There’s a pool of blood on the floor of a dingy hourly motel. I’d say that will leave a stain, but the room has those in spades. The dim light reflects off the still wet blood, replenished by the slow and steady drops falling from the tip of a katana in the firm grip of a man in a red and black zentai. This is not the beginning of a slasher film, it is a Saturday with new friends.
Harley Quinn was not even a creation of the Batman comics, and yet she has become one of the most loved, well-known characters for comic fans the world over. She was a creation of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series back in 1992. Despite not appearing in comics until 1997, she appeared at #45 in IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time in 2009. As if we needed any more proof that Harley had stolen our hearts, it is one of the most cosplayed characters, coming in at number 2 on at least one list, behind the one and only ‘merc with a mouth:’ Deadpool.
Deadpool is also a relatively new character in the comic book world, appearing in the 90’s, and in a strange coincidence, not receiving his own comic until 1997. The character quickly became a success, particularly after writer Joe Kelly got hold of him and added his signature oddball sense of humor. It was refreshing during what was a dark and gritty period in comics at the time. Fast forward to today and you can’t walk down an aisle at any comic con without bumping into a Deadpool cosplayer. It seems every video features dancing Deadpools or groups of dancing Deadpools.
One character is Marvel, the other DC. But what if they met? That is the premise behind Harley Loves Deadpool, a burlesque duo that has gone so far as to pen a script and create an independent film. It “started out as a joke,” says Holly, who plays a hyper sexualized version of Harley Quinn. “I also have an overactive imagination,” she says, “but the real dangerous part of my personality is that I am extremely driven to follow through on my ideas.” And the idea playing through her head was what would happen if Harley and Deadpool met, which she imagined would probably end in a back alley BJ.
She wanted to bring the concept to life in a cosplay photoshoot but soon “decided that there was much more than just a sexy photo shoot” and the idea for a fan film was born. Being burlesque performers already, they also came up with a stage show for the characters and tour across the country performing their act. It was burlesque that brought them to my neck of the woods, for Tucson’s burlesque festival, and in their search for a photographer for a concept shoot, they found me, and I jumped at the chance.
The location was the historic Hotel Congress, the room is next to the purportedly haunted room 220, but it was room 221 getting bloody that night. I waited in the lobby with the ominous text message: “Deadpool is coming for you.” I was only slightly worried. A thin but well toned Kit Kombat descends the staircase dressed in the iconic red and black jumpsuit with no mask. He shows me to their room where Holly is waiting on the bed, already dressed as Quinn and a friend mixing blood in the bathroom. We’re all ready to get crazy and put these two characters in the throes of passion after they #killthejoker but I have to get set up, wait for my assistant, and ask them just where this whole thing even came from.
It “was a joke between my husband and a local film maker, Mike West, they were joking about the over popularity of cosplaying these characters,” says Holly, a 14 year burlesque dancer. She met Kit only last year when she asked him for help with an act since he had a background in ballroom dance. Later, he jumped at the mention of playing Deadpool, a character he had already been a fan of when she posted on Facebook looking for a partner. The two have become incredibly comfortable together, allowing them to push the limits of the concept. Holly goes on to say, “It’s important to me to portray sex in a positive, fun way, so we’ve sexualized these characters in a lot of ways but it’s made it really appealing to people and really fun.” Some of their most popular prints are on the not safe for work side, which has a certain appeal. After all, sex sells. Which brings me back to the room where we have the camera set up, lights set up, and mid way into the shoot we have both characters half naked, covered in blood and in some interesting positions. Housekeeping knocks on the door, we tell them to come back in an hour. Five minutes later another housekeeper returns to clarify, so I open the door maybe half way. They explain they will all be gone in an hour and we tell them that’s fine. Great, it looks like we’re shooting porn. Fortunately, management doesn’t show up.
Cosplay is something different to different people. Some choose new characters and craft new costumes monthly, while others take on the persona of a single character. I’ve spoken to many recently who fall into this category and this Deadpool and Harley fit the bill nicely. They banter mostly in character and even refer to their interactions while in costume as “Harley-pooling around.” It seems to me different than merely roleplaying, but something more akin to acting or the way one might prepare for an acting role. It feels as though they enter the character and begin exploring their new skin, discovering facets of the character that they only knew subconsciously, or never really knew at all, but created outright. Does this portrayal become a new creation or is it similar to a new writer taking over a comic and introducing a new layer?
I like to think that for those passionate enough to play out these personas in this way that they are generally true to the characters as they perceive them, which is, in the end, all a fictional character is once it is released into the world: your perception of them.