[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains circling flies and SPOILERS!!!]
Next up we have two radical re-imaginings of our beloved clown-girl, both voiced by Tara Strong, but targeted at very different age-groups (and pitches):
Justice League: Gods and Monsters – Chronicles (2015) was a three-episode animated web-series, intended to prepare the way for (and promote) a straight-to-video feature of the same name, set in an alternate universe and starring very different, darker versions of the three headline Leaguers: “Batman” is ‘Dr. Kirk Langstrom’ (Michael C. Hall), an ailing scientist who’s turned himself into a blood-thirsty vampire in a bid to “cure” his cancer… “Wonder Woman” is ‘Bekka’ (Tamara Taylor), a New God who fled to Earth to escape her family’s despotic killing spree… and “Superman” is ‘Hernan Guerra’ (Benjamin Bratt), the test-tube offspring of ‘General Zod’ (Bruce Thomas), who was raised by Mexican migrants after being rocketed away from an imploding planet Krypton. The movie itself seemed to be a dumbed-down take on Alan Moore’s Watchmen (i.e., there’s a conspiracy afoot to frame/murder a dysfunctional group of violent costumed-antiheroes, in order to make the world a “better” place)… but if you can put those comparisons aside, and overlook the slightly patchy plot, it’s an enjoyable adventure, with cool action sequences, some good jokes, and impressive animation/direction.
The Chronicles are also a lot of fun, even if they’re aching to be expanded into longer stories. Each of the three episodes focusses on a single character, following them on a little mini-mission prior to the events of the movie… and the first instalment (“Twisted”) saw Batman tracking down a super-cute serial killer named “Harlequin”, who was kidnapping and killing innocent civilians, in order to pose their corpses in a mock sitting-room set, as the perfect nuclear family. Aw. It’s a credit to director/co-creator Bruce Timm, that she manages to retain her humour and charm, despite the grimness of her actions… and I really like the red-and-black hair she sports here, even if her “costume” does seem unnecessarily skimpy (unless she’d just got back from a “Rocky Horror” showing when Batsy dropped in on her?).
Meanwhile, our unsuspecting villainess was being rudely rehabilitated, in order to join the ranks of the DC Super Hero Girls, an action-figure line aimed squarely at the tween dolly demographic, which also spawned an ongoing web-series and a couple TV-movies (including 2016’s Super Hero High). As soon as I heard the opening theme song for this ill-conceived abomination, my heart began to sank, and the bile began to rise: “Get your cape on, And let’s take flight! You can do anything, We can be who we like!” Blerg. The image you see attached to this paragraph is a genuine example of the promotional artwork that was released to promote this pablum, and while the cartoons themselves aren’t all quite as insipid as that, I think it gives you a fair sense of how far removed this marshmallow-light series is from the more sophisticated retro-noir of Batman: The Animated Series (not to mention the psychotic sexiness of Harley’s “Suicide Squad” shenanigans).
Now, don’t get me wrong… I don’t have a problem with cuteness or girliness, per se… I’m a big fan of the (original) Powerpuff Girls, for instance… my issue with this series is that it’s taken so many strong, smart, complex, distinctive super-women and reduced them down to petty, interchangeable, touchy-feely bimbettes, with barely anything between their ears but a warm breeze. For example, ‘Wonder Woman’s (Grey Griffin) main story arc in the first season involves her designing a new costume to wear (because Textiles seems to be the only class she cares about at SHH)… and one episode of the second season (ep #2.3) shows ‘Supergirl’ (Anais Fairweather) and ‘Batgirl’ (Mae Whitman) using their powers/gadgets to full-on fight each other over a slice of cake! Feh. It’s also completely divorced from any sense of established comic-book continuity, completely glossing over (or just straight-up ignoring) the various characters’ rich and diverse backstories, as everyone happily attends school in costume, and they constantly refer to each other by their “super” names, as if they were just born that way.
Although I really dig the design of Harley’s costume and hairstyle here, and quite enjoyed some of the slangy dialogue she was given, there was something extremely off-putting about Strong’s delivery, as well as the character’s whole screechy-fangirl attitude. This is by-far-and-away the worst version of Harley I’ve witnessed to date… though, to be fair, all of the characters here are the absolute worst they’ve ever been. I also think it’s kinda weird that she and ‘Poison Ivy’ (voiced by Ms. Strong, again) aren’t even friends in this universe, despite that being the one thing that the writers could have easily imported in from their established incarnations, to sate/service the fans. Tch!
Although the series was relatively painless to get through (in small doses spread out over several weeks), the extended Super Hero High spin-off was a serious chore… a soul-crushing mire of mindless, mawkish mush, with pat emotional beats, rote character arcs, and predictable plot beats. Feh! It also threw up so many unanswered questions, it almost gave me a headache: How come Superman gets to be a full-grown adult (depicted in statue form), while his Justice League colleagues are still feckless teenagers? Why do they suggest that ‘Barbara Gordon’ is called “Bat-Girl” simply because she likes bats, rather than as a tribute to a pre-existing vigilante-fella? How come the school can afford a fancy-schmancy combat simulator with lasers and slime-guns, but can’t afford a couple CCTV cameras to guard its most dangerous/valuable room? How come ‘Principal Waller’ (Yvette Nicole Brown) didn’t do a proper background check on ‘Granny Goodness’ (April Stewart) before hiring her as the school’s librarian, despite being well aware of the planet Apokolips and the threat its inhabitants might pose to Earth? And, on a more technical note, I’d love to know how they managed to record the movie’s vocal-track and FX over the sound of Jack Kirby spinning in his grave. Did they use a special filter, or just muffle his coffin? The short-shrift given to ‘Big Barda’ (Misty Lee) was particularly reprehensible, considering how awesome she is, and how touching her story is in the comic books. Dammit!
Sigh… I know it’s not the show’s fault that I’m a masochistic completist, forcing myself to watch something that clearly wasn’t aimed at me in the first place… so, I apologise for being such a dick about it… but I’m reeeally not looking forward to the feature-length instalment that’s lurking a little further down the checklist… GAH!!!
Fun fact: Every time someone says Giganta’s name, the “Gigantor” theme song (as performed by Helmet) starts playing in my head… even though they’re completely different characters, and their names are spelt/pronounced differently. Tch!