Since making her debut as Joker's sidekick on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has become one of DC's most popular characters. In the so-called DC Extended Universe, Quinn is played by Margot Robbie, who's set to reprise the role in such movies as The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The fan-favorite antiheroine is also headlining her own animated comedy series, aptly titled Harley Quinn, which debuts Friday on the DC Universe streaming service.
CBR sat down with the show's co-creators, Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern, to talk about the story behind Harley Quinn, the title character's relationships with other key players, and much, much more.
CBR: You guys mentioned that Harley Quinn was three years in the making. Can you tell me about that?
Patrick Schumacker: Technically, it's two years in the making. We pitched it three years ago and then we had other commitments with Warner Bros. TV that we had to attend to. And so it got kind of shelved, thankfully, because they didn't give it to somebody else to do. And so that was in 2016. I guess that was the year we did Powerless.
And then, when Powerless ended, we were able to kind of pick the reins back up. The writers' room started in November of 2017. And here we are, two years after the writers' room started, the show's going to premiere.
I mean, animation is just a very length process. We do all of our actual production overseas in Korea, so every episode takes, I think, about 18 weeks to get back from a locked animatic to the the finished color animation.
Justin Halpern: And then even after that you have to fix a bunch of stuff in animation... it's just an exhausting process; it takes forever.
Schumacker: This is our first animated project ever, and it's been a real steep learning curve.
What sorts of things did you feel like you had to learn in terms of animation? Like, how is it different?
Halpern: Everything. Well, I mean, there's this tendency, because we come from live action, where if we want to reshoot something, it will cost a ton of money. You gotta go back to the set, to actor availabilities. And so when we first started animation, we were like, "Oh, if we don't like it then we'll just redo it," and the artists are like, "Yeah, then we'll fucking die!"
So I think part of it was like realizing the advantages of animation versus what you can do and not push your crew to hard. You want them to be happy.
Schumacker: Don't put in too many crowd scenes, or else there's going to be a lot of people standing there frozen in the background. They can't all move and be lifelike.
Halpern: But you know, it affords us such liberties in terms of... we have crazy shit happen in the show. There's a chase on this insane highway that, if you were in live-action, it'd be like $250 million, and we could do it one episode.
The animation does look really good, from what I've seen.
Halpern: That's all Jennifer Coyle and her team. The animators, they're fantastic.
It seems like you guys are really passionate about Harley Quinn. You've been working on this project for a while, as you said. You pitched this a long time ago. And a lot of people are passionate about her. Why do you think she's so appealing?
Halpern: We were just having this exact conversation. I think that there's a lot of wish fulfillment in her. She has no impulse control, which none of us can go through life like that, but it's fun to watch somebody else behave like that. And I also think she lives by a certain moral code that is her own and that she refuses to break in any way for anyone. That's, I think, cathartic to watch somebody do that.
Schumacker: Yeah, and also just the juxtaposition of a supervillain who is a consummate optimist, who has this heart of gold. You know, we pitched the show as "Mary Tyler Moore, if she were a killer." In the first season, as Harley's trying to rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld in Gotham, it's like Mary Tyler Moore, a girl doing it by herself in the big city kind of thing. I think she's a character who has a lot of contradictions, interesting contradictions, and that makes her complex and interesting and she's fallible, and I think people really appreciate that.
Joker is still going to be in the show, even though they break up in the first episode. What kind of parallels and what kind of dynamics do you see between them?
Halpern: We try to treat it as this idea that sometimes we date shitty people, and when we try to break up with them, it can be difficult, especially when you're with somebody who sort of sucks up all the oxygen in the room. And when you finally decide to divorce yourself from that person, it takes a little while to figure out "what do I want. I've just been thinking about what they want."
Pat describes Joker as kind of like a petulant man child. That's how we play him in the show. And that's really what he is. And he's somebody who just like... There's one scene in the show -- it's later in an episode -- where he knows she's come to see him. So he's posed himself where he's, like, reading Infinite Jest. He's so concerned with the way people see him, and he pretends like he doesn't care. And it's such a bullshit persona, because he does care what she thinks. And to me, that kind of encapsulates our version of him, which is this guy who pretends that he doesn't care what Harley thinks or anybody thinks. In reality, he just wants his way and he wants everybody to kiss his ass.
