Quinnesis (Pt. 2)

[The second part of my ramble about DC’s beloved villainess/anti-heroine ‘Harley Quinn’, and her origins in Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1995), where she was both inspired and voiced by Arleen Sorkin. Contains jazzy piano riffs and SPOILERS!!!]

Harley Quinn in "Batman: The Animated Series" (S2)Another significant piece of Harley’s backstory is provided in ep #2.9 (“Trial”), as she testifies against ‘Batman’ (Kevin Conroy) at a “kangaroo court” held inside Arkham Asylum, and it’s revealed she was once employed in that very facility as a psychiatrist, before being seduced/corrupted/deranged by ‘The Joker’ (Mark Hamill). This episode also features another kick-ass collaboration with ‘Poison Ivy’ (Diane Pershing), as the two bad-girl-besties conquer and capture “The Caped Crusader”, prior to his eponymous trial! Yay? Sadly, there’s also more terrible mistreatment from The Joker, who sprays a pitch-black room with machine-gunfire in the hope of hitting Batman, despite the fact Harley is hanging from the ceiling bound in a straitjacket at the time! Harsh. On the plus side, she does seem to be standing up to him more at this point, not simply taking his abuse lying down or mindlessly cheering him on… she even angrily accosts him when it’s revealed that he tried to grass her up to the cops in return for a reduced sentence! In fact, the super-cute clown-girl comes across as unusually mean and vicious in this episode… though I guess you could put that down to peer pressure, as she’s rubbing shoulders with some pretty hardcore psychopaths on the dangerously unbalanced (in several senses of the word) jury bench…

Harley Quinn a la "Batman: The Animated Series" (S2)The hilarious high-point of the series was undoubtedly episode #2.7 (“Harlequinade”), in which a jaundiced Joker has apparently tired of his usual wacky capers, and decided to flat-out level Gotham City with a nuclear bomb! This extreme emergency forces Batman to take equally extreme action, releasing Harley from Arkham to help him track down the “Clown Prince of Crime” before everything goes Kaboom! They fall into a classic “odd couple”/”buddy cop” dynamic that kinda makes me wish she were his permanent sidekick, in place of snarky d-bag ‘Dick Grayson’ (Loren Lester)… but sadly, after many twists and turns, she falls back into her unhealthy infatuation with “Mistah J” (who would clearly have been quite happy to let her burn to ash along with the rest of their supposed friends and pets!) Still, on the upside, we do get plenty laugh-out-loud gags, some awesome action scenes, and even a sexy song-and-dance number, which Harley deploys to distract a roomful of ogling gangsters while Batman and “The Boy Wonder” manoeuvre themselves into position for an ambush. The lyrics of the song, “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again”, suited her so perfectly, I assumed it had been written specifically for the episode… but it actually came from an old-timey musical called Meet the People (1944), starring Lucille Ball… which seems appropriate, considering Harley’s own screwball antics. Oh, there’s also an earth-shaking revelation about her roots: “And here you thought I was just another bubble-headed blonde bimbo! Well, the joke’s on you… I’m not even a real blonde!”

Harley Quinn in "Batman: The Animated Series" (S3) (aka "The Adventures of Batman & Robin")In 1994, the series was rebranded/rebooted as The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and even though this is commonly accepted as a direct continuation of the previous Animated Series, the animation style had changed quite a bit (more Anime-y, if you see what I mean), and the stories seemed to have become a little sillier… at least in the two episodes I watched of it! I know it’s not up to the fans to define what is and isn’t “canonical”, but given a choice I’d kinda like to pretend that episode #3.6 (“Harley’s Holiday”) never happened. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that Harley was given another starring role, and that she was striking out on her own, attempting to go straight, with barely any references to her abusive (ex?) boyfriend… but I just felt the spiral into chaos and recidivism rang a little false, sparked by a rather forced misunderstanding involving a security-tagged dress that she’d purchased with her own legal tender. The scene of our anti-heroine being chased around the city by a retired General in an armed tank, simply because she’d “borrowed” his adult daughter as a hostage, had me rolling my eyes so hard, I almost saw the inside of my own skull! Oy…

Harley Quinn and Batman in "Batman: The Animated Series" (S3) (aka "The Adventures of Batman & Robin")And last/least, her final appearance of the series, in #3.9 (“Lock-Up”), was a supporting cameo role, as a character witness called to testify for/against Arkham’s strict new chief of security ‘Lyle Bolton’ (Bruce Weitz), who turns out to be a bat-crap-crazy fascist and future villain-in-waiting. Meh.

Note: In my (apparently faulty) memory of this series, Harley was always wearing her distinctive black-and-red “harlequin” costume, thus making her current barely-clothed-hottie-with-bunches incarnation seem rather heretical… but throughout these early episodes she actually spends a significant amount of time sans-costume, while either incognito or incarcerated, and generally favours skimpy clothing when she’s chilling off-the-clock… so I now realise that was always a part of her character’s make-up (if you’ll pardon the pun).

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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