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The Last Bastion of Fun in the DC Cinematic Universe

By Alison Lanier | TV | August 7, 2023 |

By Alison Lanier | TV | August 7, 2023 |


It’s no secret that DC has a self-seriousness problem when it comes to the big screen. (Fight me, Snyder bros.) I mean, the problem might be that the DC movies are just bad at having fun. It’s like as soon as a bat signal or a big red S appears, these sacrosanct characters have to be treated with kid gloves. Not to mention that the actually excellent casting of these archetypical characters was tossed away, with the exception of Ezra Miller of all people…But I digress.

This is all to say, thank goodness for the delight that is Harley Quinn.

The adult animated series returned in style last week in a sweeping and hilarious batch of new episodes on Max, formerly HBO, fresh off its obscene and absurdly funny Valentine’s special. We return to the adorable couple that is Harley (Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (exceptionally voice acted by Lake Bell), respectively having joined the Bat family and the Legion of Doom. Alan Tudyk delivers a truly wonderful rendition of Clayface, who just started up his Vegas residency, and the Joker, freshly elected mayor of Gotham. Ron Funches returns as King Shark, managing a complicated journey toward fatherhood. And Bane (James Adomian), as always, is just trying to do his best and being endearingly evil as he goes.

Ivy has just been appointed CEO of the Legion of Doom by Lex Luthor (Giancarlo Esposito), who was motivated by appearing progressive and “with it,” only to be blindsided by Ivy’s extreme competency and her willingness to do some impressive villain networking and making business power moves (including jettisoning Mark Zukerberg into space during a villainy conference on the moon).

The Bat family is picking up the slack after Bruce Wayne is sent to prison, leaving Harley to bond with the maladjusted misfits that are Robin (Jacob Tremblay), Batgirl (Briana Cuoco), and Nightwing (Harvey Guillén, best known as Guillermo of What We Do in the Shadows). Can they stand up to bad parenting, couponing, and AirBnB guests?

Everyone is a mess, and the show has a blast exploring the truly messy intersections of an absurd comic book world. Nightwing’s perfect ass is a MacGuffin of an entire plot arc. Ethical evil becomes a buzzword. Harley takes on an alternate identity using a pink wig and a bigger bra while Bruce Wayne serves as a mediocre Vegas DJ. The space rockets are all giant dicks. Lesbian sex abounds. In short, it’s a great, gory, sexy, non-kid-friendly cartoon adventure.

DC’s animated shows have generally, in my biased ’90s kid opinion, been the saving grace of DC on screen. Batman the Animated Series, Teen Titans, Justice League, Batman Beyond, and Justice League Unlimited—despite reading an absurd number of DC comics in my life, those are still formative renditions of the iconic characters. Also, they hold up, not that I’ve been rewatching them.

Harley Quinn follows the proud tradition of DC animated successes with the added bonus of meta-humor and adult-content playfulness. It’s not obscene just for the sake of being obscene, not falling into the Velma pitfall of trying to make a beloved set of characters into an edgy new property in an uncomfortable cash-grab. Rather, Harley Quinn has more in common with Tuca and Bertie or Broad City—excellent female-focused comedy that goes where it wants to go and doesn’t shy away from making fun of itself.

Season four stays consistent with the fun ride the series has been so far. So go have fun! Also, the show’s animation team is unionizing! Yay!

As a closing note, there’s plenty of good stuff to be had in the DC comics right now—particularly the current run of Nightwing, which is a clever and heartfelt adventure I’d highly recommend as a die-hard comics nerd. Also, this happened, which makes my nerd heart very happy: