Ever since the writers at Batman: The Animated Series put Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy together as an occasional team and supervillain besties the pair have been fanshipped even before the term existed. Heck, I even fell for it whether it was the intention of the writers or not. Given Harley’s quest to be loved and accepted you could make the case. Then again nobody ever shipped her with her two pet hyenas….and if I’m wrong about that for the love of God let me remain ignorant! My point is that seeing queer coding in strong friendships isn’t something people just came up with.
However, over time it seems like Harley Quinn has gone from a closeted psychiatrist who tried to keep her feelings bottled up until the Joker did his own mind games to someone was always an evil psychopath and I know that was not the intention. Harleen Quinzell is tied to the Joker because she represents those in a toxic relationship, although it’s possibly being with Pamela Isley, the eco-extremist known as Poison Ivy, isn’t exactly healthy either.
I don’t think Ivy started out as a eco-terrorist though. It was something Batman: The Animated Series added in. She was just a criminal with a plant gimmick when she started out. It’s another example of how the DCAU created iconic versions of characters whether it was their first post-comics appearance or not. Or maybe the comics had her as an eco-terrorist and B:TAS took it from there. I’m not that tied to Harley’s history or the 1990s period because it was the 90, the pre-DiDio period of DC’s going dark and gritty. (He just made it worse and took all the positivity the 90s at least kept going.) The two make a
good effective villain team but are they really a good couple?
Not according to YouTuber ShineyFX. In an episode of his commentary show The Trooper’s Den Shiney examines the de-evolution in his opinion of Harley Quinn and what role Poison Ivy plays in that. His primary sources are her appearances in B:TAS and in Harley’s HBO Max adult comedy show. In one part he’s joined by Eerie The Ghost, formerly (or should I say “the late”) The Bored Enthusiast, who also goes over why making Harley a “strong independent woman” actually robs her of complexity and regresses her as a character.
I have seen clips of Harley Quinn and I’m not sure I’d watch it even if I had access to HBO Max. The problem this show appears to have from everything I’ve heard is that the characters are still villains but shown to be mostly competent villains. If you’re going to do a show where the villains are not going to be redeemed the villains can’t succeed at killing innocent people, even in a “dark comedy”–and not remembering this is one of the reasons I hate dark comedies, because that means you’re relating to the murderer. Villains in stories exist to lose, to represent the worst aspects of human nature or a stand-in for the problems we face both individually and as a society. By seeing the villains overcome, we gain motivation to face the obstacles in our own lives, hopefully without becoming what we hate.
That’s the problem with the anti-hero or the cathartic villain. We’re not supposed to root for these people, we’re supposed to be better than those people, but when they’re the protagonist you miss the whole point. And yet that’s what the story wants us to do, to root for the bad guy as a bad guy and not as someone who is good deep down and just needs to be led into the light. It’s why I don’t want to see Falling Down, for fear that no matter what the characters think the movie itself may be in favor of shooting the fast food worker who got your order wrong and has been having a bad day and thus not on their best game. I’ve worked in retail; the customer isn’t always right no matter what you’ve been told. I could tell you stories, but even the worse customer we had who seemed to have it out for me personally and openly admitted to like being a b@#$$% never invoked the urge to kill. Yell at maybe but I know my temper. That really wasn’t the right job for me.
The hosts are right about the de-evolution of Harley from fractured mind in need of redemption to sex object to always crazy. It doesn’t make sense at that point to see Harleen Quinzel because apparently she was always a lie rather than repressed. I also don’t think you would WANT to be a self-made murderer and thief. It’s not funny to watch someone joyfully committing murder. At least when the comics try to semi-redeem Harley, not understanding that we liked her as a villain because we wanted to see her lose or reform, by giving her this cartoony view of how her emulation of the Joker’s murderous take on slapstick had the body count of a Looney Tunes character, a disconnect from the reality that people were actually being killed. It’s still dumb but at least it was an attempt to make us feel sorry for Harley. Watching her straight up poor acid on people before making out with her girlfriend will not do that no matter what the consequences. I don’t even enjoy stories of villains losing to be interesting, but I’ve seen it done well in the Austin Powers movies and Evil Con Carne (granted I haven’t seen the latter in years) because it involved character development and a twisted form of morality that only the Addams’ Family would love. It’s a rare exception but no matter how annoying they were I’m not cheering Dr. Evil liquidating the support group. Sorry, not how I operate.
It’s weird to see how the DCAU original character turn terrible when they go lesbian not because they’re now shacking up with girls but because the writers just forget how to do them correctly. Officer Montoya was a great character in Batman: The Animated Series but when she was brought into DC proper she was changed. Despite Montoya having a husband and her death being one of her motivators as a cop some writer made her a lesbian, coming out when Two-Face kept trying to date her for whatever stupid reason the writers had for that. The story bible for B:TAS referred to her as “(y)oung, tough, and cynical, with a dry sense of humor”, as I went over in the review series I did for the story bible. In the comics and every portrayal since she’s the “angry lesbian” who just likes to snap at people, be sarcastic for no good reason, and it ended up ruining the character. I repeat, not because she’s a lesbian now. If she were straight and still as obnoxious I’d still be mad they ruined one of my favorite characters. Again!
I like their solution to the problem. Just give Harley a proper redemption arc. Maybe she ends up being an anti-hero but leaving her a villain means any attempt you make to have it be Harley’s choice instead of Joker’s manipulations actually make her a worse character and less of someone you want to cheer on. No, sexpot Harley isn’t better, since it’s making you hot for the insane girl who would gladly kill you if her Mistah J demanded it. I might even call that worse than taking advantage of a drunk girl because as least she can come out of it and call the cops or find out he was drunk as well because he wouldn’t have approached her otherwise. Yes, taking advantage of a drunk has the better chance of a happy ending…you know what I mean and you still shouldn’t do it you jackass!!!!!!…than messing around with the crazy lady. Somebody should have warned Deadshot. At any rate Harley was a good character and they ruined her trying to fix her. Not sure what you can say to that but it isn’t positive.
[…] plays well into the video earlier this week on Harley Quinn’s de-evolution in other […]