Batman: The Animated Series accomplished many things. Aside from spinning off several other series to create what is now known as the DC Animated Universe and serving as the introduction to Batman for an entire generation, the series also introduced quite a few ideas and characters that were so well received that they were brought into the mainline comics continuity. The tragic origin of Mr. Freeze is one of the most notable examples, as well as the introduction of two original characters: Officer Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn.
While Freeze and Montoya have become strong, well-rounded characters in their own right, it’s Harley who has without a doubt made the biggest impact. From her beginnings as “Joker’s girlfriend,” she has since become a mainstay in the Suicide Squad and the leading lady of several titles.
One of the most endearing aspects of Harley’s character has been her unlikely friendship with Poison Ivy, a great comedic pairing that came about almost by accident on the animated series. With Harley playing the comedic foil to Ivy’s straight man, the duo have proven to be a great source of comedy and fan-favorite female camaraderie. In this newly updated edition of Batman: Harley & Ivy, several stories featuring the pair are collected, including a few issues that I don’t believe have ever been included in graphic novels before.
The title of the collection is obvious enough, but it’s taken from this three-part miniseries from 2004. While there is a narrative through line linking the events together, the plot is less about telling a story than it is various opportunities to get the duo from one outrageous situation to another. That’s not a knock against it at all, just don’t go into it expecting anything deep or thought-provoking.
When Harley kills a rare plant in an attempt to escape from Batman, the long-suffering Ivy decides she’s had enough of Harley’s buffoonery and tells her she never wants to see her again. Harley… well, she takes it about as well as you’d expect.
My absolute favorite thing about this story is the reminder of how brilliant a visual storyteller Bruce Timm is. His facial expressions are so expressive and animated that you could take away all of the dialogue on the page and still have a good idea about what’s going on.
Surprisingly, this story is pretty racy, with many a well placed arm or word balloon obscuring unmentionables. I’ve had an idea of Timm and Dini’s sense of humor over the years, but seeing it in a comic so closely linked to a property for all ages was fairly jarring.
The broad strokes are fun, though, with an adventure that stretches from Gotham to the jungles of South America, up to the backlots of Hollywood and back again. It’s lightweight fluff, but entertaining fluff.
Just maybe wait a few years before showing your kids.
This was also part of a previous collection I covered, but it’s worth revisiting.
A (mostly) wordless story, it follows Harley over a 24-hour period as she’s released from Arkham only to end up right back where she started. Again, it isn’t deep, just some good comedy with great work from Timm and Archie legend Dan DeCarlo.
Remember that part in Holiday Knights where the girls kidnap Bruce Wayne and go on a shopping spree?
That is exactly what this is, fashion montage and all.
I always like seeing Bruce Wayne interact with Batman’s nemeses, as it gives a different spin on the characters involved, and having Harley and Ivy use Bruce allows for some great gags. Not only that, but making them think they accidentally killed him only to shrug it off because they were going to do it anyway? That’s hilariously cold-blooded.
Good fun with a great tie to the TV show.
A fairly straightforward issue with a few twists and turns here and there.
After trying to apprehend the villainous duo on his own, Robin is captured by Poison Ivy and made a slave to her bidding. At first Harley is excited to have the Boy Wonder on their side, but she grows increasingly more annoyed the more she realizes he’s only interested in Ivy and not herself.
The idea of pitting Robin against the side of law is interesting and utilized well, as are Harley’s hilarious attempts to take him out so Ivy will pay attention to her again, but the main draw is perhaps the best fight scene Batman has ever been a part of:
Lots of Christmas stories here.
Batgirl takes center stage as she’s recruited by Harley to help track down Ivy, all while trying to make a date with her dad. Surprisingly, given the pedigree of the talent involved, I found this issue a little dull. It’s really long, clocking in at around 35 pages, and there really isn’t enough story here to justify that length.
It sure looks great, though, especially a car chase early on that’s as visually dynamic as a cartoon in motion.
The pair eventually team up to rescue Ivy, who was kidnapped by a group of “foxes” and is being held captive on a freighter. The assailants, led by Kit Nozawa, want Ivy to join their team of assassins, but she’s not having any of it.
From here it’s mostly well-illustrated but tiring fight scenes, with a few double-crosses and tricks thrown in for good measure. Again, it isn’t bad by any means, just a little longer than it needs to be. The characters are spot-on, the dialogue is snappy, and the gorgeous illustrations from Burchett and colorist Rick Taylor look like film cels, it just overstays its welcome by a hair.
Now this is just silly.
Bored in their cells in Arkham, Ivy and Harley engage in a bet: for a dollar, Ivy says she can kiss every male in the Asylum, be they inmates, guards, or doctors. Since she’s, you know, Poison Ivy, she uses pheromones to attract all of the men to her cell.
Interspersed with this are scenes of Batman and the Joker fighting, before the Dark Knight ultimately brings his foe in and gets the biggest laugh of the book.
Ronnie Del Carmen’s pencils are a little more stylized here than they were in “The Harley and the Ivy”, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of his Joker it’s still solid work.
There’s a nice twist with the Ventriloquist at the end that actually underscores just how sad Harley can be, which is a poignant touch to an otherwise funny but forgettable short.
There’s a trend, nowadays especially, where normally villainous characters are “softened” and depicted more as anti-heroes rather than outright antagonists. It’s a tricky balancing act, as it can often come across as an artificial attempt to humanize a character at the expense of their existing traits and personality.
“Role Models,” the final story in this collection, walks that line well and doesn’t veer too far in either direction, making this a great ending to this collection.
After a rash of child abductions, Batman is closing in on the suspect who has dubbed himself Playground, for reasons that are a little on the nose. When the kidnapper’s most recent victim escapes, she stumbles upon Harley and Ivy, who were in the midst of committing a crime.
The duo never come across as outright good, as they were intending to break the law and very well intend to do so again, but even they think victimizing children is a step too far. There’s some great interplay between the two and Batman, as they give him grief for “doing his job for him” by finding the child before he could, and Dini and artist Stēphane Roux depict the child’s sense of awe and wonder at the costumed characters well without things ever becoming manipulative.
A great closer, this one.
Bonus Features: Nothing, and what’s not here is interesting: I own a copy of an older edition of this collection which had the title series, “The Bet”, and Judd Winick’s “Love on the Lam” one-shot. The latter story isn’t here, which is strange, but there are plenty of other stories in this volume so it’s a wash.
Overall: A good, not great, collection. Fans of the title characters, Batman: The Animated Series, and the DC Universe in general are guaranteed to find something to like here. Nothing’s bad, and a few stories are almost great, but if you were only allowed to buy one graphic novel I’d look elsewhere. For fans and completists, though, it’s a decent investment.