From “Batman: The Animated Series” to the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring “Batman Returns” to the “Dark Knight” trilogy to “Birds of Prey,” I have long loved good stories set in the Caped Crusader’s world. (“Suicide Squad,” “Batman v Superman,” and the like do not count. I won’t watch them and you can’t make me.) But my very favorite is probably “Harley Quinn,” the raunchy, hilarious, gleefully gory animated series that has just kicked off its third season. Following the titular Gotham antiheroine (voiced by Kaley Cuoco), her partner in crime Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), and their friends and foes, the show punctures the self-seriousness that has come to define Batman narratives in recent years — and flips the bird at its toxic fandom.
If you’ve never seen “Harley Quinn,” the first scene of the third-season premiere tells you all you need to know: after having driven off into the sunset together at the end of Season 2, Harley and Ivy are officially a couple. While co-opting Superman’s Fortress of Solitude as their new love pad, they’re snacking on popcorn and laughing at a porn parody about, well, themselves. Kylie Kryptonite’s Harley and Britney Bionic’s Ivy get it on; oral sex is involved and portrayed explicitly. And just like that, “Harley Quinn” has displayed a healthy sense of humor about itself, established its unapologetic sex positivity, and made clear it has zero interest in being deferential to fanboys. Probably most importantly, that scene doles out a deserved fuck-you to DC Entertainment for the whole “heroes don’t do that” debacle concerning a potential love scene between Batman and Catwoman. (If you know, you know.)
Really, what’s not to like?
Of course, this season isn’t all meta jokes about the powers that be, even if its takedown of the Golden Globes’ fuckery is especially delightful. In its third outing, “Harley Quinn” continues to do what it does best: cheerfully skewer the tropes and traditions of superhero movies, particularly those about Batman; effortlessly weave in cameos from characters big and small from the DC canon, often with side-splittingly funny results (the introduction of Harvey Guillén’s sad boi Nightwing is a particular highlight); and represent every “villain” and “hero” as the nuanced people they actually are. Remember, Ivy identifies as an eco-terrorist — a central focus in the new episodes — not a villainess. And as chaotic and impulsive as she can be, Harley is an effective, inspiring leader. She’s also a survivor of partner abuse, a talented gymnast, and more than anything, wants to make Ivy happy.
And if that means hijacking Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet or kidnapping Suicide Squad head Amanda Waller (Tisha Campbell), so be it. Harley Quinn, like most of the characters on her show, isn’t strictly one of the “bad guys” — but she’s not interested in being a saint, either. So much the better. She and her found family are a hell of a lot more interesting to watch than any blockbuster featuring a super-powered bro with a god complex.
Season 3 of “Harley Quinn” premieres today, July 28, on HBO Max.