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‘Harley Quinn’ Ditches the Joker and Gives an Underserved Character Her Due (Column)

DC Universe

Harley Quinn’s story has at all times been a love story. Since her first look in “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992, the psychiatrist turned pinwheeling hellion has at all times overflowed with spirit, smothered these round her with affection, supplied up her coronary heart on a silver platter even when she knew she was providing herself as much as get crushed. Harley’s story has additionally at all times been entangled with that of the Joker, the Batman universe’s most iconic and sophomoric villain, who twisted her right into a stranger form and treats her like a very annoying stray canine. For years, Harley’s full devotion to the chronically careless Joker was her most defining attribute. 

It’s solely in the final couple years that comedian diversifications like “Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn” have deigned to acknowledge that Harley is perhaps a personality value exploring on her personal phrases. And whereas “Birds of Prey” got here as a brilliant aid (particularly after the grim dirge that was “Suicide Squad”), Harley’s gotten an particularly good showcase in “Harley Quinn,” a razor-sharp animated series that’s now out there on HBO Max after its two-season run on DC Universe. The sequence picks up with Harley after the Joker’s unceremoniously dumped her. Without the crutch of that relationship, Harley has to determine what to do, the place to go and, most dauntingly, who the hell she even is with out him. 

As voiced by govt producer Kaley Cuoco, this Harley is simply as enjoyable, codependent and unabashedly demented as her predecessors. Given 20 episodes, although, Harley lastly will get the type of room to shine and mess up and develop that DC figures like the Joker and Batman appear to get each different week. She additionally, lastly, will get to be straight up hilarious; “Harley Quinn” is a love letter to the “Batman” universe, but it surely’s first and foremost a comedy that spits extra jokes per scene than most dwell motion sitcoms try in an total episode.

Soon sufficient, Harley, her sardonic finest good friend Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) and Harley’s random assortment of henchmen — together with Tony Hale as telekinetic jerk Dr. Psycho and Ron Funches as the lovable King Shark — make their mark in Gotham, a metropolis in any other case packed to the brim with aspiring supervillains like her poisonous ex (voiced by Alan Tudyk). This present’s model of Gotham contains so many cameos and DC Easter eggs, the truth is, that an extraordinarily enjoyable meta recreation whereas watching “Harley Quinn” is attempting to determine each MVP in the voice solid, together with Sanaa Lathan as a supremely unbothered Catwoman, Jacob Tremblay as a petulant Robin and Christopher Meloni as an alcoholic Batman fanboy Commissioner Gordon. (The sudden finest, although, is perhaps James Adomian as Bane, who in “Harley Quinn” is an huge, tender pitbull of a robotic man who simply needs everybody to be their finest selves.)

By nearly completely eradicating the Joker from the equation, “Harley Quinn” has a lot more room to determine what makes Harley as a personality so compelling, and it makes use of each inch of it. The present delves into her thoughts — fairly actually, at one notably memorable level — and fleshes out her historical past to color a extra full and compelling image of an obsessive, bold girl who’s as fiercely loyal as she is totally deranged. When she takes over Gotham by sheer pressure of will, it defies logic, but it surely’s no much less plausible than something the Joker’s pulled, anyway.

There’s one facet of “Harley Quinn,” although, that isn’t simply nicely finished, however is an exquisite reshaping of a dynamic that’s existed for Harley since her inception on “Batman: The Animated Series.” That present allowed Harley a single episode of independence, by which she reels from a short breakup with the Joker by teaming up with Poison Ivy. Together, they convey out the finest in one another as criminals, but additionally as mates who don’t need the approval of Gotham’s many inflated male egos. (The climax of “Harley and Ivy” options the pair tying Batman up with the cords from irons and vacuums — or what Ivy sneeringly calls “the tools of female domestic slavery.”) But “The Animated Series” finally couldn’t let Harley go too lengthy with out throwing her again into the arms of her beloved “Mr. J,” making her foray into personhood extra of a detour than a brand new path.

By the finish of its first season, “Harley Quinn” does let Harley relapse, so to talk, again into her Joker habit. And but she, not like nearly each earlier iteration of Harley, rapidly realizes how dangerous he’s for her and ditches him for good. Freed from the constraints of that defining and limiting dynamic, the second season of “Harley Quinn” will get extra intricate with its storytelling for nearly each character. But some 27 years after Harley and Ivy first teamed up, “Harley Quinn” dives headfirst into their partnership and sharpens the give and take that makes them so nicely fitted to one another. Harley is all intuition and id, whereas Ivy is all warning and calculation; Harley welcomes chaos and connections with open arms, whereas Ivy warily eyes anybody who dares communicate to her, lest they finally harm her. Together, they convey out the finest in one another, whereas additionally refusing to indulge the worst in one another. They’re true mates — and finally, a lot to the delight of any fan who picked up on “Harley and Ivy”’s apparent subtext, companions in all senses of the phrase.

Harley Quinn’s story has at all times been a love story. But for too lengthy, that love story was depending on the Joker’s vicious whims, decreasing Harley to a simpering mess. In giving her precise distance from the man who supposedly “made” her, “Harley Quinn” provides this character an precise likelihood to determine who she is and what she needs when she’s not standing at the Joker’s facet. And because it seems, Harley is a lot humorous, good, wild and courageous sufficient on her personal phrases, “Mr J” be damned.

The first two seasons of “Harley Quinn” can be found to stream now on HBO Max.

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