Why Harley Quinn is more important than we realized

The upcoming supervillain blockbuster Suicide Squad has big stars (Will Smith), big characters (the Joker), and big action (a fight with Batman!). But make no mistake about it: the biggest thing in Suicide Squad is Harley Quinn. Here's a look at some of the reasons why Dr. Harleen Quinzel is even more important to the DC Extended Universe than you might have realized.

She ties the DCEU together

Warner Bros. and DC Comics are in the process of trying to create their own Marvel-style interconnected DC cinematic universe. That means bringing together all sorts of characters and ideas that don't necessarily seem to have a common connection on the surface. But there is one thing that helps tie Suicide Squad to the broader DC universe: Harley Quinn.

Harley's role in Suicide Squad not only allows a perfect excuse to bring both Joker and Batman into Suicide Squad, it also gives Warner Bros. a way to introduce characters like Amanda Waller, and concepts like magic (via the Enchantress), to the broader DCEU. Those elements would have seemed out of place in a Zack Snyder Superman movie. But thanks to Harley Quinn, they now fit in perfectly with DC's cinematic vision.

She's DC's answer to Deadpool

Following the success of Deadpool, Warner Bros. reportedly went back to the drawing board with extensive reshoots on Suicide Squad to punch up the fun factor. The big question isn't why, it's why that was even necessary in the first place considering Harley Quinn is and pretty much always has been DC's answer to Deadpool.

Like Deadpool, Harley Quinn is a smart-mouthed violent sociopath who often straddles the line between villain and hero. And like Deadpool, Harley Quinn is wildly popular among the younger generation of fans, particularly the cosplay community. Ask anyone who's ever been accidentally hit in the face by a giant foam hammer at a convention and they'll tell you that the only thing the kids like more than Deadpool is Harley Quinn. Harley isn't important just in terms of carrying Suicide Squad. She's also DC's best hope of competing with Marvel in the future.

She's something new

So why is Harley Quinn so popular with younger readers and viewers? Simple: she's something new for our time, rather than a dusty Cold War or World War II relic like the rest of the traditional superhero bunch.

Think about it. Just about every major superhero in comics and film—Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman—was created more than half a century ago. The fact that they are still relevant is amazing. But there's definitely room for new characters who represent modern times and ideas. Harley Quinn might be a psychopath, but she's also a modern woman: she fights for herself, she says what's on her mind, and she lives her own life. That resonates with younger audiences, particularly young women and girls, in a way that billionaire Tony Stark's struggles with capitalism or Captain America's longing for pre-war idealism just can't. For the superhero genre to stay relevant, Harley Quinn needs to lead the way.

She's paving the way for other female superheroes

Much has been made about the dearth of movies starring female superheroes. Warner Bros. has promised to change this with next year's Wonder Woman, but we don't really have to wait for change to come, because it's here with Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn.

Sure, Quinn's role seems in some ways to be more akin to Black Widow's in the Marvel Universe—a female member of a team who does the dirty work but doesn't get the spotlight. But that's the big difference: Harley Quinn is already getting the spotlight in ways Black Widow never has, from marketing to merchandising to a rumored solo spinoff film. And it's about time. In a world where Katniss Everdeen is one of the biggest film heroes around, superhero movies are lagging behind. Harley Quinn is helping them catch up by proving that strong female superheroes—and anti-heroes—can and will be a box office draw.

She's a marketing goldmine

Finally, speaking of marketing and merchandising, it can't be overstated just how important Harley Quinn is and will be to DC's bottom line. Studios make films in order to make money. Just how well Suicide Squad does at the box office is still up in the air, but how well Harley Quinn will do at the shopping mall is not: she's already a marketing goldmine, and the increased exposure from Suicide Squad will only make her even more bankable.

Just take a look at DC's Super Hero Girls line of merchandise. Aimed at young girls, the line prominently features Harley Quinn even though she's not actually a hero at all. Doesn't matter. Girls love her, and DC knows it. And whether or not Suicide Squad is a hit, it will give tens of millions of people around the world their first introduction to the character . That means more Harley comics, more Harley toys—and more Harley in the DCEU, as a villain, a team player, or even in her own solo movie. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's about to become Harley Quinn's world. Have fun living in it.