After Harley Quinn’s relationship with the Joker lands her in Arkham prison, she decides to cut him off, and form her own crew. As she attempts to forge a place in the Legion of Doom for everyone, she not only learns the power of team work, but finds her own identity, as well.
There is no surprise in saying it at this point, but the DC franchise has almost always pushed the boundaries of cinema and popular culture in general. From Batman: The Animated Series and The Dark Knight Trilogy to the creative new characters that have found their way into the DCEU films, it’s clear that Warner Brothers has no plans to stop anytime soon. Sure they have had a few misfires, such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, but they have thankfully found their footing now, kicked off by Wonder Woman in 2017. As for Harley Quinn, many audiences would be inclined to think it is just another run of the mill series that, while entertaining, has no personality or themes to help it stand on its own. Though it does have a few occasional issues, this animated show is one of the best in not just DC’s library, but in the entire genre itself. Like most of the new superhero content in the marketplace today (except for Marvel Studios), the series succeeds by leaning into the more violent and crass elements that adult fans have been asking for, which in turn makes it even more realistic than just a standard cartoon.
What drives this series the most is the humor, which always feels fresh, raunchy and biting, as it takes risks that many superhero films and series fail to do. To add to the already engaging and comedic storylines, the voice acting makes this version of Gotham city come alive, as the entire cast never felt out of place, with Lake Bell, Ron Funches, Tony Hale among the several talented actors encapsulating the tone that audiences would normally expect from these characters. But the major standout is Kaley Cuoco as Harley Quinn who makes this role her own, pushing the Queenpin to be more of a violent yet human adversary, instead of the confused and snarky version seen in Birds of Prey. As a result of said voice acting combined with the relatable themes such as team work, acceptance and loyalty, the chemistry between every member pulls the viewer in on each episode, with rarely a dull moment to be found. Due to said themes, there is a strong sense of emotional weight throughout the show, right up to the finale. The animation is vibrant and colorful in every moment, especially in the fight sequences that despite being a little too fast paced, never retracted from the enjoyment on screen. The designs for the world of Gotham and every member present are handled with specific care, to the point where one could not imagine another vision for them. The constant violence and gore might be too much for some viewers, but nevertheless provide the hardcore thrills that will leave audiences wanting more. The score however, while mostly energetic, is annoyingly repetitive at times. As can be heard during the fight scenes and emotional moments, there is no variety for the most of the background music. It does not seem like much of an issue in the beginning, but as the show continues, viewers will be questioning why it has not made an impact on them, in the long run. It does not give audiences much of a reason to dislike it beyond that.
But now we come to the actual heart of the story. With so many films and shows in this particular genre, there is the looming question as to what this one does differently. How do the character arcs compare to other series of its kind? How accurate are they to the comics they are based on and does that impact the quality of the show overall? In terms of development, the arcs present in season one are as good as they come, mainly because of their relatability to the audience. Though they may not be completely accurate to the comics in every aspect, the arcs they are given not only make the show even better, but allow them to become more realistic versions of themselves, as well. For Harley, it means learning to work with others, as nothing can be accomplished properly without unity. They are not anything that we have not already seen before, but are still impactful nevertheless. But the other key thing that makes her character great is her desire to be valued. No matter how many goals Harley and her crew achieve, she is rarely satisfied. She constantly needs more validation from the Legion of Doom, those in her past life— the list goes on and on. It is only when she loves herself for the way she is, that she is able to achieve her aspirations, aside from teamwork. Not only that, but that trait becomes even more pertinent for her, when fighting her adversaries. When she believes that she has value, she tries to defend others from getting hurt, even though she has been wounded several times by former allies, the Joker and occasional fans. And similar to The Dark Knight, she discovers the true nature of family, in that not everyone is there to be your friend. To quote Michael Caine’s Alfred “…some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
As for the rest of the crew, Poison Ivy is a great voice of reason and parental figure for Quinn. Though she has her own personal struggles like all the other characters, she is constantly looking out for Harley, pushing her to be better while at the same time calling her out on her mistakes. Ivy is more focused on the harsh reality that life brings, as she tries to handle many of her problems herself, but eventually realizes she can not and should not have to try and tackle the world on her own. Supporting characters such as Doctor Psycho, King Shark, and Clayface start out in comedic roles, but as the series progresses, the audience sees how relatable their issues are too. Psycho in particular starts off as cold and bitter, mainly due the relationship he ruined with his ex-wife and son. After seeing how he treats others in Harley’s crew, he confronts his past actions and tries his best to rekindle what he has left, a powerful commentary on why forgiveness and redemption are so important in today’s culture. The same is true for their landlord turned crew member Sy Borgman, who’s backstory is also one that invokes the same messages on dealing with your mistakes and how to move on from them. Even Batman, as minimal as his role is, provides some thoughtful discussion on the difference that support can make to those who are only brought to justice, but never questioned on why they feel the way that they do. Joker on the other hand, is more of a physical evil, rather than a relatable villain (unlike Thanos or Killmonger from the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Having seen part of the second season already, his character is fleshed out much more, but his role works well enough, as viewers will continually be wondering why he is so violent, mean-spirited and how he became who he is today.
But that is not to say that some of the villains here do not have a sense of humanity, either. Sure, most of them are purposefully heinous, but many of the smaller ones at some point during the series question why they are being treated by their higher ups as lesser than, instead of valuable members of the team. Similar to another DC based film The Lego Batman Movie, it shows that though the wickedness and thoughtless of others will not always change, there are those who truly care about others, even if they do not want that to be widely expressed. To that end, this is perhaps one of DC’s most ambitious shows in years, but is occasionally undermined by the multiple conveniences present in its otherwise compelling narrative. The writers often find themselves in their own corners so to speak, but rarely have any specific ways to escape them, that do not involve keeping the retroactive continuity of the series stable and consistent. However, this issue is not a major one, upon rewatching the series, as some of them are given reasoning for why they happened. This is only the first season, so it makes sense why there are a few noticeable flaws. Hopefully, issues like the ones previously mentioned will not be present in season two, but either way, this show is able to provide a wide variety of entertainment that is rarely seen in most of the shows in this genre nowadays. They really do not make them like this anymore and based on where the storylines end up by the end of the season, this series has a bright future ahead of it, if handled with the proper care it deserves.
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn is one of the best animated shows in recent memory and is an instant classic that will be remembered for years to come, due to the risks it takes with its storylines and characters. All of the technical aspects of the series, including the vibrant animation and set design add to the hardcore violence and vocal performances present. Though the characters may not be completely accurate to the comics they are based on, the relatable themes and development they face over the course of the show, allow them to become more realistic— a nice change of pace for the overly cartoonish characters. Even though its score is often repetitive and there are a few conveniences that threaten to tear down the near perfect plot-lines, this is a series that both diehard and casual fans of the genre will be able to enjoy and take much away from, as well.
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