You said Harley's kind of a lack of impulse control, because she doesn't tend to care as much, whereas Joker does care, even though he's pretending not to. Do you feel like that's an accurate description of them in terms of how they balance each other?
Halpern: I think in our version of them, for sure. I think that's part of why Joker in our show can't seem to get over her success or her. I think on some level, it really pisses him off that she is what he is still kind of pretending to be. I wouldn't say that is true for the character in all the other incarnations of it, but in terms of our show.
Schumacker: And she has her best friend, Poison Ivy, who is the voice of reason, who is constantly bringing her back to reality.
[Poison Ivy] is really great on the show. I really, really like Poison Ivy and was immediately like, "Wow, this character is great."
[Together]: Lake Bell is so good.
A lot of people are really into the romance between Harley and Ivy in the comics. Is that something you're hoping to explore more?
Halpern: Without giving too much away, that was something we wanted to explore. I won't tell you what happens. But yeah, that's certainly was of interest to us.
Schumacker: Yeah. I mean, we do a lot of setting the table in Season 1 of just the world of the show. If you are patient...
Halpern: It was important for us in Season 1 to not get her out of relationship and then suddenly get her into another one. We wanted it to just be about this self discovery, and not self discovery in terms of how I validate myself through other people. In the first season, we sort of stay away from too much of her being romantically involved in anything.
It seems like the New 52 is a pretty big inspiration for this. Can you speak a bit to that choice and why that's being drawn from a little bit.
Schumacker: Tonally, what Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Amanda [Conner] did was really need into the comedic aspects of the character, making her this kind of wisecracking, Bugs Bunny, kind of analog. So I think we do lean into that. You know, the show itself is set in Gotham. It's not the Coney Island representation. It's not the antihero, sort of social justice warrior, version of Harley that you've seen in the New 52 stuff. I would say it is different than that stuff on paper.
There's characters that show up, particularly Sy Borgman... Jason Alexander voices him. We couldn't think of anyone more perfect than Jason to voice him. And he got it right off the bat. So yeah, I mean, Sy is probably the biggest obvious borrow from Jimmy and Amanda's run.
Halpern: Yeah. I mean, I think that that that's true. There is definitely an element -- Like, it's funny you bring up social justice. I feel like she is that in her own way, but it's with her own kind of sense of what is justice. I think it's funny that terminology has gotten kind of a bad rap, but isn't it a good thing to be a social justice warrior? You want to be a warrior for social justice. And I think she is. It's just her sense of morals and ethics and are possibly different than everyone else's.
What are you most excited for people to see in the show?
Schumacker: Very excited for people to see the rest of the Batman rogues gallery.
Kite Man, of course.
Schumacker: Kite Man, of course, plays a shockingly a huge role in the show. What we do with the Bane is far afield of past representations of Bane. We really focus in on Bane's softer side, his easily wounded side. He's the butt of a lot of jokes at the Legion of Doom. Joker kind of bullies him. So really just seeing a vast collection of villains that the show is able to portray. I mean, they gave us the entire sandbox to play with. It's not just limited to Gotham either. Lex Luthor is in it; Black Manta is in it, because of the Legion of Doom.
Halpern: I think the Harley/Ivy relationship, just the friendship. We've really tried to make it complex and have some depth and have the ups and downs in it like a real friendship might have. And I just think the two performers, Kaley [Cuoco] and Lake, just really leaned into it in the best way. A lot of people on Twitter will message me or Patrick and ask about Harley and Ivy. I hope that people enjoy the depth of their relationship, even though it's a comedy.
Schumacker: It evolves in a major way over the 26 episodes that we've produced. It kind of sets up their next journey at the end of 26, if we are so lucky to get a third season. It sets up a very different future for them in a big way.
DC Universe's Harley Quinn stars Kaley Cuoco, Lake Bell, Diedrich Bader, Alan Tudyk, Rahul Kohli, Christopher Meloni, Tony Hale, Ron Funches, Wanda Sykes, Natalie Morales, Jim Rash, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Alexander and J.B. Smoove. The series premieres Friday.