The trailers made David Ayer’s film — which teams up some of DC’s most ruthless bad guys and girls, including Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Killer Croc — look like a fun and funny romp, the antidote to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s unceasing doom and gloom. The trailers lied, despite (or possibly because of) Suicide Squad being edited by the same company behind the popular teasers. That resulted in two cuts of the movie — “Ayer’s downbeat version, and a wacky graphics and classic rock-packed take cooked up by the trailer guys” — being smashed together, leading to “a lot of panic and ego.”
Suicide Squad is too incoherent to have any one identity, which is a shame because it could have been wonderful and, most of all, weird. So much of the pre-release buzz was centered on Jared Leto’s gross gifts, and how there was an on-set therapist for the actors, and how it was going to be like Deadpool, which isn’t a great movie, but at least it’s entertaining. Yet little of that twisted edginess — as Leto would no doubt put it — made it to the big screen.
If you want weird and you want Harley Quinn, the Joker, and Batman, look to the small screen, where Fox’s Batman: The Animated Series aired from 1992 to 1995. TV Guide called the visually stunning noir-classic the seventh greatest cartoon of all-time, and, for me at least, it’s the defining Batman look. Ben Affleck ain’t got nothing on Kevin Conroy. After sitting through Suicide Squad, I re-watched every Harley episode of The Animated Series (it’s where she made her debut) and was struck by how charmingly odd they are.
Below, you’ll find every time she makes an appearance, and two or three of the episode’s oddest moments. Margot Robbie did a fine job in Suicide Squad, but she can’t compete Arleen Sorkin’s original interpretation of the character (or with being dragged around Gotham by two hyenas).
“Joker’s Favor” (1992)
• Charlie Collins is a normal Gotham City citizen who’s having a really bad day. That’s all it takes “to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy,” and Charlie goes a little nuts when he gets cuts off by — you guessed it — the Clown Prince of Crime. The poor schlub tries to stick up for himself before realizing he messed with the wrong maniac; the Joker is all set to kill Charlie until he says he’ll do anything to save his life. Two years later, the Joker calls in the favor: for Charlie to open a door so Harley can deliver a (poisonous) cake. That’s it.
• One of the Joker’s goons reads a Tiny Toon Adventures comic, based on the animated series where key Batman: The Animated Series talents like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini — Harley’s co-creators — got their start.
• The Joker plans to kill Commissioner Gordon and other Gotham bigwigs with a bomb that looks like… the Joker. Also, some guy confuses Harley for a stripper because she’s in a police officer’s uniform. This is a kids’ show.
“The Laughing Fish” (1993)
• Based on a classic ’70s story by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, “The Laughing Fish” finds The Joker making all the fish in Gotham turn green and white, with a crazy lipsticked smile. “He’s made his move,” Batman says while a crew of confused fishermen look at their catch. What’s the move? The Joker informs the copyrights office that because the fish bear his likeness, he deserves a cut of the profit from every one that’s sold. The Joker literally tries to patent fish.
• The Joker forces Harley to eat the Joker Fish in a black-and-white commercial even though she’s deathly allergic.
• Batman rides a giant shark like a sorority sister on a mechanical bull.
“Almost Got ‘Im” (1992)
• Gotham’s most wanted, the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc, meet up to play cards and discuss the “best” time they almost killed Batman. The best story belongs to Killer Croc, who tells the assembled bad guys and girl, “There I was, holed up in this quarry when Batman came nosing around. He was getting closer… I threw a rock at him!” The other villains blankly stare at him. “It was a big rock.”
• Anyway, the Joker. He and his gang take over a late-night talk show (with Harley as his announcer and bandleader, naturally). The special guest that night: the Dark Knight, who’s strapped to a Laugh-o-Meter. The harder the audience laughs, the more Batman gets zapped in the electric chair. The Joker games the system by pumping the set with enough laughing gas that “these yahoos will laugh at anything now, even the phone book.” While Harley (who later attempts to turn “Catwoman into cat food” — don’t ask) reads the phone book, the Joker cooks a sausage next to a juiced-up Batman.
• Remember Killer Croc’s story? Surprise! It wasn’t actually Killer Croc. It was Batman in a Killer Croc outfit. Alfred really outdid himself that week.
“The Man Who Killed Batman” (1993)
• Like Charlie, Sidney Debris is another Gotham nobody, but through a series of unfortunate events, he becomes the Man Who Killed Batman. Sid the Squid, as he’s later nicknamed, is thrown in prison until Harley — dressed as a lawyer — gets him out. The Joker wants to meet Sidney, mostly to see if he’s telling the truth. So the Joker stages a robbery, and when the Caped Crusader doesn’t show, he laments, “Without Batman, crime has no punchline.” None of that is the weird part — the Joker’s funeral for his arch-enemy is.
• Harley plays “Amazing Grace” on the kazoo at Batman’s funeral, which turns into Sid the Squid’s burial after the Joker locks him in a coffin that’s lowered into a large vat of acid. The Joker, with a single tear on his face, sadly takes a deep sigh, then cheerily adds, “Well, that was fun. Who’s for Chinese?”
