With DC Universe undergoing its current implosion, the fate of some of the television shows I’ve enjoyed on that platform may be up in the air. Is that a mixed metaphor? Implosion and up in the air? The three series on my mind are Titans, Doom Patrol and, of course, this animated series, starring the irrepressible Harley Quinn.
Of the three DC Universe shows, Harley Quinn just may be my favorite. Since the series is now available for streaming on HBO Max, I take that as a sign that it’s not dead in the water. It could jump to HBO, or Netflix, or one of the other myriad streaming services not owned by Disney. Maybe Amazon.
This series is too good to not continue. Not just good, but refreshing. A lot of the DC Comics content out there takes itself just a bit too seriously. Few more so than the grim and dark Batman franchise, of which this series is a part. This cartoon can go dark—and it does—but even then, at its heart, there’s a goofy, off-kilter, crazy, funhouse-mirror-reflection perspective to the show. It’s not quite the campy ’66 Batman with its painfully engineered cliffhangers and pop-art sound effects.
But, Harley Quinn is also a stylized alt-take on Gotham City. Most comic book fans have learned to be a bit more flexible with their fictional universes. The Adam West Batman is not the same as the Christian Bale Batman, while both aren’t the same as the Ben Affleck Batman. And this flexibility extends beyond television and motion pictures. Phrases such as “the Scott Snyder Batman” or “the Frank Miller Batman” actually mean something to the Bat-fans out there. You may favor Jim Lee’s artistic vision of Batman, but my favorite Batman will always be the Jim Aparo one, with the impossibly long ears on the cowl. And, Kevin Conroy’s Batman voice is the one I hear in my head, not Bale’s, even when reading a comic book. Batman, and his supporting cast of characters, have been reinvented more often than Madonna.
Harley Quinn is just one more reinvention.
The character of Harley has what I think is a unique pedigree in the world of comic book stories. She was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for Batman: The Animated Series, as a love interest for the Joker and another villain in Batman’s own rogue’s gallery. So, Harley was born in 1992, twenty-eight years ago as of the time I’m typing this. The character jumped to the comic book medium, to live-action television, and eventually to the movies, and, now, back to the animated form. This cartoon is a bit of a coming home for the character, although the character evolved throughout all of her depictions, and is continuing to evolve.
Season 2 occupies some of the same space as the “No Man’s Land” story line from the comics. Read Greg Rucka’s novelization of the story if you missed the comics. A version also appeared on the mercifully cancelled Gotham. While the story of Gotham City cut off from—in fact, disowned by—the rest of the USA provides the milieu for this Harley-centric tale, it is, at its heart, a love story.
You see, Harley is now in love with Poison Ivy. That is the backbone of her story arc in this season. Meanwhile, Ivy is preparing to marry Kite Man, and Harley attempts to do all the best-friend things, like throwing a killer bridal shower. Of course, the shower Harley creates is on Themiscyra, this being a DC Comics property and all, and things don’t go exactly as planned.
Of course, there are other things going on during the season. Harley finds an apparently amnesiac Joker, cured of his insanity and living a normal life, a status quo that surely can’t be maintained. At the same time, she manages to cut the final ties shackling her to her former Arkham Asylum patient.
It doesn’t hurt that “Mr. J” is voice-acted by none other than Alan Tudyk, who now approaches what must surely be nerd godhood. Not only did Tudyk play Hoban “Wash” Washburne, the pilot of Serenity in Firefly, he’s also been Mr. Nobody on Doom Patrol, the voice of Green Arrow in several cartoons and video games, and the voice of K-2SO in Rogue One: a Star Wars story. Also, Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball, but that goes without saying. Mr. Tudyk is an incredibly busy working actor with a lot of DC Comics credits to his name. Plus, he’s still friendly with Nathan Fillion.
Speaking of voice actors, Harley Quinn is brilliantly brought to life by Kaley Cuoco, who was Penny on Big Bang Theory and is also an executive producer of this animated series. Her voice is perfect for the character, and—no insult intended to Margot Robie—I propose that she’d be an excellent choice for a live-action Harley Quinn as well. The same goes for Lake Bell, pitch perfect as Poison Ivy. Comedian Ron Funches has created a perfectly cuddly version of King Shark as well, while Arrested Development and Veep‘s own Tony Hale is ascerbically on-point as the “C” word-prone Dr. Psycho. Throw in Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander as Cy Borgman and a huge supporting cast of major acting talent, and the result is a cartoon with a ton of star power.
I choose not to ruin everything that happens in this season for you, except to warn you that you can expect appearances by Darkseid and a host of parademons. There are tons of Easter Eggs for DC Comics fans, but you don’t have to be a fan of the comics to enjoy this show.
It’s wacky, irreverant, and seriously skewed while remaining loyal and respectful of the source material. That’s a difficult tight rope to walk, but this series somehow manages it.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get more of the same in the future.
Firewater’s The-Pit-is-for-the-Criminally-Capable Report Card: A
This is the story that finally made me like Bane. Just a little.