This show was inevitable.
And, I mean that in the best way. DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series has been a home run of an idea since it was first announced. Over the past five years, Harley’s popularity as a character has made it stupid not to make a show.
HQ is a DCU original, giving DC animated nerds like us even more incentive to subscribe to the streaming app. I was counting down the days (even the hours) to the Harley pilot on Friday, as DCU displays a live countdown of upcoming episodes. Going by the countdown, new eps will be dropping weekly each Friday.
I’m not doing a full review of the first episode of Harley Quinn, but I did want to get out some feelings I have toward the show in general.
I liked this series more than I expected to. Based on the HQ trailer, it seemed then and there that this show may not be my flavor of Harley. I’m personally not inclined to ultra violent or adult versions of Batman or his rogues. Subjectively, brutal Batman isn’t my Batman.
I also don’t need filthy language and gratuitous sexual humor to enjoy an adventure in Gotham. I’m not judging those versions either. Again, I just don’t think they’re made for me. So, when I saw the trailer to the new Harley show, my expectations of enjoyment were not high.
I’m happy to report that I enjoyed Harley Quinn more than anything. Yet, I still can’t say the show is for me. I enjoyed the experience of watching a well made, hilarious, over the top, adult animated series produced by animation powerhouse, WB Studios.
And while there are loads of fun DC references and universe faithful material throughout, I’m still left with the feeling that the show is trying too hard. Meaning, the creators of Harley Quinn have a great thing going, with a lot of good elements in place. Alas, I think the liberties taken to adultify the show has possibly distracted them from making a potentially much better show.
Specifically, it seems there’s a lot of cursing and gore ‘cause we can. As if, now because of an app with fewer content restrictions, we’re going to overuse sexual humor, gore, and profanity ‘cause we can. Harley Quinn puts off the tone: I’m a 16 year old who can now watch adult things so please compensate for my deprivation of adult content.
If I was a teenager who grew up on Harley during this explosive half decade for the character, I’m sure I’d be all about this show. And, if this is what gets teenagers or young adults into Harley Quinn or the greater city of Gotham, I’m all for it. I would just recommend to any Harley newb to continue exploring the character for other versions.
More Likes and Dislikes
- Joker: I must say, they nailed this character. I laughed my ass off at Harley Quinn‘s Joker. Alan Tudyk’s voice performance is stellar! His comedic timing is on point, he’s effectively maniacal, unpredictable, believably murderous and villainous. Tudyk genuinely brought his own style to the character, while honoring Jokers of past.
- Self-diagnosis scene: There is a really good scene where Poison Ivy forces Harley to confront her former identity of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Under an Ivy spell, Harley is talking and interacting with a photo of herself as the Arkham psychiatrist; who is also animated and talking back to her from within the picture frame. Ivy makes Harley consult her own doctor self about her toxic relationship with Joker. She ends up telling herself something along the lines of: classic co-dependent abusive relationship. She should move on and realize it’s never going to work with someone like him.
- Animation: Again, you can seldom go wrong with WB Animation. The animation and design work in this show are excellent. Characters look great, their movements are on point, backgrounds are really good. I also happen to like the general aesthetic choices they’ve made with the looks of the characters. I do have some problems with Harley’s costuming that I’ll talk about below, but it’s not a criticism against execution; rather, story criticisms as they relate to costuming. The costumes and looks we got in the HQ pilot were very well done. I will also give this show credit for vehicle animation. I level vehicle criticisms against DC Animation more frequently than I’d like to admit, but judging by the pilot, this show was pretty smooth in that department.
- Direction/Action: As I said before and will detail more in Dislikes, I’m not personally into gory Batman stories. But, my dislike for HQ‘s choice of gore is not to be confused with my appreciation for action and direction. The fighting and storyboarding and all the cool visual stuff you want from an action scene is there. Back to Joker, in particular, I was impressed with how good those action scenes were, and how damn hard they made me laugh!
- Batman, Gordon, and supporting Gothamites: Beside Harley’s main supporting villains of Joker and Ivy, she’s also surrounded by heroes, cops, and the endless list of insane rogues living in Gotham. Ironically, Batman and Gordon are most often the comic relief to Harley’s straight lady (which I will cover more in Dislikes). As I will talk about, I don’t necessarily like that Harley is the more straight character in all the scenes, but I do love that Batman and Gordon are always funny. No problem there. Batman is the classic straight man and Gordon is just completely over the top insane. The two of them are a perfect comedy duo in Harley Quinn. Not to mention, Diedrich Bader’s return as the Bat, this performance solid as ever with his iconic retro Batman voice and air tight comedic delivery. I also like how HQ isn’t afraid to use any and every obscure character and villain from Gotham they can think of. In Arkham, we saw Calendar man several times, Killer Croc was in this, Man-Bat, King Shark is to come on future eps, the inmate list goes on. And, again, HQ‘s usage of DC references and the universe are well done, character work included.