• This episode also introduces the Joker’s most loyal sidekicks, Bud and Lou the hysterical hyenas. (Of course the Joker would have henchhyenas — the Penguin already owns the rights to the laughing kookaburra.) They pair really nicely with his chair.
“Harley and Ivy” (1993)
• “Harley and Ivy” is a nearly perfect half-hour of television, and the first time we see Harley away from the Joker. After getting literally thrown out the door by her Puddin’ over an altercation with Batman that, honestly, would have gone much worse if not for her quick thinking, Harley teams up with Poison Ivy. They take over Gotham and are dubbed the “New Queens of Crime” by the press. Catwoman isn’t invited, as seen by this refrigerator drawing.
• This episode isn’t so much weird as it is sad. Harley’s depicted as a victim of the Joker’s emotional and physical abuse. (Harley: “I am not a doormat… am I?” Poison Ivy: “If you had a middle name, it’d be Welcome.”) But there is one bonkers scene where a group of horny young men pull up next to Harley and Poison Ivy’s car and start catcalling the dangerous ladies. When Poison Ivy invokes the boys’ mothers, one of them says, “What are you going to do, spank us?” Nope, Harley shoots them with a bazooka instead.
• Gotham’s new District Attorney, Janet Van Dorn, is fed up with Batman. She claims that the Caped Crusader “creates” supervillains like the Joker and Poison Ivy because he acts outside the law, instead of letting the police do their job. In an “of course” twist of fate, Janet is also dating Bruce Wayne, and she’s kidnapped during a night out. When Batman goes to rescue her, he gets assaulted and heads to Arkham Asylum, where he’s put on trial. The impartial jury: the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, the Scarecrow, the Riddler, and Harley Quinn. That is a great, if totally bonkers, premise for an episode.
• After a stirring closing argument from Janet, who admits she had it at all wrong — Batman didn’t create the bad guys and girls of Gotham; they created him — the Scarecrow declares Batman “not guilty.” But Honorable Judge Joker says that because he and his ilk are so “rotten, vile, and depraved,” they’re going to electrocute Batman anyway. Democracy simply doesn’t work.
• Batman in a straitjacket, the Joker as an Irish priest.
• Harley plays with a joker doll while locked inside a mental hospital.
• Batman takes Harley out of Arkham Asylum because he needs her help finding the Joker. After a visit to his vacant hideout, where Harley is reunited with her hyenas, she and Batman head to a mob party run by Boxy Bennett, who plans to kill the Dark Knight. Harley sings a little ditty called “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again” to distract the mobsters and give Robin enough time to free Batman. Let me say that again: Harley Quinn sings a demented song — sample lyric: “Life used to be so placid/Won’t you please put down that acid?/And say that we’re sweethearts again” — so Robin can rescue Batman, and she can be reunited with her Mr. J, who apparently threw acid at her. Batman: The Animated Series is wonderful, if supremely twisted.
• Harley thwarts the Joker’s plan to blow up Gotham — including her friends in Arkham and the hyenas — by knocking him out while he’s flying an airplane and firing aimlessly at a giant bomb. After the plane crashes, the Joker comes to, and is met by Harley, who’s furiously sticking a gun at him. He claims she doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger; she does. (Batman and Robin look on, seemingly content with what Harley’s about to do.) Unfortunately (?), it’s a prop firearm. Harley’s terrified of what the Joker’s going to do to her. Instead, he laughs and says, in an ode to The Honeymooners, “Baby, you’re the greatest.” The end fades to black with a heart. I did not make any of that up.
“Harley’s Holiday” (1994)
• Harley is released from Arkham Asylum and she’s eager to show the world that she can be an honest, law-abiding citizen. She even carries around the document to prove it… as she’s led around Gotham by her pet hyenas.
• Of course, Harley immediately gets in trouble after a misunderstanding in a clothing store. She changes back into the nutso who got locked up in the first place, both literally (by putting her clown outfit back on) and figuratively. Harley steals a car and takes Veronica Vreeland hostage. When Veronica’s father, General Vreeland, hears what happened, he goes behind Commissioner Gordon’s back and borrows a tank to blow Harley up.
That seems excessive.
• Harley survives the tank attack, but Batman (with third wheel Robin) escorts her back to Arkham. She gives her captor a long smooch, which isn’t that weird (for Harley), but Batman doesn’t pull away, which is. Is he startled? Is he confused? Is he turned on? (He’s a little turned on.) Whatever the case, she could do better than Batman or the Joker. Give that Robin fellow a shot.
• Harley barely appears in “Lock-Up” — named after Arkham Asylum’s Head of Security who gets fired for threatening and assaulting the inmates — but there’s a weird scene where the titular bad guy blames society’s problems on the “permissive, liberal media.” It’s one of the few overtly political statements in Batman: The Animated Series, or in any of the shows or movies until Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, especially The Dark Knight. And where was Harley when Heath Ledger’s Joker was blowing up hospitals?
Probably doing something vexing.