[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains heart-shaped hand-grenades and SPOILERS!!!]
In theory, the character’s live-action debut came via The WB’s short-lived girl-powered superhero series Birds of Prey (2002), where she was portrayed by Mia Sara… but since she doesn’t actually look, sound, or behave anything like the crazy-cute clown-girl we all know and love here, I have to call “shenanigans” on this shameless co-opting of her name. As far as I could see, she was little more than a generic criminal “mastermind” type, concealing her underworld scheming behind a seemingly respectable veneer as a fancy-schmancy therapist… though, I have to admit, I couldn’t actually bring myself to watch more than the first couple episodes of this show, because it was causing me so much aggravation. Besides messing up their portrayal of Harley, the writers also seemed to favour the misbegotten magickal-feline-metahuman version of Catwoman (posited here as the mother of series lead ‘Helena Kyle’/”Huntress” (Ashley Scott)) that was created for the widely-panned Halle Berry movie, rather than the crafty-human-cat-burglar that everyone from casual TV viewers to hard-core comic-book nerds would expect and accept as the “real thing”. So, if you’ll pardon my Anglo-Saxon, bollocks to all that! Fun fact: Apparently, in the original (un-aired) pilot, their faux-“Harley” was played by Sherilyn Fenn instead… but, considering her previous roles, I highly doubt that her take on the character was substantially different to Sara’s. Meh.
After that, Harley returned to two-dimensional form, for a pivotal-but-embarrassing cameo in “Wild Cards”, a two-part episode of the animated Justice League series (ep #2.22-3) (2003), which saw the eponymous super-hero team attempting to foil ‘The Joker’s (Mark Hamill) latest caper. The “Clown Prince of Crime” had somehow managed to conceal multiple time-bombs (and a slightly implausible array of hidden cameras) across the city of Las Vegas, and challenged the caped crusaders to defuse them all, while filming their endeavours for a live TV broadcast. Their progress was repeatedly hindered by The Joker’s own amped-up accomplices, “The Royal Flush Gang”, whose preternatural powers make them a serious threat to the show’s stars. Incidentally, the scene introducing these new villains includes one of the most egregious examples of “the male gaze” you’re likely to find in a (supposedly) modern children’s cartoon: During the initial roll-call, the three male team-members are shot from the waist up as the camera tracks along them… only to dip its “eye” down to centre on the female member’s crotch, before eventually panning up to her face. Feh!
Likewise, Harley is depicted as little more than a brainless love-sick side-chick, who ‘Batman’ (Kevin Conroy) easily dupes into betraying the location of her boss/boyfriend’s secret hideout, by preying on her jealousy at all the fawning attention that The Joker was giving to creepy hypno-girl ‘Ace’. Ironic (?) fact: This supposed usurper was played by Hynden Walch, who would in fact go on to replace Arleen Sorkin as the voice of Harley herself! Harsh. Overall, I thought the storyline for this episode was pretty solid, but the script was totally witless (especially when it came to the dialogue spouted by The Joker and Harley, who should be able to provide a little comic relief, at least), and the writers clearly had no sympathy for our casually-abused anti-heroine, so I can happily consign this guest-spot to the rubbish bin, along with BoP.
Besides the recasting mentioned above, Harley was also given a (minor) make-over and a whole new origin story for The Batman (ep #4.08, “Two of a Kind”) (2007), courtesy of her original co-creator Paul Dini. In this revised version, Harleen Quinzell is the ditzy host of a Daytime TV talk-show, dispensing pop-psychology and highly dubious dating advice to her viewers, with little-if-any concern for the consequences (at one point, she cheerfully encourages a male suitor to “never accept no for an answer” from the object of his affection!). However, when she makes the mistake of embarrassing millionaire-playboy ‘Bruce Wayne’ (Rino Romano) live on air, by ambushing him with an aggrieved ex-girlfriend, the network suits fire her on the spot… much to the chagrin of her long-time fan, and frequent caller, “Mr. J.” (Kevin Michael Richardson). Spotting an opportunity for mutual exploitation, The Joker sets Harley up with a costumed secret identity, so they can go whoop it up around town together (in a jaunty musical montage, natch!), while she profiles him for a potential best-seller which will restore her sullied reputation. Of course, things inevitably take a turn for the criminal, and pretty soon her true identity has been revealed, prompting another TV psychologist to profile the nascent-villainess on his own show, after snagging her old time-slot. The looney lovebirds stage a full assault on the studio, but are thwarted (as ever) by that pesky spoilsport in the Bat costume, along with his wise-acre wards ‘Batgirl’ (Danielle Judovits) and ‘Robin’ (Evan Sabara).
The most striking thing about this iteration is that The Joker seems to be much more besotted with (and sexually attracted to) Harley, than she is with him… I mean, sure, he stills throws her under the Bat-Bus whenever his self-preservation instincts kick-in, but he’s also the one who initiates their courtship, and brings her (stolen) bling to encourage her interest in him… while she seems far more blasé about the whole affair, treating him as a means to a self-serving end, rather than worshipping him as her one-true-love. And though he does raise his hand to threaten her when she starts ordering him around, she isn’t the same delusional punching-bag that we see in some other depictions of their toxic, twisted relationship. This show took a lot of heat from fanboys/girls for the reputed dumbing down of its stories and dialogue, and the radical redesign of its characters… and I must admit I felt the same way when I first saw it back in the day… but now I kinda like the way it looks (despite my abiding aversion to cartoon/comic-book characters without proper noses). If I were to be a bit nit-picky, I’d probably nix the reflective red stripe on the dark side of Harley’s costume, but otherwise I think she looks very striking here… and I’d happily buy a T-shirt with this incarnation of the character on it! I also think Walch did a good job of impersonating Sorkin… and if they weren’t already aware that there was a different woman behind the microphone, I’m not sure how many viewers would have noticed the switch…
Harley did make one other appearance over the course of this series, popping up in ep #5.08 (“The Metal Face of Comedy”) (2007), as the J-Man’s sleepy, superfluous side-chick in a ridiculous yarn about magickal “nanobots” that basically turn him into a poor man’s version of “The Mask”! Tch! As I say though, she’s barely used at all here, and literally snoozes thru one of the big heists… making me long for the good old days when she and Ivy used to beat up Bats on the regular. Sigh…