Most of the changes that Harley Quinn has gone through over the last 25 years—including her current status as a chaotic-good crimefighter in her own comics series—have kept her in the same notional space. She’s portrayed as a wacky, unpredictable force of nature who bends and breaks rules in pursuit of good or evil. Aside from, say, the DC Superhero Girls version of Harley, the best-known iterations of the character have incorporated her dysfunctional relationship with the Joker. That thematic mainstay is one reason that people take notice when she breaks out of her entanglements with the Clown Prince of Crime. When Harley steers away from the Joker’s abusive influence, she finds her own agency.
In Telltale’s bespoke Bat-continuity, the Joker and Harley are in different places in their criminal careers. The John Doe character we first met last year isn’t the Joker yet. He’s volatile and dangerous, yes, but not yet the alpha-villain that menaces Gotham in other iterations. It’s already clear that your interactions with John Doe will feed into the inevitable clash between Bruce Wayne and the Joker-to-be. Harley, however, already seems to have a history of being on the wrong side of the law.
The two brief mentions we get of Harley Quinn already do much to separate her from the way that the character’s been portrayed. First, we see a testy e-mail from her to the Riddler:
Clearly, she’s telling Riddler to get in line, an indication that she can exert control over the alliance that they’re both part of.
Later, when talking to Batman, Waller describes Dr. Quinzel as someone who “keeps her head down” and is “very elusive”. It’s a hint that we’re going to get a Harley Quinn that’s more methodical than the character who explodes into bubblegum-and-baseball-bat chaos in TV shows, movies and other video game series.
Moreover, it seems like Batman: The Enemy Within will be making Harley a criminal mastermind in her own right, long before Joker even starts spraying laughing gas across Gotham. It’s a change that totally ignores the power dynamic of so many other Harley/Joker stories. The Joker isn’t an creepy boyfriend who remakes a psychiatrist in his own image and Harley isn’t the woman who is seduced by his madness. Instead, it’s strongly suggested that she’s already been at the top of a villainous food chain on her own merits, which makes me even more excited to see this version of Dr. Harleen Quinzel.