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How Harley Quinn Overshadowed a Jim Lee-Designed Batman: TAS Villain

The Wrap-Up

Design-y

One reason Harley has maintained her popularity rests in her classic look. It’s a fantastic design from Bruce Timm that’s unique to the character without being overly busy. Timm jokingly called Paul Dini’s original design blackmail material. That sketch is now its own figurine, however.

Continuity Notes

The Peregrinators Club debuts in “Joker’s Favor.” The club for Gotham’s elite makes a few appearances in this canon. Dini also used the Peregrinators Club when writing Detective Comics and Gotham City Sirens.

There are several continuity points in the game’s novelization, some of them a little odd. The obscure character Mayor Dickinson is Gotham's mayor, for example. (There was a Mayor Dickerson in the concurrent comics, which is likely what Grayson meant.) In the animated continuity, we only see Hamilton Hill as Gotham’s mayor…until Penguin takes over in the tie-in comics, of course.

The ongoing talk of the characters’ past indicates both Bruce and Dick were eight when their parents died. (“Robin’s Reckoning” had Dick as either nine or ten, based on which credit you believe.) Tim Drake is described as thirteen, with Barbara Gordon graduating college the year prior. The narrative has her working for the GCPD computerizing records, as a recent member of Batman’s “family.” (Grayson seems to be leaning towards Barbara’s Oracle days, although previous DCAU canon implies she went to school to pursue law enforcement.) James Gordon claims he’s been in Gotham for twelve years since transferring from Chicago, a nod to Frank Miller’s Year One.

RELATED: Batman: The Animated Series – How We Almost Missed Mark Hamill as the Joker

Barbara also says she had “exactly two dates” with Dick, which doesn’t seem right. In the Sub-Zero movie, they were spending a weekend together. Later, Barbara claims she literally has a photographic memory. That’s another bit from the early 2000s comics canon.

Hey, I Know that Voice

Veteran actor Ed Begley, Jr. voices Charlie Collins. And Rise of Sin Tzu, to its credit, uses most of the established Batman cast. Robin's casting threw some continuity-minded fans for a loop. Scott Menville, voice of the Teen Titans Robin, also voices the teen hero in the game. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who’s appeared in almost everything, voices Sin Tzu.

Approved By Broadcast Standards & Practices

Okay, not a BS&P issue, but there’s a more adult tone in the Rise of Sin Tzu novelization. Aside from “hell” appearing maybe twice in the Adventures tie-in, and the nebulous status of Timm’s Two-Face story in Black and White, this marks the first use of profanity within the DCAU canon. We also have specific descriptions of Stonegate inmates as rapists and pedophiles. Nightwing even details one inmate murdering a child and plucking his eyes out.

“Joker’s Favor,” meanwhile, had a surprise for the producers when it returned from overseas. The animators gave Harley a Basic Instinct moment when crossing her legs while in the policewoman’s uniform.

I Love the Early Aughts

Sin Tzu is hiding a “Weapon of Mass Destruction,” a term that was appearing everywhere thanks to the build-up to the 2003 war in Iraq. The novel also features a noticeably flattering portrayal of police officers, another hallmark of the days following 9/11.

Battle of the Sensational Character Finds

Can you truly conceive a major villain? Has this ever happened? Did Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, and Bill Finger know what they were on to when imagining the Joker? (Okay, Bob Kane was probably out on a smoke break while this happened, but you get the point.) Creators can’t anticipate how the public reacts to their work. Hours of thought might’ve been spent crafting a villain with the intent of developing a major threat, but the audience isn’t obligated to care.

Maybe Harley was able to flourish because there was no pressure. The producers thought she was cute, the voice actress was friends with one of the writers…okay, we’ll put her in another episode. Harley begins with the humblest of beginnings, strikes a chord, and is allowed to grow organically. By the end of Batman’s run, Harley has made enough of an impression to live on after the series. She's still the bubbly moll introduced in “Joker’s Favor”…except that she isn’t.

Harley Quinn from "Batman: The Animated Series"

One of the greatest feats of Batman was maintaining Harley’s unique traits while expanding her character. She could remain goofy and impulsive, even as the audience gained a better understanding of why she behaves this way. All of her backstory is a retcon.

Sin Tzu, conversely, was conceived as a big deal. And the thinking behind his motivations is actually sound. Yet, few have ever cared. (It took years for his official DC debut to happen, in the pages of 2016's Suicide Squad Most Wanted #3.) Perhaps he would’ve had a shot, introduced in a more modest way. Regardless, he exists now as a strange footnote in the DC canon.

That’s all for now. If you have suggestions for future entries, just leave a comment or find me on Twitter.

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