Harley Quinn: Batman Begins Forever

Whaddya think? Too much leg?

I’ve had some mixed feelings about the Harley Quinn cartoon on HBOMax. Sometimes it’s been really damn funny, and sometimes it’s been on the ridiculous side. There are some trends on the series I definitely haven’t enjoyed, but sometimes they pull off something really good. “Batman Begins Forever” mixed some astute insight and actual compassion from Harley and an impressively thorough series of nods to various incarnations of Batman’s life and career. They even brought back a character we haven’t seen in quite a while in a way that made sense, and a shoutout to a show about our main character’s profession.

We learned that Bruce Wayne was behind the disappearance of Frank the Plant, and Harley and Ivy have managed to capture him (while not learning his secret). Ivy is desperate to get Frank back, both because he’s her friend and because he’s crucial for the next step in her evil plan. And while yes, Harley and Ivy have been more chaotic neutral than evil for much of this series, the plan is flat-out evil. They try and interrogate Bruce, but he isn’t afraid of them and points out they can’t actually kill him if they want to find out Frank’s location. Apparently this version of Ivy doesn’t have the mind control abilities of her comic book counterpart. Realizing they’re out of options, Harley and Ivy go look up an old associate.

Not seen since siding with Darkseid against, well, Earth in general, Dr. Psycho is revealed to have been in prison (or Arkham, it’s not really clear) and now hosts a self-help podcast. A familiar voice calling in about an ongoing grudge gets interrupted when Harley and Ivy burst in, beat down the security guards, and make their case. Psycho seems both amused and intrigued, and agrees to help. The very much not-good doctor makes a demand of Harley, not at all one I’d have expected, and they get things going, although Psycho has qualms about irking someone as rich and powerful as Bruce Wayne.

King Shark declines to go along on this trip, so Harley, Ivy, Psycho, and Clayface venture into Bruce’s mind. As Psycho and Harley talk shop (he’s a psychiatrist, too), there’s a title card in the style of Fraiser’s old sitcom. To no great surprise, the first thing they see is the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, killed after coming out of The Mask of Zorro in Crime Alley by Joe Chill. After an amusing argument about which Joe is which (Chill, Cool, and Camel), they start to realize something isn’t right, and then see the same grim event played out over and over again. In a nice touch, the backgrounds for this repeating trauma are not only in the style of, but actually taken from the studio that did Batman: The Animated Series, with some of that music in the background. Clayface goes off on one of his usual selfish side-quests, and Psycho and Ivy argue about how to find out what she wants to know. Harley ends up taking action, trying to help young Bruce, and the others get unceremoniously kicked out of his brain.

Alone, Harley and young Bruce flee through assorted memories, with nods to, at the very least, the Christian Bale Batman movies and the live action show of the sixties. Finally, Harley manages to put together Bruce’s secret, and is utterly stunned until she sees the pieces come together, which gets something of an in-joke from Bruce. Out in the real world, Ivy worries about Harley, King Shark flips out, and Psycho is confused.

Finally, Harley and Bruce get drawn into a memory, and there’s a very interesting fight involving variations of Batman, Robin, the Joker, and the classic, original Harley Quinn, which the current one mocks for her accent and esteem issues. Also, against her will, Harley begins to understand the allure of the hero life. There are jokes about the Robin costume, some Dark Knight imagery, a few decent comments about the flaws in the American healthcare system, and a really impressive statement, and promise, from Harley, which gets her back to the real world.

She wakes up to find the team’s circumstances have changed drastically, and why, exactly, Bruce captured Frank. It’s a spin I didn’t see coming, and I give them points for being creative with a new spin on Batman’s motivation that actually worked and wasn’t a joke at his expense. Things are looking really bad, and we end with what might be the first big cliffhanger of an episode for the series. It’s the only one I recall, at least. I suspect the conclusion is going to be messy.

What I Liked: For a half hour episode with a lot going on in it, they worked in some great bits about a lot of different Batman eras. Harley acting like a person and not, well, a cartoon, was a nice change, and showed some of the person that might have initially gotten interested in psychiatry and helping people. Clayface continues to be a cartoon, but voiced entertainingly by the always fun Alan Tudyk, who also plays the Joker. Psycho’s podcast was an entertaining bit of silliness off on the side. And, while I don’t like what they’re doing to one of the characters, I give them credit for committing, throughout the season, to a running joke. There was also a nice swipe at one of the DC movies’ biggest fails. They even manage to work in a reference to the timescale for superheroes that never quite works if you think about it.

What I Didn’t: Really, not much this time around. It was a horribly traumatizing take on Bruce’s decision to become Batman, but it made sense. I’m not sure how the little hint we got of King Shark’s current circumstances is actually supposed to work.

This was possibly the best episode of the series, certainly of the season. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5.