The DC Universe has struggled, especially compared to their arch-rival, Marvel. Arrow and The Flash both fell off after strong starts to the series. Suicide Squad was one of the most disappointing movies in recent years and the follow up Birds of Prey flopped at the box office. Even Joker turned out to be a failure with a convoluted plot. The brand needed a win, and one of their under the radar shows might prove to be what they needed.
Harley Quinn, an exclusive animated series to the DC Universe streaming service based on the titular character that also headlines Birds of Prey, is near perfect. The show follows Harley and her journey after finally getting out of an abusive relationship with the Joker. It tackles her relationships with Poison Ivy and a group of low-end DC villains. Her desperate attempt to earn praise and recognition from fellow crooks. And how her many toxic relationships in her life created the villain she became. All with a Boondocks-type level of humor and absurdity tacked on the entire way.
It also was very conscious of the problems our society currently faces. The opening scene of the first episode features the Joker and Harley features them robbing millionaires, where they mention the racism of aristocrats. Poison Ivy and Harley both have trust issues, and their inability to open up and let their walls down to let others in destroys them emotionally. Kite Man wants to be a better lover and friend to those around him, but puts on a macho persona to protect his public image as a super hero. Ivy often mentions that while she is often seen as a super-villain, what she actually does to protect the environment is actually for the greater good and not evil, society just has labeled her as such.
The show portrays super hero’s in general as part of some sort of large “Super-hero Industrial Complex” instead of an actual good in society. Hero’s and villains are just playing some sort of role in a large play to gather attention from a large audience. The Legion of Doom, the villain group Harley spends much of the series trying to get entrance to, has a full PR team, and even “cancells” one of those members in an absurd moment where they claim their mass criminal enterprise (which kills many women in the process) supports women. The WASP-y PR nonsense that dominates almost every corporation in America dominates Gotham as well.
Between the very real characters, the valid social criticism and the way it portrays modern liberalism and fourth wave feminism, the world of Harley Quinn feels surprisingly real despite the colored costumed characters and mutant trees running around everywhere.
In a media-landscape where basically every show is trying to “woke” and do some sort of class-commentary, Harley Quinn, did it better than almost everything else. Beneath its crude, foul-mouthed, humor, is an emotional story that makes you genuinely feel for characters that are usually portrayed as outright evil in other media they appear in.
The one failure of Harley Quinn is that it appears on a streaming platform nobody knows about. It has criminally flown under the radar and not turned out to be the hit DC thought it would be to boost their service. Whatever momentum it does has will quickly be capitalized, as season two is already scheduled for an early April release on DC Universe.