Oftentimes when a show makes huge changes to the status quo, the writers will often try to backpedal. You can’t, for example, get rid of one of the show’s iconic villains in a massive building implosion and then act like there was no fallout from that. Harley Quinn knows that. Harley Quinn throws the idea of normal out the window and stomps on the status quo. Consider Harley Quinn season 1 fair game for spoilers, along with some spoilers for Harley Quinn Season 2, Episode 1, “New Gotham.”
Harley’s first outing on DC Universe ended with things in total disarray after she and her gang of misfits took down the Justice League, the Joker and, by total accident, Batman himself. When we find Harley again, none of that is undone. In fact, things have gotten even worse. Gotham is in such a state of anarchy that the President of the United States declares the city no longer a part of the States. Harley tools around on a bumper-car pulled by her hyenas, tooting an airhorn while thugs disarm an innocent man (literally).
Poison Ivy lays it out for Harley: If she doesn’t take charge of the Joker-less Gotham City, someone else will. Okay, there is one thing that doesn’t change here. Harley doesn’t listen, and soon finds herself facing down a huge portion of Batman’s rogues’ gallery.
The show is painting a dark (but hilarious) picture of Gotham. Innocent people are dying or giving in to corruption, and villains are divvying up a city abandoned by its country. Batman is missing, presumed dead, and even the Gotham PD is really just a frazzled and desperate Jim Gordon.
For a show as silly as Harley Quinn, this is going pretty far. Gotham is a No Man’s Land. It’s not doing that storyline, of course, but things are about as chaotic. It’s ambitious, and it puts Harley in a tough spot. She has to take a Harley-specific kind of responsibility, something this take on the character has struggled with. She remade Gotham in her image, and she can’t just run around in it. If she doesn’t take charge, someone else will.
I don’t want to talk about how the heist that makes up the back half of the show ends, but I can say this. My jaw literally dropped as I watched. After ostensibly killing the Joker at the end of the last season, the new season is starting out with a take-no-prisoners attitude, and the fight that caps the episode removes a major Batman character from the Harley Quinn playing field permanently.
This is exactly what I love about Harley Quinn. At every turn, it finds ways to mess with Batman mythology, often exposing how absurd Batman can get or asking us to consider what these villains would really be like. The Queen of Fables becomes a dangerous, homicidal villain. Jim Gordon’s job as the police commissioner in the most dangerous city in DC’s America takes a fatal toll on his marriage. For a 24-minute cartoon, Harley Quinn pulls from some deep cuts in DC history and cuts deep with some of its implications.
DC’s movies are quite possibly the most mixed bag you can find out there. You’re as likely to get a stinker as a winner. But DC Universe has been much more good than bad, with shows like Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Harley Quinn putting new spins on what it means to make a comic book show.