Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: The New Batman Adventures "Mad Love"

And so, here we are.

I find myself in the position of having to come up with something to say about "Mad Love" other than "It's perfect."

Wish me luck.


Dang it! Let's try that again.

This episode finally answers why Harley Quinn stays with the Joker. And the answer is exactly as horrifying as you would expect. No more of the subtext from "Harley and Ivy" and "Harlequinade." This time, it's the A-plot.

The whole story was adapted wholesale from Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's graphic novel "Mad Love."

Even Frank Miller's still sane enough to like it.
As far as adaptations go, it's almost 100% accurate. Of course, there are a few differences here and there, like the Joker's thoughts as he drives off...

Well, that pedestrian's dead.
Or Harley's fantasies of her wedded bliss with the Joker....

I love how that bird's hitting the edge of the thought bubble.
Or the original ending, which manages to be even more horrifying.

Though it worked in a nice reference to the Crystals.
Or even the original scene of Batman bringing in Joker, which seems to open up a plot hole.

So, you're not going to look into this, Batman?
Alongside that, it was also heavily implied that Harley was just going to use the Joker for fame and fortune, since she only passed her college exams by seducing her professor in a dark foreshadowing of her future with the Joker.

Speaking of future, Harley Quinn would later have a cameo in the Batman Beyond movie, scolding her teenage daughters for dressing up as clowns and joining a gang. So at least she ended up finding happiness with someone later in life, if she's got grandkids.

"Ya damn kids these days, dressing up as clowns an joining gangs! Why, when I did it, it wasn't with those skimpy outfits!"
Love. Obsession. Desire. Madness. The themes themselves are fairly self-evident. Instead of my usual analysis by story, theme, characters, etc., let me condense my analysis into a single question as the culmination of what's been building since "Harley and Ivy."

Harley loves the Joker. But does the Joker love Harley?

Well, that just opens up a plethora of different questions. So let's look at this from the beginning.

When Harley first entered Arkham Asylum, the Joker immediately targeted her. Literally her first time walking through the halls of Arkham, and Joker starts whistling his own theme song to get her attention, followed by a wink. Now, why would Joker be interested in a psychoanalyst? Most likely, he just wanted a "friend" on staff to make escaping easier. This would fit with the Joker's selfish mindset. But regardless of why he targeted her as hired help, he got a bit more than he bargained for when she went crazy and busted him out while dressed as a harlequin.

Now let's look at the facts from this point on.

If we assume that Joker targeted her as a means to get a friend of staff to help him break out, smuggle things to his cell, or some such like that, that plan just went down the crapper as soon as she decided to become a costumed criminal. And as we've seen multiple times before, though she's devoted and insanely loyal to her Puddin', she's really not that good at her job. We can infer from this that Joker isn't keeping her around because he needs her for criminal purposes. And yet, he can't replace her.

It's just not the same.
But then why does he keep her around? According to Bruce Timm, he needs her. If I may quote him, "Everyone's seen The Joker laugh. Harley is the only one who's seen him cry." And when you see the two working together, the two of them have really good comedic chemistry at times. And let's face it, that's the only chemistry the Joker wants. Aside from the chemistry that creates his Joker Gas, but never mind.

So Harley Quinn fulfills a need for the Joker emotionally. It's important to note that in "Harley and Ivy," the Joker couldn't even find his socks without her. For whatever reasons, selfish or not, the Joker needs Harley. She is simply his better half. But does he love her? After all, their relationship is based on a foundation of lies, right? He never once told her the truth about his past.

The Joker is a lie. His backstories contradict each other, his behavior ranges from the gleefully silly to the grimly serious, and more to the point, he has no name. He's "the Joker." the only thing that defines his identity as a human being is the fact that he looks like an evil clown. He lies about himself to Harley, but when you get down to it, lies are all the Joker has.

But is he even capable of love? Kind of. Love requires trust and the willingness to let yourself be vulnerable in good faith that the other person won't take advantage of that. And when you get down to it, he does. He absolutely trusts Harley Quinn, as he showed in "Harley and Ivy," when he wondered when she'd come back. And he always has faith that she won't hurt him, as evidenced when he didn't believe Harley would pull that trigger in "Harlequinade."

To put it simply, yes. Joker loves Harley Quinn, but in the only way this loathsome excuse for a human being can. The fact that he can express love for another person humanizes the Joker, but the way he chooses to express that love makes him an absolute monster.

And this story about the Joker crossing that line from cartoonish supervillainy into an all-too realistic form of evil makes this story one of the best installments in the DC Animated Universe. At the very least, it's an excellent warning to kids about the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd and, to put it simply and bluntly, why domestic abuse is wrong. There was a slim line to tread here; there needed to be a balance between superhero action, due consideration of real life domestic abuse, and all while under the watchful eye of network censors.

Truly, this dark cautionary tale is one of the most moving stories in the DCAU. If you only see a single episode of the whole DCAU, this is the one I'd recommend.

I mean... just... damn.

I don't cry when I watch TV or movies, but there have been a few times when I nearly did.


Big Hero 6.

"Mad Love."

If you haven't seen this episode yet, then do so. You will not regret it. Have a box of tissues at the ready, though.

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