Harley Quinn has come a long way. Having definitively broken away from The Joker, Harley has set out to change her ways by doing right by those she once wronged. The new ongoing adventures of Harley Quinn will come on the heels of a Future State miniseries that follows Harley working as an unwilling tool of The Magistrate, the militaristic regime that has outlawed masks in Gotham City.
Both Future State: Harley Quinn and Harl’s March-debuting ongoing series come from Stephanie Phillips, a writer whose star has been on the rise since her breakout historical true crime series, The Butcher of Paris, arrived from Dark Horse in 2019. Since then Phillips has contributed stories to several of DC’s seasonal anthology titles and digital series, and her gig on Harley Quinn will be her first ongoing series work for the publisher.
The Beat had a chance to chat with Stephanie Phillips about the current Future State: Harley Quinn series with artist Simone Di Meo, the upcoming Riley Rossmo-illustrated ongoing series, and her two-part Wonder Woman/Hawkgirl team-up with Meghan Hetrick that kicks off the Sensational Wonder Woman digital series.
Joe Grunenwald: The Future State: Harley Quinn miniseries offers readers a unique, inside look at the Magistrate’s regime in Gotham, with Harley operating within the Magistrate’s ‘lines,’ so to speak. How much freedom have you had to develop Harley’s Future State status quo?
Stephanie Phillips: I had a lot of freedom working on this story to establish the tone and direction for Harley’s dealing with Crane and the magistrate. The goal was to really show how smart Harley is through her ability to psychoanalyze Gotham’s masked residents. It was a lot of fun to come up with ways for Harley to use that intelligence to take down people like Professor Pyg and Firefly while she’s locked in a cell. It was a very Hannibal Lecter inspired take on Harley.
Grunenwald: What’s Harley’s ultimate goal in the Future State series? She’s working, begrudgingly, with the Magistrate, but she has to be doing it for more than just improved prison privileges, right? Does she actually enjoy helping?
Phillips: Harley’s most immediate goal is to get herself free, but in the process, she really wants to put an end to Jonathan Crane and his work for the magistrate. This means playing the long game and outsmarting Crane since she’s not in a position to beat him with her baseball bat like she would definitely like to do.
Grunenwald: Obviously Future State takes place in the future, but what kind of influence, if any, might the events of that miniseries have on the ongoing series? Will we see hints of Future State in the ongoing, or vice versa?
Phillips: Future State is really important for establishing the tone that we want to take into the ongoing – that balance between funny, sad, dark, and intelligent for Harley, and letting the readers see how all those facets of Harley’s personality will work simultaneously. Future State is also a look at where relationships end up once the Magistrate has really exerted his control, so now we’re working backwards and seeing the rise of the Magistrate and that initial influence in Gotham, which will play a role in our series.
Grunenwald: How has collaborating with Riley Rossmo on the new Harley Quinn ongoing series differed from working with Simone Di Meo on the Future State Harley title? What do you think each of them brings to the table for their respective series?
Phillips: Both Riley and Simone are incredible artists and I’m so lucky I’ve had the chance to work with them both. With Riley, we have a much longer stay on the book, so we’re constantly plotting things really far ahead (things from issue 2, for example, can make another appearance in issue 8). With Simone, we had two issues to really pack in a lot of content, and working with a more futuristic Gotham meant a lot of room to play with new designs and sci-fi elements that you don’t see in present-day Gotham. Given that Riley and Simone have such distinct styles, I think it also speaks to the elasticity of Harley and how she’s so dynamic and adaptable to a variety of different artistic takes.
Grunenwald: You’ve talked a bit about how your take on Harley Quinn is as a character who’s looking to change her ways. We’ve seen a bit of that already for Harley from James Tynion IV in pre-Future State issues of Batman. How closely is your work building on what’s come before? How much, if at all, are you coordinating with the other Bat-titles (particularly the upcoming Joker ongoing series) on Harley?
Phillips: Harley is really devoid of Joker, but, Joker aside, we are definitely coordinating with the rest of the bat-family and working to create a really unified Gotham. What’s going on in Batman will impact our story and vice versa, which I think is a really exciting feature to the Bat books in 2021. It also means a lot of fun opportunities for character interactions that I can’t wait for.
I’m also really excited to see Harley interact with familiar faces, like Doctor Hugo Strange who will be making his re-appearance in Gotham this March. I guess I have a thing for dysfunctional psychiatrists, and Hugo is a perfect foe for the upcoming Harley series. I’m also exciting to introduce some new characters along the way as well!
Grunenwald: You’ve also written the inaugural two-part story for the new Sensational Wonder Woman series. What’s the aspect of Wonder Woman as a character that you connect to the most?
Phillips: Diana can be really stubborn. She was trained to handle situations as a warrior and can often be rigidly inflexible about how she thinks something should be handled. I think that kind of makes her fun to write because it’s very relatable to be a bit set in your ways. But, that means you can put Diana in situations that test and push that resolve. I like the idea of finding situations that make Diana a fish-out-of-water, and then watching her try to solve the issue in a way that we haven’t necessarily seen from her before.
Grunenwald: The story has Diana teaming up with Hawkgirl, which is a pairing that readers haven’t seen too often before now. How do those two characters complement each other? What does bringing Hawkgirl into the story illuminate about Wonder Woman?
Phillips: I am a huge fan of Hawkgirl and her inclusion definitely came from wanting to give Diana someone to interact with and knowing that Meghan Hetrick would draw an absolutely stunning Hawkgirl (she did!). Hawkgirl also felt like the right decision because I wanted to see Wonder Woman work with another female character similarly trained for battle. Yet, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl find themselves facing a foe with the ability to mess with their minds, somewhat rendering a sword and mace useless. I loved this pairing and hope to see more of Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl together in the future!
Grunenwald: Do you have any other DC projects you’re able to tease right now? Anything you’re excited about for the rest of 2021?
Phillips: I have quite a few things I’m really excited about, but can’t say much yet! Along with Harley and Wonder Woman, we also have a short Harley and Ivy story in the upcoming Batman: Urban Legends anthology, drawn by the amazing Laura Braga. This story will tie into the ongoing Harley run and serve as a kind of prequel to the ongoing series.
The second issue of Future State: Harley Quinn is due out on Tuesday, February 2nd, while the two-part Stephanie Phillips-written Sensational Wonder Woman storyline is available digitally now.