Harley Quinn is having a renaissance moment, thanks to the DC Universe animated series and the upcoming Birds of Prey film starring Margot Robbie. But Harley continues to cut her teeth in comic books, and writer Jody Houser is more than happy to come along for the ride.
Gizmodo invited Houser to our studio at New York Comic Con last month to chat about her work on DC’s Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy, as well as adapting Stranger Things into a series of spinoff comics and diving into the world of Star Wars.
Gizmodo: Given how Stranger Things is such a big production for Netflix – it’s now going into its fourth season – what do you feel a comic book series brings to that?
Jody Houser: This is actually gonna be our third comic book miniseries that we’ve done. In the first one, we got to tell a familiar story from a different perspective – so we got to see everything that Will went through in the Upside Down, how he was the only one who made it out alive. In the first season, especially, he was just sorta the missing kid. He was sorta the object of the quest and this was the version of the story where he got to actually be the hero.
And then our second miniseries was a flashback that actually introduces some of the other kids in the program before Eleven. And our new miniseries coming out is called Into the Fire, and it takes a further look at some of those other kids, and it’s also gonna be the return of Eight.
Gizmodo: The creators of the show have built a big book of everything that’s coming out. So, how much freedom do you have within it to tell your own stories?
Houser: I mean, we’ve been given, actually, more freedom than I expected, honestly. Especially in terms of creating new characters from the program. Really the one restriction we got was we couldn’t use the number One. Other than that, any other number was up for grabs. I was able to put in a 9.5, cause there’s set of identical twins and one has powers and one doesn’t.
Gizmodo: I’m curious why you’re not allowed to do number One, particularly?
Houser: I mean, so am I. (laughs) That was just, sort of, the one note and it’s just like, “Hmm. I can’t wait to see what that’s all about.”
Gizmodo: There have been a lot of stories that have been told about Harley and Ivy together. Can you tell us where your series finds them and what their dynamic is like?
Houser: Okay, so the Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy miniseries actually takes place directly after Heroes in Crisis, and so a lot of the series is them, sort of, figuring out, you know, where they stand now. Ivy’s trying to sorta get back to herself because, you know, she grew back from a flower. That’s weird, you know, and she’s much more plant based than she was previously, so –
Even the quiet moments, too. There’s a scene in the first issue where they’re just sitting across from [each other at] the breakfast table, having a conversation, and she brought just so much emotion to it and that’s really where the whole journey for the two of them in this miniseries kicks off. So, it’s not as exciting as the big punch action scenes but, you know, if you can bring that sort of level of drama and emotion to those moments, I think that’s really where the stories grow out of.
Gizmodo: Which ones do you prefer to create, the quieter, more introspective moments, or the bigger action scenes?
Houser: I mean, I kind of like the quieter moments that then get interrupted by big action scenes and, you know, you always want to surprise the readers if you can. So if you get them really sucked into, like the sort of, quiet conversation and then boom! Something explodes! Or someone comes through a wall. You know, so you gotta throw the big punch in there, too.
Gizmodo: In your work on [Star Wars’] TIE Fighter you get to work with, you know, characters who are unequivocally a force for these horrible evils and you see things from that perspective. What has challenged you as a writer trying to craft characters that we’re meant to at least connect with on some level, while also being on the side of a horrifying Empire?
Houser: I mean, that’s the thing. It’s like you have to remember, you know, even if they maybe went into what they’re doing with the best intentions, they’re still on the wrong side. It’s like they may think they’re the heroes, but they’re not the heroes. Sort of showing different ways that people would think that the Empire was in the right even though they’re obviously completely wrong. But, you know, showing those perspectives because I think that’s sort of interesting stuff to play with.
Gizmodo: So, how do you bring your own personal voice into characters that have been around for so long that have had so many different versions and iterations come out?
Houser: I mean, I think all of us sort of have, almost like a composite image of a character in our mind. You want everything to feel cohesive even though it’s representing so many different creator voices.