Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: Batman: TAS "Harley and Ivy"

I'll give this episode one thing right off the bat. Harley and Ivy showed up. Technically, this episode delivered everything it promised. On an unrelated note, I'd give anything to see a Laverne & Shirley-style Harley and Ivy spinoff. Make it happen, Warner Brothers!

Get Garry Marshall on the horn!
Plot/Themes
Harley and Ivy go on a crime spree while Paul Dini distracts the network censors from noticing lesbian subtext and references to domestic abuse by shoving a poorly-constructed feminist statement in their faces. Now, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to make an actual feminist statement. In fact, I'd call it a good thing. I'd also say that from what I've seen on the internet, sometimes the sledgehammer is necessary to get it through some people's heads. But Ivy proclaiming that she was shackling Batman with the symbols of domestic slavery was just a bit too over the top. The feminist statement that Ivy's trying to make really just seems to boil down to "men suck." With the lesbian subtext, Ivy can unfortunately come across as a man-hating straw feminist. Ivy rails against men any chance she gets, but she never seems to present her particular brand of "feminism" in such a manner that's compelling, well argued, or even makes her side look good. It's hard to take an argument about sexism seriously when the people arguing are simply taking the sexism in the other direction... although perhaps the whole point was to turn it around like that.

It's a little awkward in this day and age, where some people still haven't grasped the idea that women can be astronauts, engineers, or even geeks. To modern eyes, Ivy's rants are kind of like Granny whipping out the N-word at the dinner table. Even if she's trying to say how handsome your African-American boyfriend is, the message gets a little muddled in the delivery.

Having said all that, I have to applaud Paul Dini for what he got away with in terms of Harley's references to her relationship with the Joker. I'll talk about it more when I get to later episodes, but Paul Dini would not have been able to do what he did in "Mad Love" if it weren't for the foundation he built here while the censors were distracted by Ivy's brand of feminism on display.

While my overall impression of the episode might seem negative, I swear that I really do like this episode. Well, mostly. Harley and Ivy have amazing chemistry. This episode has a bunch of good bits, but I'm hard pressed to call it "good." I'm going to call this episode "average," which is not an insult. Batman: TAS was an amazing show, and even its average episodes are head and shoulders above what a lot of shows today have to offer. When it comes to episodes of this series that don't have much Batman in them, it's much better than "I've Got Batman in my Basement." ("The Man Who Killed Batman" still reigns supreme, however.)

Although, here's a question... where was Batman when the big crime spree was happening? Was he taking the week off? Was he fixing the Batmobile? Did it lose a wheel when the Joker got away?

Harley Quinn
For a character that was only meant to be used in a single episode, she sure has come a long way. Not only do we see in this episode just what drives her to stay with the Joker, but we also see just how strong that drive actually is. She simply can't help but call him up, despite everything she was told.

But why is she so obsessed with the Joker? What's his side of the story? Is he really as good as Harley claims? Or is the truth of their relationship even worse that what's hinted at?

Such answers are for later episodes. But the groundwork for those episodes was well-laid.

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy goes from a fairly one-note plant-themed femme fatale into a three-dimensional character. Her budding friendship (no pun intended) with Harley feels genuine and brings out a new side in both of them. Ivy becomes sort of a big sister to Harley, taking her out for nights on the town while still caring enough about her well-being to tell her to dump her boyfriend.

Animation
Surprisingly good. The characters are very expressive and move fluidly for the most part, and the fire effects in the finale were eye-catching. On top of that, there were some subtle touches, like when Harley starts wearing her hair more like Ivy's after joining her.

Of course, when I say "surprisingly good," that doesn't necessarily equate with "good." There are the usual mistakes to be found with this show, thanks to the overseas animation. In fact, the Joker's continually off-model face in this episode was apparently one of the reasons they simplified his face when the show was given a retool to match Superman: TAS. But honestly, this show's done much worse.

All in all, this is an enjoyable half hour, but nothing particularly special. It's really good moments are balanced out by the iffy moments, resulting in an average episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Still, that's not a bad standard. If you like Harley Quinn and/or Poison Ivy.... well, then you've probably seen this episode already. If not, you might want to give it a whirl.

See you next time.

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