What if, instead of using their superpowers to be a hero or villain, someone just… got a job? Okay, sure, it’s not exactly the most compelling story, but it’s fun to think about, and Harley Quinn has been good at peeking at the inner lives of DC’s weirdest characters. A surprise therapy session forces Batman to rethink his relationship with Catwoman while Harley and Ivy head to the swamps of Louisiana for help and beignets. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 3, Episode 5, “It’s a Swamp Thing.”
“It’s a Swamp Thing”
With Frank kidnapped, Ivy’s plan to terraform Gotham is on hold–she needs her sassy plant buddy back.
One of my favorite things about Harley Quinn is the way the show will shamelessly pull from all of the darkest and weirdest corners of DC lore for its story beats, whether it’s pairing Kite Man up with Golden Glider or, in this case, sending Ivy into The Green. If you’re a Swamp Thing fan, The Green is hardly a new concept. If you’re not, think of it as a metaphysical network that connects all plantlife everywhere in the world, giving anyone who can enter it eyes and ears that can go virtually anywhere. With Frank missing, Ivy is trying to revisit The Green to find him. For a show this absurd, that’s actually a pretty straightforward storyline that would fit in well enough in a standalone comic.
However, Ivy’s emotional turmoil gets in the way of her sight and she ends up seeking out the ultimate earthly authority on the subject, Swamp Thing. But Harley Quinn doesn’t really do dark and spooky, so the Swamp Thing they meet is voiced by Sam Richardson (I Think You Should Leave, Veep) and just lives a chill hippie life in his trailer in the swamp.
Elsewhere in the mundane lives of super beings, Batman and Catwoman–or in this case, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle–are struggling with communication. A fed-up Alfred forces the two into therapy with…the Music Meister. Elsewhere in the DC universe, he’s a supervillain and here, it seems like he was at one time. Now, though, he’s serving as a relationship therapist with an unmatched ability to get people to talk to each other thanks to his ability to compel people with music (Side note, Diedrich Bader does his best to sing as Bruce Wayne, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not a good singer. The show almost should’ve called more attention to it).
Both of these are funny ways to reimagine these characters. The Swamp Thing can’t brood all the time, right? He eventually has to find peace somewhere in his connection to all life. And what happens when a supervillain with a superpower decides to reform? These takes on these characters are silly to be sure, and they wouldn’t really fit in in a DC comic, but they make a certain kind of sense that belies an understanding of how these characters might function outside of the bounds of a typical cape story.
The same goes for this desperate, creepy version of Bruce Wayne, who decides to buy cats and name them Martha and Thomas, and present them to Selina. As The Batman did such a good job of showing, the idea that Bruce Wayne is well adjusted is a hard pill to swallow when you consider his singular focus on his significant trauma, his unwillingness to confront that trauma, and the inherently solitary life he leads as an unimaginably wealthy person. Showering Selina with unwanted gifts and trying to connect his trauma with his current relationship feels like something Bruce might do in an alternate universe.
And this is perhaps what draws me to DC stories over and over despite how many Marvel skins I’ve purchased in Fortnite. This willingness to shift away from canon and explore other versions of these well-known characters is exciting and entertaining. Not every DC story needs to feed into a linear narrative–they can be whimsical jaunts that just serve as character studies or alternate takes, letting us learn something new about characters like Batman and Poison Ivy without making it central to their primary stories.
And with how broad the DC universe is, it’s easy to imagine Harley Quinn going on for some time, meeting up with characters like Booster Gold, the Doom Patrol, Polka Dot man, and so many others who stand on the weird sidelines of DC. With the current state of HBO Max it’s hard to tell how much more of this show we’re going to get, but it’s easy to fantasize about it being a lot more.