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[Retrospective]Batman: Harley and Ivy

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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Harley Quinn is a relatively rare character, as she started out in the now-legendary Batman: the Animated Series and made the transition to comic books - something that used to happen much more rarely, like when kryptonite went from the Superman Radio Serial to the comics. Yet she is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. As the Joker has gotten progressively darker in his actions and incarnations, it helps to have a much more light-hearted and innocent kind of cartoon craziness to balance out his characterization. More than that, Harley Quinn has gone from a one-joke character to a much deeper, much more broken and complex person...

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...who can still bring the innuendo.

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One of the most brilliant ideas Paul Dini and Bruce Timm ever had, however, is pairing Quinn up with Poison Ivy, who acts as her straightwoman. It's one of those great friendships which comes across as so odd-coupleish and natural that it's practically perfect.

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...and you have to know that they both knew exactly what they were doing in this sequence in issue #1. Indeed, this sets the tone for the comic, really. The plots for the three-issue series are a bit hokey and loosely-connected, well equivalent to the Saturday morning cartoon audience they were striving for, but it's also a blatant - BLATANT - exercise in getting crap past the radar, from the implicitly-homosexual Slash and Burn in issue two to the Mark Hamill/Joker cameo and Animaniacs expy in issue three.
Okay, so I should mention a few things about the plot. In issue one, Ivy & Harley try to steal the Zombie Creeper plant, from which Ivy can distill a poison that can render everyone in Gotham her mindless slave. But Harley screws it up, Batman intervenes, and the ladies go back to Arkham Asylum...where they're on the outs (see towel-whipping scene above). But they manage to escape, and go to South America. Cue issue #2: The ladies are in a small country whose rainforests (the natural habitat of the Zombie Creeper) are being logged by a couple of male supercriminals; Harley & Ivy mind-control the president, beat up the thugs, save the rainforest and steal the Zombie Creeper. Issue #3 sees them back in the States, where they find out they've inspired a movie - so they head to Hollywood and take over the production, with the plan to embezzle funds so that they can produce enough Zombie Creeper gas to take over Gotham. Production costs soar, Harley Quinn makes a bazillion movie references, and eventually Batman steps in and sends the ladies back to Gotham...but at least they're friends again. Still. Forever.

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It's he comic that launched a thousand ship-fics. Some of which are canon!

This is something that a lot of comics forgot they could strive for: fun, well-executed, clever without trying to be some epic thing or with some terrific twist - it doesn't need any of that. It's a little silly - a lot silly, once Harley and Ivy hit Hollywood - but it also has some terrific writing and art. Let's look at this page:

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Short of turning a bunch of orphaned kids into plant-human hybrids that need fertilizer to survive, this is about as dark as Poison Ivy can get. Props to Lee Loughridge on the colors too, which really work with Shane Glines' inks of Bruce Timm's pencils - it's little stuff like that, the difference of shading which can totally change a scene in an instant.

What really makes this comic, from a high-level perspective, is that the focus is on Harley & Ivy. Yes, Batman is on the title and technically in each issue, but the comic is about those two Felonious Females, and their relationship. Ivy can't stay mad at Harley, and Harley is...I don't want to say clingy, but without the Joker or Batman to act as her other pole, she needs someone to play off of or her jokes just aren't as funny.

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Also, it pays to remember not to underestimate Harley Quinn just because she doesn't have powers. Also, did Paul Dini and Bruce Timm really do a three-page women-in-prison gag in a kid's comic? These guys are your tiny memetic gods.

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I would be remiss not to include a Nebezial strip here.

We don't often remember how weird it was to have comic adaptations of animated adaptations of comic books, because these days the trend is that if the comic/movie/television show does well, the comics start to sort of converge on that image or interpretation of the character. So it is kind of nice to slide into nostalgia-mode and see what is essentially a printed version of a Batman: the Animated Series episode - one which is neither too dark nor too innocent, and yet is terribly uncomplicated for all that, not carrying with it the history and drama of long continuity or deliberate efforts to be "gritty."

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Seriously, stop trying so hard.

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