Suicide Squad was supposed to show the world why so many Batman fans love Harley Quinn, the so-called sidekick who’s so diabolically magnetic that she almost always manages to overshadow the Joker, who first inspired her to turn to a sordid life of crime.
Instead, both the character and Margot Robbie’s energetic performance threaten to be swallowed up by scathing reviews of the film’s nonsensical editing, charges of violent misogyny, and the seemingly endless debate over what makes a good superhero movie. It’s enough to make even the most die-hard fans back away slowly (and toward a well-stocked bar, if they’re lucky).
It’s an awful shame that Suicide Squad is so muddled. But from where I’m sitting, allowing the film’s many flaws to undercut what should have been a breakout moment for the character is just about inexcusable.
Harley Quinn is the best — and I can prove it, with just one episode of a cartoon.
Harley Quinn’s origin story belongs to Batman: The Animated Series
Harley Quinn made her first appearance in a Batman universe in 1992, on the mid-'90s TV show Batman: The Animated Series. In an episode titled "Joker’s Favor," viewers were introduced to Harley as the Joker's enthusiastic sidekick. Later in an episode called "Mad Love," we learned about her backstory as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, an ambitious new psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum; by episode’s end, she was drawn in by the Joker’s diabolical charisma and transformed into his girlfriend-slash-sidekick, a.k.a. Harley Quinn.
The character’s flirty chemistry with just about everyone — not to mention Arleen Sorkin’s endearingly squeaky voice work — quickly made Harley a fan favorite. And in the 20 years since she first burst onto the Batman scene, the character has handily outlived the series that created her (Batman: The Animated Series ended in 1995) via subsequent comics featuring Harley and the Joker’s twisted adventures, enthusiastic fan cosplay, and now Suicide Squad.
But for as much as Harley’s story is intertwined with the Joker’s, her best episode of Batman: The Animated Series by a long shot is one that wrenches away her from his side to embark on a separate adventure with an entirely different iconic Batman villain: the smirking, slinking Poison Ivy.
"Harley and Ivy" lets Harley be her bonkers best (with bonus Poison Ivy!)
Forty-seven episodes into Batman: The Animated Series, after being featured in several episodes together, Harley and the Joker break up — or at least he kicks her out after a diamond heist gone wrong, blaming her for an entire team’s fuck-up, as is his wont.
But Harley doesn’t let the Joker’s rejection get her down, at least not at first. Instead, she marches right back to the scene of the crime to steal the rock herself … and runs straight into Poison Ivy, trying to do the exact same thing.
The two end up escaping from the police together, stolen property safely in tow, and quickly grow close. Harley’s freewheeling mischief perfectly offsets Ivy’s laser-focused brand of villainy, and their ensuing reign of terror over The Animated Series’ Gotham is a beautiful thing to behold.
The pairing won’t last; by the end of "Harley and Ivy," Harley returns to the Joker’s side. But even in their brief time together, the women’s relationship runs deep.
Ivy teaches Harley to stick up for herself, which she sure as hell wasn’t going to learn while attached to Joker’s hip like some yes-(wo)man barnacle. As the duo tears around Gotham wreaking havoc, they even take the time to teach a group of drooling frat boy catcallers a lesson they won’t soon forget:
And if you’re feeling let down by the Suicide Squad movie's failure to deliver on the whiplash-inducing, empowered, and extremely fun iteration of Harley Quinn it promised in its trailers, you can’t do much better than that.
And, yes, there are definitely overt references to Harley and Ivy being more than just friends. The women lounge around Ivy’s apartment wearing oxford shirts and no pants, with Ivy snapping jealously at her new lady whenever she mentions her neon-haired ex.
Harley and Poison Ivy make for an explicitly feminist pairing: In "Harley and Ivy," they proudly boast that they can outdo any male villain who might only see them as sidekick material (*cough* Joker *cough*), and at one point they even tie up Batman with vacuum and iron cords to protest — as Ivy puts it — "the symbols of female domestic slavery!"
These two mean business, and woe betide the man who gets in their way.
Suicide Squad didn’t need to recreate "Harley and Ivy" (nor could it have, since Ivy’s not a part of its particular band of villains). But if it actually wanted to have as much fun with Harley Quinn as its trailers promised it would, the film could’ve done a lot worse than let Robbie’s Harley and a languid Ivy tear shit up on a big screen in the supervillain equivalent of a wink and a smirk.
You can watch the full episode of "Harley and Ivy" and bask in their wicked glory here.
Corrected to reflect that Harley's backstory came in "Mad Love," not "Joker's Favor."