‘Harley Quinn’ is hyper active and hyper hilarious

January 10, 2020

In recent days, DC Comics has had a bit of a darker streak. The DC films directed by Zach Synder (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and sort-of “Justice League”) gave a gritty outlook on the beloved comic book characters in a manner that divided fans and critically flopped. All the gritty reinterpretations of DC superheroes frame these superheroes as the bad guys, leaving me with a nagging question: where are all the supervillains?

Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) struggles to match its charismatic superheroes to worthy supervillains that are not eventually killed off. This results in many MCU movies having a villain that is a dark reflection of the hero, with the same powers, but just bland and evil.

And when supervillains get their own films, they are sometimes objectively bad, like “Suicide Squad.” Even when the Joker, one of the most well known supervillains of all time, gets a major motion picture, it still frames him as somewhat of an anti-hero, a protagonist who lacks common traits associated with a hero. 

As an avid comic book fan, I’m tired of anti-heroes, gritty reinterpretations and boring villains. In contrast to all these trends in live action superhero franchises, one animated supervillain show has reinvigorated my love for the superhero genre: “Harley Quinn.” DC’s newest addition to its long list of animated shows and films skips the gritty reboot and anti-hero persona for a colorful and hilarious show about Harley Quinn establishing herself as a big-time supervillain. Initially when I saw the trailers for the show, I was a bit skeptical, but the show proved to be everything I was looking for and everything that other superhero shows and films are missing. 

Harley Quinn first appeared as the Joker’s sidekick in “Batman the Animated Series,” which eventually explored her abusive relationship with the clown prince of crime. In her new show, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) breaks up with the Joker and establishes her own crew of supervillains. Over the course of the first few episodes, Harley Quinn and her newly assembled crew commit various crimes, ranging from robbing banks to staging prison breakouts. 

Many interpretations of Harley Quinn have her escaping her abusive relationship with the Joker and becoming a violent anti-hero. For example, in the video game “Injustice 2,” she becomes a Justice League member-in-training, and the upcoming “Birds of Prey” seems to follow a similar arc. But Harley Quinn is much more interesting as a villain. In her new show, she still breaks away from the Joker, but rather than becoming a hero, she decides to become a greater villain than her ex-boyfriend. Seeing the world of superheroes from a villain’s perspective is not something we always get to see.

The most important thing the show does right is it remembers to actually be funny. Stellar vocal performances, a compelling cast and excellent writing makes this show stand out among the onslaught of other superhero shows. “Harley Quinn” is a comedy featuring violence, but does not use either as a crutch. Instead, the over-the-top violence is used sparingly to enhance the comedic elements of the show.

Harley Quinn is also joined by a menagerie of misfit supervillains with excellent character dynamics and great vocal performances. For example, Harely’s best friend, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), is a perfect foil to Quinn. Ivy’s dry personality perfectly contrasts with Harley’s hyperactive nature. Other notable performances include Alan Tudyk, who voices both the Joker and Clayface. Tudyk’s Joker is truly unhinged, but maintains a level of comedy in his performance that perfectly suits the tone of the show. Tudyk also has the most important characteristic necessary when playing the Joker: an excellent evil laugh.

The great vocal performances are supported by excellent writing. Not many TV shows can pull off the plot of Harley Quinn crashing the Penguin’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, but this one does! The dialogue can be overly crass at times, but again, they’re supervillains—so of course they’re going to swear! In fact, one member of Harley’s crew is the foul-mouthed Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), who only joined the crew to improve his image after calling his nemesis Wonder Woman (something I cannot write in this article). However, his fall from supervillain-dom also brings up another great aspect of the shows writing: its topical humor.

Scenes like Doctor Psycho, a supervillain, appearing on a talk show to apologize for his comments or the Legion of Doom holding a press conference disavowing him for not representing their brand of evil, is both ridiculous and relevant. The show deals with relevant subject matter, while still presenting it in a comedic way. For example, one recurring theme is the idea of gender inequality in supervillain society. Quinn initially can’t form a crew partially because of her gender and her connection to the Joker. Her relationship with the Joker, however, is a much darker subplot, as it is presented as abusive and codependent. Even though Harley breaks up with the Joker in the first episode, he continues to dominate her life in other ways, both mentally and physically, by obstructing her success. Several episodes are devoted to her trying to break his control over her, with Harley even going so far as to travel into her own subconscious to expunge his influence. Despite covering darker themes such as abusive relationships, the show maintains its inherently funny nature while not undermining the significance of the subject matter.  

 The show also includes lesser known villains as major characters, like my personal favorite underrated Batman villain, Kite-Man. Despite the ridiculous nature of the show and how it pokes fun at superheroes, it does so out of a deep love for the source material. Including obscure characters like King Shark and Queen of Fables shows just how well read the writers are in their DC comics. While you don’t need an advanced degree in DC comics’ history to enjoy this stuff, it is an absolute pleasure for longtime fans. 

Quinn first appeared in “Batman The Animated Series,” and her popularity grew so quickly that she got her own episodes, was included in movies, got her own comic book series and now she has come full circle with her own animated TV show. It’s funny, entertaining, full of action, and most importantly, it’s bright and colorful. In a world where DC properties thrive on being dark and moody, it’s great to see a quality comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Menu Title