Thursday, July 2, 2020


Oh wow a written article from me it's been so long. Yeah, I’ve been wanting to get something on here for a while, but given my focus on videos I’ve been pushing it and pushing it. I won’t do written pieces like this as often, but I’ll try doing them whenever I want to review things or create silly lists that I don’t want to make as videos (but some may become videos if my mind changes of course), so let’s review the newest DC cartoon, Harley Quinn.
The interesting thing about Harley Quinn as a character is that in hindsight, her becoming a major character to the franchise, to the point she’s led multiple projects, shouldn’t be all that surprising. Harley may have been a fun character in Batman The Animated Series, but what’s not brought up as often is just how unique she was in that show. Whereas most female Batman villains were often portrayed sexually, women who in some way tried to seduce our hero, Harley was always kind of a goofball, sure she was depicted sexually from time to time, but it was never a major part of her, she was the Joker’s sidekick/girlfriend who was silly, a role not commonly associated here or in most pieces of media, especially at the time. Eventually the show gave us the origin of Harley Quinn, which I believe was the true major turning point in the character’s history, sure it would be years before Harley dominated the franchise in many aspects, but it was the kind of depth that would make her relatable and relevant to many fans. We found out Harley wasn’t just the goofball sidekick/lover of the Joker, she was abused, groomed to be a villain. As kids we saw the tragedy, but as adults we understood it, some more than others. As the years went by we’d see more from Harley, at one point there was even plans to connect her with Jack Nicholson’s Joker, which definitely shows how much of a mark she left on the franchise even early on. The culmination of that love resulted in her getting a movie and a show around the same time, I’m talking about the show here.

Now that you’re up to speed on who Harley Quinn is, at least from a basic stand point, we can get more into what her series offered. I’m gonna try to avoid spoilers, but considering I’ll be talking about two whole seasons you might get some hints and specifics on the story, so if that bothers you I recommend going back to the show before you read this. The basis of the show sounds like a typical thing you’d expect from a Harley Quinn show, she’s left the Joker, has new friends to accommodate her single life and is trying to be a major villain in her own right, also there’s vulgarity cause she’s a bad guy. Then you watch the show and while all those things are true, you realize it’s full of heart, nuance, clever changes/takes on the material that make what would’ve been a standard adult show in most hands, one of the most irreverent and progressive shows in the adult animation scene and in the comic book superhero scene. I expected to enjoy Harley Quinn, but I ended up loving it and loving the twisted (for lack of a better word) take on the Batman and DC mythos. Well beloved characters like Commissioner Gordon, Batman, Two-Face, Joker, etc. are changed in ways that at first seem like an adult show’s idea of parody, but soon become clear as actual satirical takes on them; if Gordon was in Gotham PD for years, it’d make sense that not only is he a heavy drinker, but constantly paranoid and desperate for admiration in a city where supervillains are the norm. Not all changes are to poke fun at how characters might be like realistically though, Poison Ivy, Quinn’s best friend, is a more positive change, she wants to save the environment, so it makes sense she’s less like an actual bad guy, more like an extreme activist. Even Harley Quinn is different here from previous incarnations, less of a ditz, more aware and impulsive with ambitious plans to get on top. Sure Quinn has always been crazy, but this is the first time where as over the top as it gets, she feels like a real person, even in the live action movie (which I loved just to be clear) Harley would get a bit too cartoony in her personality at times. It’s the sincere approach to character that has made this go from just another adult comedy to one of the best animated shows in recent memory.

Season one’s story is that of Harley learning to be free from the Joker, while proving she can succeed on her own. While the idea of seeing an abused woman stand up to her abusive ex was always guaranteed to have some progressive empowerment, I like that the show took that idea further by critiquing the sexist world around Quinn, it’s not just that the Joker was horrible, it’s that she already lived in an unfair world, where female supervillains get treated worse and get less support. Just an example, rather than being given access to major goons early on, Harley is forced to find her own team, which consist of outcast villains like Clayface, Dr. Psycho and King Shark, the result is her learning to be better as a person as she bonds with the team. Eventually her goal of joining the Legion of Doom is realized, but she ultimately learns to finally move on from the Joker by taking him down and achieving what he couldn’t, sending Gotham to chaos which sets up season two.

