Harley Quinn: Season 1 Retrospect

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“Harley Quinn” is the best animated show to come out of DC since Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series” and the “Justice League.” The film is hilarious, has an emotional core, great characters and I can’t wait to see where the story goes. This is one I show I highly recommend. The closest comparison I can make in tone is to a show like “The Venture Bros.” which is a favorite of show of mine as well.

The series is written and produced by Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey.

The story follows Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) after Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) breaks her out of Arkham after the Joker (Alan Tudyk) has once again abandoned her. From here she must face her trauma as she seeks to make a name for herself in Gotham.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

This Version of the DC Universe – This version of the DC universe is much more bloody than Bruce Timm’s early outings (The show is TV-MA for a reason) while also having more jokes as well. The jokes aren’t 4th wall breaking and come from the characters and their relationships, which makes things a lot of fun.

The Animation – The animation is some of the best I have seen come out of DC as larger landscapes and cityscapes give the painted city feel while you still the details and action in brutal fights. The animators like the writers clearly had a lot of fun with this show.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is so much fun. Jefferson Friedman chose the songs that fit the tone of each story really well. There is a fun and dangerous feel to it which fits the feel of the story being driven by Harley and her crew.

The Characters – Villains drive the story and the heroes are broken, so we are very much in Gotham City. The “heroes” work in this universe too and I’ll get into why they and the others do as well. The comedy works so well because of these characters.

Jim Gordon – This is the most pitiful Jim Gordon put to screen. He’s an alcoholic in a failing marriage who sees Batman as his only friend. It is only through making friends with Clayface’s hand that he and Batman repair their friendship enough for Jim to be functioning again. In the end he is captured in Joker’s rise but freed after Joker’s defeat by Harley and left in a destroyed Gotham, setting up next season.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Batman is distant in this but you see that at his core he does care. We see this in how he shows empathy for Harley and sees how bad her relationship is with the Joker and he calls out Joker’s psychoses after he is captured as well. The season ends with it being unknown if he is dead or alive after Joker destroys Joker Tower setting off the earthquake that destroys Gotham.

Kiteman – Kiteman is a D List villain and Ivy’s love interest. He’s a loveable doof in how genuine his emotions are and how awkward he is with his jokes and presentation. He’s an ally to Harley and her squad as well and his kite comes in handy on more than one occasion.

The Legion of Doom – The Legion of Doom is a lot of fun. Giancarlo Esposito’s Lex Luthor is reminiscent of the one from Bruce Timm’s universe and is great in how smart, threatening and manipulative he is though the Gotham villains are really the standouts. I wish we could have spent more time here as all the classic DC villains make this place their home from Cheetah to Sinestro. They mostly just show up though.

Scarecrow – This version of Scarecrow is smooth and scary. He and the Queen of Fables are the ones who team together to destroy the Legion of Doom Headquarters and it is Scarecrow who takes Ivy’s blood to make uncontrollable demon trees. He is a good threat and one of the more competent versions of this character. The only reason he doesn’t survive is his pisses of Joker when he takes of Batman’s mask and is killed because of it.

Joker – Alan Tudyk is such an amazing voice actor. He also voices Clayface in this but Clayface isn’t all that complicated of a character and mostly just a fun member of Harley’s squad. Joker on the other hand is a great villain whose ego leads to him escalating any plan he puts into motion. Harley is the first person to tell him no and manages to upend his plans a few times ending with him losing all memory of who he is when what he planned to do Harley happens to him (erasing memories in acid).

Bane – Bane is my favorite character on the show. The guy is a wonderful villain cinnamon roll who is sensitive but quick to anger as he wants to blow up whatever displeases him. He’s a mixture of classic Bane with Tom Hardy’s voice and it is a running joke that Legion of Doom doesn’t respect him. I really like this version of Bane as he is given nuance and is one of the few good bad guys.

Harley Quinn and her Squad – Harley Quinn and her Squad are the ones who drive the show as she recruits those who the Legion ignores, be they sexist like Dr. Psycho, obsessed actors like Clayface, and outsiders like King Shark. She also has Ivy and Ivy’s former CIA agent landlord Sy Borgman helping out and basically members of the Squad.

