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Superhero movie apparel has always been a weird gamble. I'm not talking about regular superhero apparel. There's nothing weird about slapping a generic picture of Spider-Man under the words "WEB HEAD" on a T-shirt. Superhero clothing is super helpful when you need to figure out which nephew you'll enjoy hanging out with and which nephew you'll give a travel-sized checkers set to at Christmas.

I'm talking about apparel that advertises certain movies, which means that it's always sort of beholden to the movie's portrayals of the characters. For example, Heath Ledger's Joker is a cool character to have on an 8-year-old's T-shirt because hey! It's The Joker. He's Batman's most famous enemy. On the other hand, that dude cut into a mob boss' mouth so hard in The Dark Knight that the mob boss died. So yeah, The Joker, but he's also Face-Stabbing-To-Death-Man.

Warner Bros.
By day, he's just a regular anonymous supervillain. But by night, Face-Stabbing-To-Death-Man.

I went to Hot Topic a few days ago, because why not? Sometimes you want to buy a Fallout 4 backpack and a John Cena T-shirt. I get that Hot Topic is the punching bag of the clothing world, because when you wear their products, Tim Burton can find you like the Eye Of Sauron. But we all go through a "Wear an oversized Nightmare Before Christmas hoodie" phase in some way or another in life, and we usually go through it multiple times. Stupid, funny clothing is stupid, funny clothing, and by all means, we should laugh at it. But making fun of Hot Topic shoppers as a whole is basically saying "You know that part of your existence, where you want to let the world know who you are, but you're not even sure of who you are yet, you 14-year-old goon? Fuck you for feeling that way." You be you, Hot Topic shoppers. Your black nail polish looks amazing today.

However, obstructing the view of most of the other items in the store was the Suicide Squad section, and they had mastered the art of superhero-movie merchandise. But they didn't do it by finding a nice balance between "psychopathic clown man" and "all-ages-appropriate psychopathic clown man." They did it by throwing everything they have, regardless of outcome, into a specific goal. And that goal is to let women know that they will have no trouble dressing like DC Comics villain Harley Quinn.

They had the usual "Look! This is a character that you're familiar with! Buy a shirt with their face on it!" stuff, but reigning supreme above the cups ...

... and the combs ...

... and the triple pack of underwear, because three out of every seven days of the week should be reserved for awful decisions ...

... was Harley Quinn's entire wardrobe.

Superhero costumes are no new thing. Every Halloween, multiple sets of Avengers will knock on your door. And these Halloween costumes, regardless of price, are all pieces of weird plastic and cheap elastic, as nothing makes you feel more like Batman than having your outfit show the wear and tear of every tiny step you took by the end of the night. As far as Harley Quinn outfits go, you'd expect to find those crunchy, inflexible abominations for kids near the front of the Halloween emporium, and the "naughty," "What if Harley Quinn really liked belly button shots?" outfits for adults in the back of the store. But it's not even close to Halloween yet, and these pieces of clothing aren't being marketed as special options that somehow differ from the wearable things around them. It is Harley Quinn cosplay, marketed as regular Harley Quinn apparel.


I've never really cosplayed before. The closest I've gotten to it is wearing a green jacket and painting a question mark on a tie when I went to a midnight show of The Dark Knight. I was The Riddler going to a movie that didn't include The Riddler, and like most things I've done before last week, I still don't understand my motivation for it. The night ended with a guy asking me if I was supposed to be Two-Face, and I haven't dressed up as a fictional character since. Not because of the shame that the Two-Face comment brought me but because of how intricate actual great cosplay designs are. I didn't want to be the guy wearing a black sweater in a line of kickass Darth Vaders.

Portrait Of An Artist As A Dumb 19-Year-Old

What makes this so weird and cool is that the line didn't start out with any hesitant toe-dipping. Batman movie marketing didn't begin including little utility belts with their Batman pajamas to ease us into full-on Robin outfits. This was a total Harley Quinn suit, like the one she wears in Suicide Squad. There have been a few superheroines in movies in recent years, but they've all mostly worn different variations of tactical onesies. Aside from Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn is the first female character in this generation of superhero films to get a costume that is immediately identifiable, and more intricate than "OK, the top is dark gray, but the bottom is a very, very, very dark brown."

Now, some of this is probably due to Suicide Squad's marketing plan, which is a cocaine-infused rendition of the Deadpool ad campaign, where it's reinforced, over and over again, that this won't be one of your dad's boring old superhero movies. This won't be dim and dour like the big DC film you saw less than five months ago. This is going to be Suicide Squad, and it's about bad guys, and they'll all make jokes, and Queen will play, because everyone likes Queen, but not a lot of people like these guys, because they're the bad guys, but you'll like them, because Queen is playing.

Everyone likes Queen! So everyone will like Suicide Squad! Marketing!

At some point in the mix of all this, someone decided that a great way to market their sad-less supervillain extravaganza was to let people dress up in the entire Harley Quinn outfit that they bought at Hot Topic and add it to the hair product that they bought at Target.

