"Harley Quinn" vs "Birds of Prey": Harley Takes the Cake

by Jess Roth on February 29, 2020

Harley Quinn and I have always had a warmish relationship; I love seeing her in reruns of Batman: The Animated Series, thoroughly enjoy her appearances in the DC animated films, and absolutely adored her role in Tom Taylor’s Injustice series. Beyond that, however, Harley’s own comics always seem to find their way to the bottom of my ever-growing list of things to read; when Suicide Squad happened in 2016, she shone as the film’s centerpiece. Brought to life by the stellar Margot Robbie, Harley and her cotton candy-tipped blonde pigtails, trusty baseball bat and iconic trashy chic clothing became a staple in Hot Topic stores, for better or worse. That year it seemed like every woman under the age of 30 put her hair up in pigtails and donned a red-and-white Daddy’s Lil Monster shirt and glittery booty shorts for Halloween (if you missed out on the madness, Hot Topic still has those shirts in stock!).While the rest of the world fawned over Harley (not necessarily the rest of the movie, but Harley was spared and held above critics’ acidity towards the flick. Jared Leto’s Joker, however, was fried in it) my reaction was a resounding “meh.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think Robbie has done a wonderful job portraying Harley Quinn, and she has obviously connected to the character, but for me both Suicide Squad and the recently-released Birds of Prey felt like they were missing something. Honestly, I just sort of assumed Harley and I— while on friendly terms— would never click.

Then I watched DC Universe’s adult Harley Quinn cartoon (starring Kaley Cuoco) and cheerfully ate my words (and bought a stack of Harley comics and a little Bombshell statue to stick on my shelf). If you’re not watching it, you should. Especially if you, like me, really wanted to enjoy Birds of Prey but saw it and sort of forgot about it. It was fine, there were definitely some good things about it (the fight scenes were amazing, Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performances were fantastic) but ultimately, I know I won’t ever want to watch it again. It doesn’t speak to me as anything more than a middling action film in a slew of middling action films— it was missing the beating heart that would allow me to give a damn.

The Harley Quinn series, however, has heart in spades. It also features enthusiastic violence, sharp humour, in-depth character development, top-notch animation, and a wonderful cast. All of which bolster the final product, a diamond in the rough dressed with the trappings of vulgarity and zaniness. But my favourite part is how well it excels at everything it needs to without breaking a sweat.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare a long-form animated TV show to a single live-action movie, but both share a similar enough premise and it’s worth noting that only one of them delivers. Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn both position a Harley post-Joker, rediscovering her own agency and learning just how much she’s capable of. While the movie is comfortable letting Harley revel in being a psychotic juggalo who blows up a factory to signal the end of an abusive relationship (but like, that’s pretty much all there is to her. She does bond really well with a teenager who shares the name of a prolific Batgirl, but I absolutely refuse to believe they’re the same person), the TV show staggers out Harley’s misadventures as she deals with the psychological fallout of initiating a breakup with the Clown Prince of Crime. It gives viewers the space to really get to know (and grow fond of) her on her quest to become a villain so diabolical that Gothamites will piss themselves at the mention of her name. For the first time, Harley chooses Harley, and this is an utterly delightful thing to watch, especially as she pinballs ruthlessly off a supporting cast of characters that includes cool-as-a-cucumber Poison Ivy, earnest wannabe actor Clayface, and even Kite Man (hell yeah!)

I never thought I’d be more excited to see Kite Man than Cassandra Cain, but here we are. Overall I think the Harley Quinn show is just a lot of fun. While Birds of Prey definitely attempts to be balls-to-the-wall, Harley Qunn just is. It is f*cking phenomenal and deserves a standing ovation. If you haven't already, you should tune in and watch it. Now's the perfect time actually, because the second season of Harley Quinn launches April 3rd on DC Universe.