King Shark – Ron Funches is great as King Shark. King Shark loves technology and is the one to first help Harley’s social media image. He’s also the strongest member of the group and is still clearly a shark as he has no issue eating people. We also see a hint at his history to come when Aquaman mentions his dad. These were all nice touches that made the character entertaining.

Poison Ivy – Lake Bell plays Poison Ivy so well. This version of Ivy is full eco-terrorist mode with an understanding of the glass ceiling that women supervillains face (Legion of Doom is overwhelmingly men) and she is great at seeing through toxic people and organizations. She is the one who helps Harley realize how abusive the Joker is and their friendship is what drives the story as you see why they are best friends and all the drama and healing that comes through that journey.

Exploration of Trust, Identity and Trauma – The main theme of the show is the exploration of trust and trauma and how it relates to a person’s identity. This is core with Harley as we see her abusive parents were what to lead to her abusive relationship with the Joker and it is in facing the Joker and her parents that she is freed from them and realizes who her family (The Squad) really are. Ivy also goes through this as well as we see how Harley was the only person who was ever kind to her and seeing Harley repeating the abuse cycle with the Joker leads to her not trusting Harley. The two of them love each other so much and it is the powerful core of the story as they discover more about who they are.

The Cons:

Robin / Damian Wayne – Robin is really annoying. This version is supposed to be Damian but this version has none of the raised by the League of Shadow intensity and it mostly played as a joke. The thing is as a joke he just isn’t that funny and the show could remove him completely and be better for it.

Legion of Doom Screentime – We see so many members of the Legion of Doom and not many of them have much to do if they aren’t Gotham based or Lex Luthor. Given that the crew and Harley were living at Headquarters for a while, this was a missed opportunity.

This is a great show and I can’t wait to watch “Season 2.” This certainly follows the pattern of DC being better at animation and television than they have been with their films and for shows this I would say is the gold standard. Every episode advances the plot, the animation and soundtrack are fantastic and these versions of the characters have arcs and are compelling. This is probably my favorite thing DC has put out in a long time and it is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” Season 2 – A Jumbled But Decent Season That Explores Letting Go and Grief

    “Legends of Tomorrow” is an interesting show to write about. This is a show that tries to do a lot and is dealing with an ensemble cast (both Legends and Villains this time) so because of that some characters don’t get the exploration they deserve or are as powerful as they could be. I still enjoyed this season and watched it all the way through, but it is debatable whether it’s quality beats Season 1 as Season 1 was so much more focused and had an overarching narrative that didn’t get distracted as much as this season did. If you like the CW DC Cinematic Universe you will probably enjoy this season though.

    The story involves the Legends working to stop the Legion of Doom, lead by Thawne (Reverse-Flash) from getting the Spear of Destiny, which can rewrite time and reality itself. They find allies in the Justice Society of America as people from their past are manipulated by the Legion and Reverse-Flash’s plans unfold.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – I really enjoy the universe of “Legends of Tomorrow.” This is a time travel show that has so much fun with the concept, with this time us visiting the Apollo mission, World War 1 and Cold War as some of the stand out episodes. This season really had a lot of fun with the premise.

The Legends – The Legends receive more development this season, to varying degrees of success, that I’ll get into later. I enjoyed them all though, even with the writing for all not always being good.

Stein – Stein changes the past in this! When he changes how he gets together with his wife they end up having a child together, which he didn’t in the other timeline. She becomes one of the allies of the Legends and we also learn that Stein knows that due to how old he is, he won’t be around as long. I suspect he will be the next to die among the Legends.

Jefferson – Jefferson goes through a lot of great development and comes the closest to being second-in-command as he is the one who outsmarts evil rip and is closest to Gideon after Rip’s departure. I’m looking forward to seeing how his leadership role further develops.

Rip Hunter – Rip is sadly missing through most of this season. When he does show up he’s wiped his memory to keep people from finding the Spear of Destiny but the Legends find his memories and the Legion of Doom gets a hold of them and makes him evil for a while until Gideon and the Legends restore him. They really should have done more with him, more Darvill is better.

Vixen – Vixen ends up joining the Legends when she sneaks onto their ship after a time traveler kills one of the Justice Society of America (who she is a part of). I really liked her character, she has a cool ability where she takes on different animal powers and her being the woman out of time gives her a great perspective in episodes.

