Though the Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie and its tie-in comics are brand new, everything about them, from their visual aesthetic to the tone of their dialogue, feels as if they were plucked right out of Batman: The Animated Series.
That fact alone made at least the first issue of the comics series fun to dive into from the beginning, but Batman and Harley Quinn really stands out in the grander scheme of Harley-centric stories by blending Harley’s classic aesthetic with a voice much more in line with the person she is today.
When we first met Harley 25 years ago, she was that rare sort of new-to-the-franchise character whose presence and energy almost immediately felt like foundational parts of the Batman mythos. Though she was introduced as such, Harley’s always been so much more than the Joker’s accomplice-cum-love-interest.
While we’ve never been given a straight answer as to why the Joker became the chaotic foil to Batman’s fastidiousness, Harley’s origins have always been deeply rooted in choice. Harley chose to free the Joker from Arkham and join him in his never-ending campaign to terrorize Gotham and kill Batman.
No matter how many times she may land behind bars or get locked up in Arkham herself, it’s almost always been understood that Harley knows she could just give up her life of crime and leave the Joker and his antics behind. As insane as Harley often seems, she’s slipped back into a more sensible modality enough times that you get the sense that she’s much more in control of herself than she lets on. It’s that part of her character that’s always made her relationship with the Joker—which is objectively abusive and toxic—somewhat difficult to stomach.
Harley loves her Puddin’, yes, but more often than not, that love’s been unrequited and caused Harley an inordinate amount of pain and difficulty. It took Harley’s comic book counterparts nearly 30 years to explicitly come to this realization, and it’s where Batman and Harley Quinn’s take on the character begins.
During one of their rather routine outings committing hot sauce-related crimes, Harley and the Joker are interrupted by Batman, Nightwing, and a number of technical difficulties. Every weapon that the Joker tries to use against Gotham’s finest backfires and Harley can barely contain her fits of laughter at the sight of him.
As Harley and the Joker run to make their escape in a Joker-shaped hot air balloon, the Joker quickly informs Harley that there’s only room for one, but when he attempts to make a go for the ride himself, he’s shocked to find that it’s been untethered, leaving him stranded. Without hesitation, Harley tells the Joker directly that all of the night’s problems—the destruction of his Joker-mecha, his backfiring guns—were all her doing as revenge for not paying her enough attention. As much as Harley does for the Joker, she explains, the only person he seems capable of caring about is Batman.
Harley’s getting back at the Joker ends with the clown prince of crime being hauled off by Gotham PD, much to the astonishment of Batman and Nightwing, but given that this is a series about Harley teaming up with Bats, the ending isn’t all that surprising.
Compared to a number of the other things that the Joker’s done to Harley over the years, his insensitivity toward her feelings in Harley Quinn and Batman is one of his lesser offenses. But the very fact that his callousness toward her is enough to set her off is what makes Quinn’s characterization in this telling stand out. Rather than waiting around for the Joker to put her life in mortal danger again or to play more mind games with her, Harley decides that she’s fed up with his shit and just decides to do her own thing.
Simple a choice as it may seem, it’s a move that we never really got to see Harley make for herself during The Animated Series, where her solo career was precipitated by the Joker choosing to kick her out of his gang. Harley’s always had a power and agency within herself that’s simmering just beneath the surface of her classic characterization. Here, though, it’s bubbling over in the best possible way.