PLOT: Harley Quinn’s adventures after she breaks up with the Joker, including receiving help from Poison Ivy and others to become a member of the Legion of Doom.
REVIEW: DC’s animated fare has a dedicated fandom all it’s own, many of whom are subscribers to the comic company’s streaming platform. With Swamp Thing being cancelled after one season, DC Universe has still been looking for another original series to compliment Titans and Doom Patrol. Harley Quinn was touted from the outset as an anchor for the platform and the 26 episode first season is now set to debut with weekly installments focused on the female villain. While the recent explicit trailer teases some of the NSFW mayhem headed your way, I can say that having seen 13 of the episodes that it more than lives up to expectations. Harley Quinn is crass, hilarious, and holds it’s own against Margot Robbie‘s live action take on the character.
Now, you may be wondering why Harley Quinn deserves her own series. While the character has always had a dedicated fanbase since her introduction in Batman: The Animated Series, her popularity has exploded in recent years. SUICIDE SQUAD and the upcoming BIRDS OF PREY film absolutely continue to stoke the fire under the character, but she has long been a steady character in comic books, video games, and animated series. This new take features the vocal talents of Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) who holds nothing back. This Harley is foul-mouthed and violent in ways that a PG-13 movie never could accomplish. Where the vulgar language and nudity in other DC Universe originals felt forced, the Harley Quinn series embraces it’s adult nature while also telling well crafted stories.
The general set-up of Harley Quinn is pretty simple: fed up with Joker (voiced by Doom Patrol actor and all around fan favorite Alan Tudyk), Harley goes out on her own to make a name for herself as a supervillain. Enlisting the support of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), Harley builds a squad that includes Clayface (Alan Tudyk, again) and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale) as she dares to compete with her ex-boyfriend for supremacy in Gotham City. What follows is a series of standalone episodes that all build on the main narrative. While you can easily watch them independently, the story does build nicely as a season-long arc as well. There are also appearances from tons of DC Comics characters including Batman (voiced by Diedrich Bader), Robin/Damien Wayne (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), Lois Lane, Superman, and Wonder Woman amongst many others.
What works so well with this show is that the show takes pride in referencing DC mythology and lesser known characters like Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) in equal measure with Riddler (Jim Rash), King Shark (Ron Funches), and more recent DC Comics characters like Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander) and Kite Man. We also get to see jokes I never thought I would see in a mainstream series for DC like someone calling Wonder Woman a c*nt or Commissioner Gordon (Christopher Meloni) looking like he has had a nervous breakdown. By placing this series firmly within the DC Animated Universe and yet allowing the characters to push every envelope (yes, there is animated genitalia) it earns a spot alongside other adult-oriented cartoons like South Park and RIck and Morty.
The animation itself is also better than most of the recent animated feature films from DC. Gone is the vaguely anime-like look of the characters and instead the series reminded me greatly of both Batman: The Animated Series as well as Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Tudyk does a great job of making this verson of the Joker a confident madman but also a good foe for Harley herself. Cuoco, whose work I was not a fan of prior to this, doesn’t try to emulate other actresses who have played the role before her and instead makes it her own. This Harley starts out as a brainwashed acolyte of Mr. J but soon turns into the most three-dimensional version of the character we have seen yet. Lake Bell also is excellent as Poison Ivy, making her the most rational voice of the entire series.
Each half hour episode of Harley Quinn does not require an extensive knowledge of DC but I found that references to other animated series featuring these characters was definitely helpful. Still, the jokes are gross and offensive and do what no Marvel series will ever be able to as long as Disney owns them. This makes Harley Quinn both the edgiest project to debut from DC and a highlight of DC Universe. But each episode still has a moral to it and wraps up individual stories nicely while still servicing the season-long narrative as well. I enjoyed Harley Quinn a lot more than I expected to and look forward to fans experiencing this one as well. From the solid voice cast to the well-written stories, Harley Quinn is a winner.
Harley Quinn premieres November 29th on DC Universe.