Steel – Steel is the Time Detective who works with Rory to find the other members of the Legends when they are scattered through time at the outset of the Season. His arc is resolving things with his family and standing up for himself. He annoyed me a lot at first, but grew on me. I like that he is among the Legends.

Snart / Captain Cold – The Legion of Doom takes Snart out of the past and uses him against the Legends. He kills Vixen (she is brought back when Doomworld is rewritten) and helps Thawne win everything. He is evil through and through but Rory lets him know that he will change and that it is Snart’s action that turn Rory into a good man.

Rory – Rory has the loyalty arc again as he joins Snart when the Legion recruits Snart. This leads to Thawne and the Legion winning as they capture the Spear and create “Doomworld” a world where the Legends serve the Legion. Rory helps the Legends remember who they were and stops the Legion. His arc wasn’t needed and I wish he could have taken more of a Leadership role that Jefferson and Sarah take up…he is an underutilized character at this point, at least in regards to writing. His arc that is done well is when he has to let go of Snart and accept that he is dead.

Sarah Lance – Sarah Lance is made Captain by Rip when he leaves and her arc is accepting that role as well as giving up revenge against Dark and letting go of her sister and moving on. This arc is handled well, and her leadership grew on me. The only downside was Dark kept popping up so it was mercy again and again. It took away from her arc when it was done and showed initially the writers might not have known what to do with her role.

Thawne / Reverse-Flash – I really like Thawne / Reverse-Flash. He is a smart and ambitious character who actually wins for a while! Sadly Black Flash wipes him out of time again, but he will come back I hope. Flashpoint in “Flash” brought him back and I hope we will see it again. He is one of the best villains in the CW DC Cinematic Universe and in this he is humanized a lot, while still remaining a villain. I loved his conversations with Captain Atom and other members of the Legends…

The Crossover Event – The Legends, The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl all teamed up fighting the Dominators! This was an amazing event and I wanted more of it. This was the closest we have to a CW DC Justice League and I cared about all the characters, and felt the alien threat was great. Here is to more events like this.

Grief and Letting Go – The major theme this season was letting go and moving through grief. Rory and Sarah’s arcs were only completed after they said good-bye to those they loved and accepted how that person had changed them. This was powerful but felt weaker because Rip did this last Season with his wife and kid…It was still one of the better parts of the season though.

Okay: The Ending – The ending is alright. I enjoyed Rory saying good by to Snart and Sarah saying good by the Laurel but wasn’t a fan of Rip going off an adventure again and though the breaking time is intriguing (maybe Thawne will be back!) and I liked that Vixen and Steel are the new members of the Legends…it still felt unfinished and that it was more concerned with setting up Season 3 than having a final Season 2.

The Cons: Dark – Dark is also from “Arrow” and also a waste. Seriously the “Arrow” villains are just the most boring characters in the CW DC Cinematic Universe. He is smarmy and smug and loses every fight he gets into. It takes the Reverse-Flash rewriting reality to give him his only real win. If the Legion even comes back I hope he and Merlyn aren’t a part of it.

Merlyn – Merlyn is back from “Arrow” and doesn’t really do much. He loses every fight he gets into and his whole wanting his wife and son back is never explored. He really wasn’t needed for the Legion of Doom.

The Justice Society of America – These guys show up in World War 2 and hide parts of the Spear of Destiny throughout time with Rip Hunter. They are extremely underdeveloped though and I never got attached. They really should have been core to the season, as besides Vixen, none of them are needed for the plot at all. They aren’t the answer to the Legion of Doom and they seem to only exist this season because they exist in the DC universe.

   This season was stronger in many ways, but weaker in others. I felt Dark and Merlyn never went anywhere as villains. I also felt the Justice Society could have been explored more. Besides Vixen I didn’t feel like I really got to know any of them. They played a big role in separating the Spear but outside of that they weren’t needed for the story at all. I enjoyed Sarah letting go of her sister and Rory having to let go of Snart, the good-byes were the best part of the finale…and I’m hoping Thawne comes back, given he’s been erased from reality twice now…Thawne is one of the best villains to come out of the CW DC Cinematic Universe and he’s been the best antagonist the Flash has, so I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him. For overall thoughts, this is a good season that kept me interested in seeing where the story goes from here.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10