- Gore/Violence: As with Profanity/Adult content below, I already covered a lot of my problems with the language and violence on Harley Quinn. To expand a bit, many of my problems come from personal preferences I have for the greater franchise of Batman. Which, is not the fairest of barometers for quality. With Joker, I will admit that melting people’s faces with gas and other over the top murderous gore actually worked well for the character. However, for some reason, with Harley, the extreme closeups of snapping bones in slow-mo–and the bloody biting off of ears–these moments seemed to be going for shock value only. Again, it seemed like violence because we can, not because it necessarily works for the character and for the moment. By the way, I totally agree that Harley would be breaking people’s bones and committing heinous acts of violence. I just don’t see how that much focus on gore adds to her character thus far in the show.
- Profanity/Adult content: Again, I already covered this a few times here. But, profanity for Harley Quinn suffers, it seems, the same ’cause we can problem. Cursing ’cause we can; super vulgar jokes; throwing in curses where they may not even feel natural. I do think it’s great that we can have an animated series where Harley and the Joker can curse. They totally would all the time, namely, a girl from Brooklyn. I would just recommend going a bit lighter on the profanity and amount of adult content. It takes me out of the story a bit to hear an F-bomb every other word in a cartoon about Harley Quinn–adult or not.
- Harley’s costuming: I talked about this before in Likes, saying that the costumes themselves looked fantastic in Harley Quinn. What I don’t like is when in the story we see each costume. I’ll explain. The first ever costume in which we see our titular heroine is her original Batman: The Animated Series jester jumpsuit. We’re introduced to Harley as being under the thumb of the Joker as his girlfriend, and in his shadow as his hench girl. Accurate to BTAS and subsequent DC Comics, Harley breaks away from the Joker and proves her independence by committing villainous acts all on her own. All fine and good. My problem is that, when she finally proves her independence in the third act, she gets rid of the jumpsuit and now she’s dressed in what looks like a hybrid of Suicide Squad Harley and Amanda Conner Harley. The updated, fresh look is also fine with me. I just worry that she’s scrapped the jumpsuit forever, which would harshly erase classic Harley. The newer looks, this one included, are much more revealing, and brighter, altogether different. Whereas, the jester look has a subtlety and cartoon fun to it that provides an important variety for the character’s identity. Namely, her new identity of independence. So, if the old-school black and red suit makes future appearances, I guess my criticism falls flat. Again, I just hope we’re not constantly out with the old and in with the new on HQ.
- Harley’s voice: Kaley Cuoco is the voice of Harley Quinn, and HQ‘s voice director is Charlie Adler. I’m listing both names, because I don’t want to blame one or the other for my issues. But, I do know that while I like Cuoco’s delivery most of the time, I still hear definite inconsistencies in Harley’s accent. The character of Harley Quinn traditionally has a Brooklyn accent. If HQ animated wants to break tradition with that, I’ll go with it, as long as the performance is good. My problem is that most of the time, Cuoco is doing a rather non-regional white female accent, with the exception of a few phrases including the iconic “Mista J.” So, it’s one accent for a paragraph of dialogue, followed by an ultra thick Brooklynized Mista J. Many series take a few episodes, or even a few seasons, to lock down their characters voices–truly finding the voice. Hopefully, some dialect or regional accent work will go along with Harley’s development on HQ.
- Harley as the straight lady: As I talked about earlier with Gordon and Batman, most comedy teams have a straight man/lady, people who themselves are not nearly as funny as their fellow characters. The straight lady has the jokes told to them by the more funny character, or by the crazy over the top character. The HQ examples are Harley and Joker, as well as Harley and Ivy. The former dynamic I actually like on the show, because Joker would be crazier than Harley. I’m OK with Joker being funnier than Harley for the most part too. It’s Ivy and other characters in relation to Harley I have a problem with. Harley is literally a jester, a joke maker, a hilarious person overall. But, in Harley Quinn, it seems like she’s always playing the straight person. Now, this may be a conscious decision by the writers of the show, to flip the script, making a traditionally funny character serious and those who are normally serious funny. If that is the creative case, then I’m more on board with Harley as the straight lady. If not, I’d prefer a tweak to give Joker’s ex some jokes in later episodes. And, either way, I do want to hear Harley tell some more jokes. I’d say that’s a side of the character that can never fully disappear and still be Harley.
Stay tuned here at C506 and my Above and Batman Beyond podcast for more on DC Universe’s Harley Quinn! And don’t forget to subscribe to my network’s YouTube channels for video coverage as well: Comic Book Intl and Above and Batman Beyond.
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