Batman: The Animated Series, “Harley and Ivy”

31Jul11

I’ve heard that some people don’t like Harley Quinn, and I don’t understand that. I think she’s probably the best character to come out of the Animated Series (Renee Montoya is a close second, but even a memorable police officer is second to a good new villain), and she does it in the best way-filling in a gap we didn’t know existed before her. There was no reason for the Joker to have a love interest of any kind before, but then he got one that wasn’t really about love, but control and power, and a woman falling for a very, very wrong kind of guy. At the same time, Harley doesn’t work on her own. That’s not because she’s not a good character, but because she’s not independent enough in her personality to be pulling her own crimes. But I think that dependent nature is what makes “Harley and Ivy” an inspired episode, since it lets us see she’s not helpless without the Joker…but she can’t just walk away from him, either.

The episode opens on a car chase between Batman and the Joker. Well, the Joker is there, but the one actually doing the driving is Harley, and it’s a good example of how dysfunctional their relationship is. He tells her to turn on a street, then yells at her about the steep drop they just went through, even though she tried to warn him. And though they escape the Batman, the Joker takes time to berate Harley for her poor performance (never mind that he wasn’t doing a thing to actually help), only getting madder at her trying to even briefly assert herself. It culminates in her being tossed out of the hideout…which is certainly better than the alternative, considering how angry Joker was getting.

Harley decides to prove she can do things on her own…which leads to her teaming up with Ivy, funnily enough. As Harley is about to steal a gigantic diamond (while having to remind herself she’s not taking it to the Joker, but keeping it for herself), Ivy sets off the alarms, and Harley has to help her escape. It’s a little weird to see Poison Ivy messing up like that, but then she’s usually working through long range plans, not sudden robberies. The two decide to team up after that, giving the audience the classic “spinning newspaper montage” for the passage of time…though they do give us two examples before and afterwards, including Harley blowing up a car to teach some stupid teenagers a lesson about politeness. Both Batman and the Joker manage to track the pair down after that-Batman thanks to some science and soil samples, and the Joker because a lonely Harley calls him, and he traces her call to find her. All three sides collide at Ivy’s home, and all three villains are apprehended…though only Batman catches the Joker. Harley and Ivy get caught by Officer Montoya, right after declaring no man could catch them, just to set themselves up for maximum karmic repayment.

As I said before, “Harley and Ivy” is an inspired pairing, and it’s both because it’s easy to see how the two characters would work well together…and how they couldn’t be a permanent partnership. On the surface, Catwoman might seem like a better partner for Poison Ivy, but the two approach environmental issues from different sides, and with different levels of dedication; Catwoman never seriously threatens other people’s lives, whereas Ivy was introduced trying to kill a man for building on an island. Harley, on the other hand, has no inherent objection to harming others, even if she’s not at the same level of bloodthirst as her boss. However, Ivy has no intention of relying on a man for anything, and Harley can’t quite escape the Joker’s influence, which is why the partnership couldn’t survive. Harley does take some steps towards being more independent-she doesn’t tell the Joker where she is when she calls, and she’s not happy when he comes for her ill-gotten gains instead of Harley herself. Even if Harley and Ivy had escaped at the end, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t have split up over the fallout of the Joker’s visit.

The episode also does a good job of acknowledging that the Joker can’t really get along without Harley anymore, even though he won’t admit it. Admittedly, it’s for things like doing laundry and feeding the hyenas, which is stereotypically domestic work…but someone has to do those things, and it makes sense that the Joker would put it on the one female member of his group. It also makes sense that for someone as narcissistic and insane as the Joker, he literally has no idea that Harley is stealing the spotlight with Ivy, until one of his henchmen has to point out why she hasn’t come crawling back as usual.

This is really just a fine episode throughout. It’s not perfect-the animation in general is good, but it has a few off moments, including the Joker’s face going horrendously off model in Ivy’s house, a problem the creators themselves point out on the DVD commentary for the episode. But it’s fun, quick, and helps to build both Harley and Ivy’s characters without detracting from the light-hearted mood. Definitely give it a watch.

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