Welcome to Ink Spots, a quirky little corner of DC.com devoted entirely to all of our favorite Young Adult comics and fiction. In this this exclusive interview, author Rachael Allen discusses her new YA novel, Harley Quinn: Ravenous, and what makes the chaotic super-villain so appealing to YA readers and superhero fans.

Harley Quinn has starred in comic books, animated series, video games and even her very own movie. The latest addition to that impressive resumé? A YA trilogy following Harleen Quinzel through college! The first novel, Harley Quinn: Reckoning, gave readers an unpreceded, up-close look at who Harleen is before she picks up a baseball bat with delightful impunity.

Spoiler: She’s already a badass.

Author Rachael Allen isn’t just an expert in all things Harley Quinn. She’s also a neuroscientist by day and a STEM champion by…well, all the time. Allen chatted with DC.com about the newest book in the series, Harley Quinn: Ravenous, how she prepared for writing the iconic Maid of Mischief and what sets Harley apart in the DC Universe.

When did you first meet Harley Quinn as a fan?

I still remember being ten years old, eating cheese and crackers while I sat on our ugly brown carpet and watched Batman: The Animated Series. I was completely and totally captivated by Harley Quinn. There weren’t a lot of female super-villains (or, really, female characters in general) to look up to at the time. And Harley was so cool and energetic and funny and full of sass. She was the kind of super-villain you wanted to be friends with.

What is it about Harley that makes her such a fun character?

I love writing someone who does cartwheels when she gets bored and fights for gender equality using messages staked out in sparklers. Who runs toward the danger instead of away. Who picks Gotham City Pride as the location for a secret rendezvous/showdown with a super-villain—and wears enough glitter to crop-dust Miami when she shows up.

I feel like the person who came up with the phrase “women contain multitudes” is a Harley Quinn fan.

What kind of research did you do to prepare for writing Harleen’s adventures?

As far as Harley-specific research, I consumed hours upon hours of Harley media: all the live-action movies with Margot Robbie and the animated movies, too. Tons of comics and graphic novels. The new Harley Quinn series with Kaley Cuoco. Every episode of Batman: The Animated Series and DC Super Hero Girls (my kids helped me out with that “research”). I even watched my husband play the entire Batman: Arkham Asylum game.

As far as things specific to this trilogy, here’s a list of weird or fun or interesting things I researched:

  • Competitive gymnastics
  • Trauma-induced amnesia
  • Explosives
  • The science behind how glitter is made
  • State-dependent memory
  • Stunning Pride outfits
  • Misogyny in STEM
  • Prison breaks
  • 3-D printing
  • Epigenetics
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Various Taylor Swift looks
  • The neurobiology of fear
  • Serial killers
  • Abandoned candy factories
  • Carnivorous plants
  • Roller derby
  • Cannons that shoot the word “no” (okay, these don’t exist, but I did watch YouTube videos about ones that shoot candy)

Is there a specific version of Harley you imagine or hear when writing her?

There are different pieces from each Harley iteration that I hear when I write her. Sorkin’s one-liners. Robbie’s laugh. Cuoco’s sass. Last year, I wrote each of them a thank you card and sent them a copy of the book. Margot sent back a signed photograph of her as Harley with “Best wishes” written at the top. It was one of my favorite memories of this whole process, and I’m honored to be part of the evolution of Harley Quinn.

Ultimately, I feel like the Harley in this trilogy has a little bit of all the Harleys I watched and read about. And maybe a dash of spunky ’90s heroines.

In your opinion, what does the YA prose medium offer a Harley Quinn story that other mediums like comics, animation and film might not?

Have you ever watched Harley do something completely bananas and wondered, “What is she thinking?” That’s what books give us. What is she thinking just before she smashes something? Why does it take her so long to figure out that Ivy is more than just a friend? What happens in that moment: the one where she changes from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn?

It’s so much fun, and one of the best things about writing these books is getting to imagine what goes on in Harley’s head.

Why was it important to you to write Harleen as a neuroscience student?

I’m a neuroscientist as my day job and one of my lifelong passions is getting women and girls interested in STEM. (In the past, this mostly involved bringing lots of brains to elementary schools.) But in 2019, I gave my agent a list of all my favorite female scientists in comics and asked if it would be possible for me to write one of them. Harley was at the top of that list. Can you imagine getting the call and finding out that you get to write a Harley Quinn story?

I wanted to write the parts of being a woman in STEM that I desperately want to change. So, I took wage gaps and harassment and every terrible thing that happened to me or one of my friends and poured them into this story. And then I let Harley light them on fire.

We need to encourage women and girls to pursue STEM fields, yes, but we also need to make STEM a safe place for them. I’m not going to stop fighting for that. (Harley wouldn’t.)

How did the events of the first book, Reckoning, change Harleen?

In Reckoning, Harleen learns the depth of misogyny in STEM and she realizes that she’ll do anything to stop it, legal or no. She realizes how much she loves being in a vigilante girl gang.  But at the same time, Reckoning makes her aware of the consequences of being Harley.

She starts Ravenous more determined than ever to stick to Harleen Quinzel’s life plan: college then med school, interning at Arkham Asylum, staying on the straight and narrow. But it’s hard to be good for too long.

Even in college, Harleen isn’t what you expect as a future super-villain—she’s worried about her grades, social life and being part of a sorority. Do you think that makes her unique among Batman’s rogues gallery?

I do think she’s unique. I wanted it to be believable that Harleen eventually goes to med school and becomes Dr. Harleen Quinzel, so she has to care about things like grades and the MCAT. There are other super-villains who are doctors, so I know she isn’t alone there, but it’s still something I love about her. It’s not hard for me to picture Harleen in a sorority. She’s outgoing, beautiful and values female friendship. Also, Harleen is an extravert, which is rarer among super-villains.

I think the fact that Harleen was a successful psychiatrist before turning villainous also suggests that she had been able to keep that side of herself wrapped up for longer. She had been able to mask and fit in until she couldn’t anymore. Until she became disillusioned with the whole system. And I think a lot of people, especially women or people from other marginalized groups, experience this. But in Harley’s case, she decides the clear solution is to become a super-villain and burn the whole system down.

What message do you hope young adult readers take away from Harleen’s journey?

My two greatest hopes for these books are that readers will become more interested in STEM after reading and that LGBTQIA+ readers and neurodivergent readers will feel seen. The Harley Quinn trilogy is the first DC Icons series to feature a sapphic romance, and that means so much to me. I hope seeing Harley as a bisexual teenage girl scientist with ADHD will mean a lot to other people, too.

Harley Quinn: Ravenous by Rachael Allen will be available in bookstores and libraries in print and as an e-book and audiobook on April 25, 2023.