Harley Quinn, satirization, and himbo Batman


Art by Geena San Diego

Of all the many characters in the DC universe, Harley Quinn is one of my favorites. From her origins in the Batman Animated Series to her years of hijinx with the Joker and adventures with Poison Ivy, she has never failed to capture my interest. This is why I was elated to hear that DC was making a whole new show dedicated to her: Harley Quinn.


Summary

The show opens up with Harley and the Joker on their usual antics before Batman shows up. We can already see that Joker is terrible to Harley. He is constantly sexist and condescending to Harley during the encounter, and he leaves her behind so he can escape. Because of this, Harley goes to prison for a year, and, despite his promise, the Joker never comes to rescue her. In prison, Harley acquaints herself with Poison Ivy. Despite Ivy’s best efforts, Harley never realizes that the Joker doesn’t love her and won’t come to save her. After Harley and Ivy escape, Ivy orchestrates an event that finally makes Harley realize that the Joker doesn’t care about her and she finally breaks up with him.


The rest of the first season is centered around Harley trying to make a name for herself in the supervillain world. Along the way, Harley develops her friendship with Ivy, makes new friends in her search for a crew, and slowly but surely recovers from the years of abuse Joker put her through.


Satire

One of my very favorite parts of Harley Quinn is how it uses satire. No one is safe in this show. If you have a name, face, and are a pre-existing character, you are going to get mocked, ridiculed, and maybe even bamboozled. But the most fascinating part is that even though the characters are heavily satirized, they are still recognizable from the comics. I’m going to go through 2 example characters, Harley Quinn and Batman.


SPOILER WARNING

Credit: Unsplash @Samuel Regan-Asatane

Harley

Harley in the comics and show has gone through a lot of changes in her 29-year run. She went from an expert psychiatrist, to the Joker's girlfriend, to the murder (and Poison Ivy) loving “hero” she is now.


In Harley Quinn, she has all of her best parts combined. She’s a murder-happy anti-hero who loves breaking some shins, and she kicked the Joker’s butt for being an abusive jerk. She’s still a genius in the field of mental health, and she uses this to help herself and others. Even throughout all of that, she is still a person who genuinely cares for her friends and the people around her.


Harley Quinn is probably the least satirized in the show, mostly because she’s the main character, but partly because Harley Quinn as a character is so often exceedingly absurd that satirizing her can be difficult — even considering that no one is safe. In the show, Harley is very extra, to say the least. Harley’s “kill first, ask questions later” mentality is turned up to the 11, and that can often get her into trouble. An example of this, and one of my favorite moments in the show, is her encounter with Mr. Freeze.


For context, Mr. Freeze does what he does because his wife has a deadly and incredibly rare disease and he is searching for the cure. To prevent his wife Nora from dying, while he searches, she is cryogenically frozen. When Harley hears about this, she believes that Nora is actually frozen against her own will and isn’t sick at all. Despite everyone’s objections, Harley decides she has to save Nora. When Harley succeeds, Mr. Freeze has to sacrifice himself to save his wife.


Harley in this show is expertly written. It always feels like she has natural motivations for what she does, but her actions don’t escape consequences. Most of all, she is hilarious and always a joy to see on the screen.