It's something to make money, and just now, an executive at Warner Bros. bought his side girlfriend a new car with the cash that he got from Harley Quinn outfit sales. But it also normalizes cosplay in a way that I haven't really seen before. It makes it a fashion choice. Harley Quinn is a little easier to dress up as than, say, Iron Man, but for the first time that I can remember, if you wanted to dress up like a super character, you don't have to find the coat at Goodwill, the gloves at the Army surplus store, and the pants in your parents' closet. You don't have to take a long time to carefully stitch and piece together fabric in the hopes that maybe it will look decent when you finally put it on. If you wanted to tell your friends to awkwardly wait outside while you changed in the bathroom, you could walk in the store as your regular self, and walk out as Harley Quinn.

You may be wondering how things are doing on The Joker side, as he is the character who comes in second place in the race to get their top half plastered on the most shit. Well, not well. Or at least not as well as this pouty gentleman on the right would have you believe.

I found two big Joker items in Hot Topic, and they were by far the most boring things in the entire store. The first was a Joker figurine that I can only refer to as needlessly awesome.

From the METALS company logo to the fact that Joker looks like he's about to eat an unsuspecting person in a gas station alive, there are no ways to describe this thing that don't include ceaseless air guitar solos from my 13-year-old self. It's as if someone saw those little Funko POP! figures and decided, "Like that, but totally getting laid, bro." If you're looking for a way to tell people, "My car is older than my girlfriend," by all means, buy this sick, tight, edgy toy.

The second item was a piece of clothing that wasn't a part of a Joker outfit, even though they clearly implied that you could assemble a Joker outfit in the same way that you could assemble a Harley Quinn outfit. Let's take a look at that guy again. It's a Jared Leto-style Joker that looks like he really hates Jared Leto's own band for selling out, and in a weird way, that's a Joker that I can totally get behind.

"Do you wanna know how I got these (emotional) scars?"

It has nothing to do with a costume, unless there's a scene in Suicide Squad where Joker makes a clothing line from photos that he took of himself while he was doing other things in the movie. If that's the case, two tickets, please. One for me, and one for my think piece.

Sorry, guys. You get this muted brown thing ...

... with the word "DAMAGED" written under it for no reason at all. Joker has that word tattooed on his forehead, and, considering the fact that Jared Leto mailed used condoms to his fellow cast members, that's probably the least awful part of this whole affair. But there's little logic in spelling "DAMAGED" out under a picture of a guy wearing face paint and a "DAMAGED" tattoo, surrounded by copious knives. It's pretty obvious that there's something off with him. This changes if it's meant to represent the person wearing the shirt, and if that's the case, give yourself a little credit, shirt buyer. Sure, you have terrible taste in clothing, but "DAMAGED"? Maybe go for something a little more accurate, like the words "HAPHAZARD" or "CARELESS SPENDER."

John Cheese wrote an article about the typical clothing selection for dudes being scarce to the point of ridiculousness, where you usually get to pick from one of three colors of button-down shirts or nothing at all. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm sorry about your lack of options for Suicide Squad expression, guys. You got a raw deal. I'm not sure how to fix this, but I believe it might start with seeing that "DAMAGED" T-shirt and going with literally any other choice.

Like whatever this is supposed to be.

On the other hand, anyone who has been around for the last eight Halloweens is aware that Joker costumes are like the default setting for the holiday. That might be why Hot Topic gives dudes such skimp choices when it comes to displaying their love for the character. They have every right to assume that you'll be fine on your own when it comes to putting something together. Also, it takes the blame away from them if, deep down, they feel the same way about Jared Leto's Joker as the rest of the internet: "You can dress up as the Joker with 'Damaged' stamped on his goddamn face, but we will have nothing to do with it. You can't blame us when shit goes south, nerds." So if you're gonna dress up as Jared Leto's Joker for Halloween, don't go to Hot Topic. Go somewhere else, like school.

I can't say how the cosplay community would feel about the Harley Quinn be-all and end-all solution that Hot Topic is offering, but I feel like, from what I've seen of the community and the general atmosphere of it, that it'll probably be pretty welcoming. One of the coolest things about cosplay is that everyone that I've met who does it enjoys it so unabashedly. Whether it took them five minutes or five months to assemble their costume, they take so much pride in it, and I don't think it gets the recognition that it deserves.

A lot of people see it as clothing fan fiction, but it holds as much artistic importance as any other kind of fashion. And this Harley Quinn outfit might be a gateway to bigger stuff for some. No one would get into writing if they were told that they had to create the perfect novel on their first try. Sometimes you need a starter kit. Doesn't mean that you're any less passionate about it. You're doing no one any favors if you tell people that might be interested in something that they're doing it "too easily" for it to be valid. Also, you're being a huge dick.

But what do I know? I'm a doofus who wore a Riddler costume to The Dark Knight.

Read Daniel's other columns. They're decent.

What's The Best Fictional School To Attend? In the muggle world, we're not given the opportunity for a magical hat to tell us which school we should go to. Usually we just have to go to the high school closest to where we live or whatever college accepts our SAT scores and personal essay. This month, our goal is to determine what would be the best fictional school to go to. Join Jack, Daniel, and the rest of the Cracked staff, along with comedians Brandie Posey and Steven Wilber, as they figure out if it's a realistic school like Degrassi or West Beverly High, or an institution from a fantasy world like Hogwarts with its ghosts and dementors, or Bayside High, haunted by a monster known only to humans as Screech. Get your tickets here!

Learn why DC movies are screwed in 5 Huge Changes DC Would Have To Make To Compete With Marvel, and see why Jared Leto is going insane in 7 Famous Actors Who Lost Their Minds Getting Into Character.

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