Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Harley Quinn to the plate. This Bat-villainess and paramour of the Joker first won fans on Batman: The Animated Series, where she strode through her scenes in a red-and-black jester suit while wielding an oversized mallet, but she’s gotten something of a makeover for her live-action debut in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Wearing little more than a tight T-shirt and booty shorts, Margot Robbie’s Harley eschews the cartoonish hammer for a less showy but far more brutal weapon of choice: a big ol’ bat.
Harley’s newfound affinity for the Louisville Slugger may disappoint fans who wanted to watch her swing that mallet on the big screen, but at least when it comes to pop culture in 2016, she’s on trend. Perhaps Harley could be a partner in crime to Beyoncé, who traipsed through this year’s iconic “Hold Up” video wearing a mustard-yellow Roberto Cavalli dress and wielding a bat that meant business. Certainly, Harley would hit it off with the bat-brandishing Negan, who promised to bash in the head of one of The Walking Dead’s good guys in that show’s April season finale. When the series returns in October, Negan’s barbed-wire bat will be the centerpiece of its “who’ll die” ad campaign, because bats are suddenly big business: Even Walton Goggins has a bat thrown over his shoulder in HBO’s marketing for the antihero-led comedy Vice Principals.
Has the bat become the new bow and arrow? For the past few years, archery has been the chic way to dispatch your foes, as characters from Katniss in The Hunger Games, Merida from Brave, and Arrow’s Oliver Queen all squinted into the middle distance and let their feathered arrows fly. A delicate weapon that ensured you could get a PG-13 rating and look good while doing so, the bow and arrow was the perfect pick for a hero who didn’t want to actually do too much damage. As Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye quipped in Avengers: Age of Ultron, “We’re fighting an army of robots … and I have a bow and arrow.”
Not so, the bat. When you swing that bat, it’s surely gonna be brutal, and to even wield one is proof that you’re ready to go beyond the pale. When Beyoncé bashed in car windows using a bat emblazoned with the words Hot Sauce, it was our first clue that with her visual album Lemonade she was not to be messed with. The heroes of The Walking Dead have wriggled out of plenty of near-death experiences, but Negan’s bat carries with it more certainty as a harbinger of doom: Even the fact that he’s given it a name — the incongruously sweet Lucille — seems to imply that he’ll use it to take out a big-name character. And though Harley’s Suicide Squad teammates tend to underestimate her because of her girly affectations, that bat is an effective rejoinder: Harley psychotically beats her enemies to a pulp while trapped in an elevator, and by the time the squad arrives to back her up, she’s already gotten the job finished with just a bat and a smile.
All this bat-timing may be purely coincidental: Beyoncé’s “Hold Up” video seems inspired by a 1997 art film by Pipilotti Rist, while Negan’s predilection for a bat has been codified by Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead comics for years. Still, the elevation of this particular weapon feels true to the blunt, take-no-prisoners year that 2016 has shaped up to be. Our headlines are dominated by death, scandal, and tragedy, while our presidential race has been commandeered by a chaos candidate willing to take a bat to the entire political system: 2016 is not a delicate bow-and-arrow year. This is a messy, violent bat year where all you can do is duck and hope that you don’t get clobbered, too.
So put away your crossbows, sheath your knives, and let your guns languish, because the bat is truly ascendant. Its clobber can be customized and, with the right pair of shining serial-killer eyes, even accessorized. By Halloween, expect the bat to be everywhere. It may be brutal, but damned if it doesn’t make for good cosplay.