As mentioned in a previous post, The DC Animated Universe of the 1990s and 2000s featured what is, in my opinion, some of the best work ever done with the character of Batman, as well as both his support system and rogues gallery. From Batman: The Animated Series all the way to Justice League Unlimited, the creative team used these pre-existing creations in ways that were kid-friendly, while also being both psychologically rich and complex, and thus crafted a consistently captivating viewing experience for people of all ages.
But as if this achievement wasn't enough by itself, they also created a brand new character that, in a short amount of time, became as vital a piece of the Batman mythology as almost any other.
Meet Harleen Frances Quinzel, Better Known As Harley Quinn
Harleen Frances Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn, was the handiwork of Batman: The Animated Series creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, and was first introduced in the episode "Joker's Favor." At the time, she was only intended to serve as the sidekick to the Clown Prince of Crime and, as such, had no backstory to speak of. As time went by and fan interest went up, however, the character began to develop and stand out more, first in her gal pal team-up with fellow villain Poison Ivy (and their subsequent relationship), and then when she found herself assisting the Dark Knight himself in the episode "Harlequinade."
But it was the Season 3 episode "Harley's Holiday" that really put her on the map as a completely fleshed out character in her own right. In it, Harley is released from Arkham Asylum, and is fully resolved to stay out permanently. And yet, through a series of misunderstandings and overreactions stemming from the simple act of trying to buy a pretty dress, she ends up kidnapping the daughter of a high-ranking military officer and creating more chaos in Gotham than ever before. Batman, of course, finally diffuses the situation, corralling her before returning her to Arkham. Once there, though, the relationship between the two took an unexpected, emotional turn:
Amidst all the touching beauty and remarkable sensitivity of this scene, it's that line that always struck my heart the hardest because, in the world of Batman, the otherwise dismissively common idea of having a "bad day" contains a crucial, crushing amount of weight. In many respects, one could even argue that it is this concept, more than any other, which underlies and informs the entire essence of this fictional reality.
Bad Days & Two Ways
This last weekend, at Comic-Con in San Diego, the long awaited DCAU version of Alan Moore's all-time classic The Killing Joke finally premiered (to what can charitably be described as "mixed reviews," but that'll just have to remain the subject of other posts for the time being). In the almost three decades since the book was first published in 1988, the "One Bad Day" speech The Joker delivers to Batman has become the most famous part of it, and forever linked both characters with the thematic strand it created.
You see, each character once had a bad day, and both characters were changed — at their very core — by that one bad day. More specifically, the course of both their lives was pretty much decided by each of their respective bad days, even though they went in entirely opposite directions (making them two sides of the same coin).
"Harley's Holiday" arrived about six and a half years later, incorporating the very same idea into her character. By using that exact line, after ostensibly having heard it from his great nemesis years before, Batman is doing so much more than just being nice to Harley in that moment: he's trying to save her. More than anyone else, Batman is intimately aware of the potential damage of one bad day and, just as importantly, he knows all about Harley's truly toxic relationship with the person who took that harrowing potential to the furthest possible degree. So he makes sure to end her bad day with one good thing, in the hopes of possibly turning it around. (More on this in a bit.)
Harley & Batman's Upcoming Chapter
Also at this year's Comic-Con, Bruce Timm dropped the news that his next project is, in his own words: "Batman and Harley Quinn: A Bruce Timm Story." And with all due respect to the live-action, cinematic premiere of the character in Suicide Squad, my level of interest was definitely piqued more by this reveal. Remember, Bruce Timm is one of her primary creators; no one else is more responsible for establishing her within the Batman mythology. And like any father (even if metaphorical), there is a love there that fans of the DCAU have seen time and time again.
You can really feel it in the backstory he and the other creators eventually came to develop for her. During Season 2 of The New Batman Adventures, in an episode entitled "Mad Love," Harley herself — albeit obliviously — recounts the tale of just how exactly The Joker infiltrated her mind, taking her from a sophisticated, promising, and ambitious psychology intern all the way to his own devotedly brainwashed lapdog:
Combining this with "Harley's Holiday," what clearly emerges is the idea that, while he still obviously considers her a dangerous nuisance, Batman — in a certain way — also views Harley as perhaps The Joker's greatest victim, as someone who has, very deeply, lost her entire life to the super villain. And just like with everyone else he encounters who's lost and in pain, Batman can't help but be affected by this. As he first did with Dick Grayson all those year ago, and went on to do with so many others, a small piece of the Caped Crusader discovered yet another crusade for him to fight, one more person in peril to look out for (even when it's with tough love, as evidenced by the above clip).
And going back to the previous strand of Batman and Joker being the flip side of the "One Bad Day" coin, Batman's reaching out to Harley after her bad day was a plea from him to her to stop heading in his greatest enemy's direction, while also serving as an unorthodox method for Batman to continue fighting the monumental conflict he and his legendary foe seem forever locked in. As far as Timm & Co. is concerned, it seems apparent that Harley herself, in a small way, actually became a battleground of sorts for these two antagonists; if Batman can succeed in helping her get past her destructive obsession and genuinely heal, then that'd be a resounding, meaningful, and richly-layered victory — not just against The Joker himself, but also against his dark end of their epic "One Bad Day" debate. And Batman's tremendously psychotic adversary knows this well, of course, which is why he can never, ever let her go, no matter what.
So What Does This All Mean For Bruce Timm's Upcoming Harley/Batman Film?
It will likely feature the definitive opus from one of the character's creators on that character's tragic struggle. I can very well see all of these swirling themes, stakes, and emotions finally being presented center stage, as Batman goes all in to save Harley from both herself as well as her lover/tormentor. I can see The Joker doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling down to keep his steadfast, doting servant in line. And I can see this young woman having to wrestle with everything she once was, is now, and possibly could become one day.
And underneath it all, there will be the real, tender love of a father of sorts watching over his wayward daughter, desperately wishing for her to finally come around, hoping against all hope for her to regain herself. But of course, it doesn't always go that way and, as he's often demonstrated in the past, no one seems to understand that more than Timm, especially in the case of his Harley.
So you might just wanna have a box of tissues on standby.