Next week, DC’s latest attempt at getting their cinematic universe off the ground will hit theaters in the form of “Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” The title strongly suggests that Harley will be leaving the Joker, discovering who she is without him and surrounding herself with a new, more supportive group.
Seeing as DC has been about as unsuccessful with bringing their stable of massively popular characters together on the big screen as anyone else trying to ape Marvel, one might think they should take a look at the other current Harley Quinn property covering her splitting from the Joker, forging an identity of her own, and bringing together her own crew of misfits.
Simply titled “Harley Quinn” and airing on DC’s streaming app (which explains how it is flying so far under the radar) the show is an animated adult-comedy action series, heavy on the adult and the comedy.
The amazing thing is that the show is genuinely funny. It explores Quinn’s co-dependent infatuation with “Mr. J” and her search for self-identity following their split. To do so, Quinn leans on friend and fellow villain, Poison Ivy, and brings together a team of C and D-list villains.
On top of being well-written and well-animated, it does the seemingly impossible and brings DC’s roster of heroes and villains off the pages of comics in, if not always accurate to the character’s normal portrayal, constantly entertaining fashion.
The voice performances sell the comedy and feel appropriate to the tone “Harley Quinn” creates. Kaley Cuoco and Alan Tudyk are pitch perfect as Quinn and Joker. Tudyk also voices Clayface as a foppish failed thespian and is the target of many punchlines. Lake Bell and Ron Funches bring an understated levity to Poison Ivy and King Shark, stealing many scenes with low-energy snark. Tony Hale as Dr. Psycho stands out for being his largest departure from Buster Bluth and it’s refreshing to see a little more range from the actor.
One of the greatest strengths of “Harley Quinn” seems to be that no one seems to know it exists, within DC and Warner Brothers at least. That anonymity has allowed the show to not be beholden to any continuity that doesn’t serve it.
Those critical of comic book inaccuracies might not be so happy with some of the depictions, but the comic books still exist, and the humorous takes on characters work in the world the show has created.
In a similar way, last year’s “Joker” broke free the bonds of a shared universe for the better.
The next lesson DC could take from “Harley Quinn” is to stop taking itself so seriously. Superhero comics are fun, escapist fiction ab out people with powers and abilities fighting bad guys. That is not all they are, and there have been amazing stories told that are not lighthearted fare. But not every movie and show with men and women wearing capes and cowls needs to be a dark deconstruction of our society.
Hopefully, Birds of Prey will be great shot. However, chances are it will be another middling disappointment. In which case, we should all wash the taste from our mouths by watching and re-watching the first season of “Harley Quinn.”