While a second season was always guaranteed for the show, looking at how the first season closed one had to wonder, where does season two go? Turns out even deeper into what Harley herself considers freedom from abuse. Now that the Legion of Doom, the Justice League, and Gotham are all pretty much down, Harley pretty much has the world to herself... except she doesn’t. It turns out a new group of villains have taken control of Gotham because sexism is a system and not just an isolated event. The Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, Mr.Freeze and Bane rule, offering Harley a small portion to rule over setting up a story arc wherein Harley is out to take down the male villains. This goes along for a while, before you realize despite how long it goes for, it’s not the actual main story of the season. Harley’s newfound freedom has left her with a disdain for love, until she slowly realizes that there is someone she truly loves, her best friend Poison Ivy. As Gotham further crumbles, Harley becomes more chaotic while essentially denying her feelings, made more complicated as she realizes Poison Ivy’s fiancĂ©e, Kite Man, is a decent man who Ivy loves. It’s not too surprising where season two closes on, but the build up to Harley realizing freedom doesn’t mean a lack of love is handled very well and it’s genuinely one of the best love triangles I’ve seen in recent memory.

If I were to boil down my favorite things about this show it’s the characters, which I’ll talk about more in a bit, and how the series wasn’t afraid to shake things up throughout the continuity. There were actual consequences to actions and events, characters would be killed off, or gone for chunks of the show, some would even change as things went along, there were hardly any resets and even when there was it wouldn’t be without lasting impact. I’m trying to of course avoid spoilers as much as possible, but for an example one of Harley’s team members eventually turns on her by season two, while most shows would try to reverse this by the end, this show allows it to continue to the very end, while a third season could change this decision, I don’t see the show doing so unless there’s a good reason for it, sometimes some friends are just horrible people. Even with the supporting cast, the show never tried avoiding any major changes, the Justice League and Batman, are gone from most of the second season, (for Batman in an active role) due to events from the first season, and while they aren’t permanently gone, it just shows how much this series avoided taking the easy way out, favoring where the story needs to go before any resolution is met.

Going back to the characters, it’s been a long time I’ve seen any show perfectly redefine classic DC characters, that this one does it with ease is impressive. I’ve already talked a bit about Harley and Ivy, but it’s just great how the show developed their friendship, while nothing new, I liked the dynamic so much that I was fine if the show just kept them as friends, but came to root for them as the show developed the romance, at first I worried that it may have been to placate fans who are into shipping, but when I saw it happen I knew that’s where the story was always heading. Of course at the point it became clear Ivy and Quinn were meant to be, the question then became what of Kite Man? Poison Ivy’s lover for most of the show. While the season two finale closed with Kite Man angered at the two lovers, it thankfully was not at the cost of a great character. Kite Man (by the way his real name is Charles Brown, make what you will of that) was always an obstacle to Quinn and Ivy’s relationship, but the show knew he was a fairly decent guy, it never resorted to making him bad for the sake of an easy way out, which makes his loss tragic, but ultimately that’s life, some loves aren’t meant to be and neither party is evil for that.

Harley and Ivy also get some great friends to help them out, Clayface, King Shark, Dr. Psycho Sy Borgman and Frank the Plant, a solid supporting cast for a solid show. King Shark is perhaps the most different from his comic counterpart, here portrayed as a somewhat naive computer geek, he is one of the show’s best characters and while I expect to see more of him in other DC projects, I’ll be sad but unsurprised that this will be the only outing to feature this take. Easily the most known character (outside of this show), Clayface is here reimagined as a thespian looking for his big break. Clayface has had an origin where he was an actor in previous takes, but I did enjoy seeing this show run with acting being his personality, with his abilities essentially making him the crew’s spy, I thought Ron Perlman’s take was great, but Alan Tudyk’s is easily the best I’ve seen. I can’t say much for the rest as I’m not as familiar with them, but Dr. Psycho got a lot of laugh out loud moments and where his story eventually goes was definitely solid considering he was the team member who seemed to be the least caring. Sy Borgman, was probably the weak link, given how often he was out of the crew’s adventures, but he definitely provided some great moments, even one of the most heartfelt of the show. Finally there’s Frank the Plant, who I think is an original character on the show, but I could be wrong all things considered, he’s a shit talking plant who’s clearly an Audrey II homage, how can I hate that?

Need more great characters? Sure why not. Alan Tudyk also plays the Joker here and he’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen, sure he was always going to be the big bad of season one, but seeing where his story goes was delightful, which made him feel fresher than any other take I’ve seen in years. Other villains get some great material as well, from a Mr. Freeze that feels the most interesting that character’s ever been since Batman the Animated Series, to Two-Face, here seen being two faced even when normal, which works somewhat better, or at least less offensive than having him be a mentally ill villain. The real scene stealer among the villains though, is Bane, better than he’s ever been, Bane is essentially an exaggerated dumb version of the Nolan take, who is somewhat innocently naive, yet reckless, like a child who doesn’t know better and it’s so damn hilarious. We even got Wanda Sykes as the Queen of Fables, one of the more stand out guest stars of the show, a feminist mentor for Harley who ends up being deadlier than you’d expect (the gag involving a revenge story against her is one of the best in the show). This show was brimming with personality and the characters delivered so much of the charm. 

Do I even have to get into the DC heroes by this point? Admittedly they don’t offer as much in this show, but the few moments we get is still so much. Superman gets a few big laughs, especially with his obsession of sending bad guys to the Phantom Zone. Jacob Trembley’s Damian Wayne is definitely the best version I’ve seen of that character, a kid who uses his age as an excuse to get attention and avoid repercussions for his lies. Which of course leads to Batman, here serious about fighting crime to a comical degree, it feels right and feels like an honest portrayal of what a man like him would be like in real life. Batgirl also gets to shine a few times, she’s probably the most standard the show gets with any major character, not necessarily bad, but there was nothing there that I hadn’t seen before from her character, but I did still enjoy her presence. Batgirl’s father though? Commissioner Gordon himself  is my favorite take on the character and one of the break out characters of the show, most versions see him as this inspiring figure who helps Batman, which is fine and great even, but I did love finally seeing him stressed beyond belief due to what he deals with. Gordon is a hero on the frontlines, but he’s also just a cop in a world filled with demons and gods, it’s no surprise he’s a heavy drinker when he has to help yet can’t offer much.

I know I probably went into the characters longer than I should’ve, but it’s the meat that makes this show land as well as it does. Yes the story offered actual twists and turns that were just as effective, but again I don’t want to go deep on spoilers, and the reason the story could offer that much is because it had a great cast of characters who helped shape where the story needed to go, so that it could compliment what was there. I’m not sure if this will get a third season as of this writing, but I hope it does, while the season two finale is perfect as an end, I still would love to see where it can go since there’s still potential there, especially now that there’s an official lesbian romance with the leads, which would be neat to see in an animated show for more than just the finale.

Ultimately, Harley Quinn is an amazing show, it’s funny, emotional, smart and another win for the LGBTQ community. Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell as Harley and Ivy are terrific and among DC animation's best voice performances. That it’s a DC show that solidly adapts comic book characters was good enough, but that it managed to be a meaningful take on leaving abusive relationships and finding family through friends, eventually leading to a healthier love life was what made it special and unique. If this is the end, it certainly delivered and I hope DC can continue providing shows on this level.
Written by Octaviano Macias
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