Back in September 1992, Harleen Francis Quinzel, known then only as Harley Quinn, made her debut on “Batman: The Animated Series” in an episode called “Joker’s Favor.” A throwaway character created by series masterminds Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, Harley played sidekick to the Joker, helping him and his gang in another unsuccessful bid to take down the police, Jim Gordon and, of course, the Batman.
The rest, as they say, is history. Harley Quinn has become a fan-favorite character, headlining her own highly successful ongoing comic book series for DC Comics, playing a key role in Suicide Squad — both the comic book and the upcoming film directed by David Ayer — and inspiring some of the best and most creative cosplay around. “Breakout character” doesn’t even begin to describe Harley’s meteoric rise.
Ahead of her live-action debut in “Suicide Squad,” CBR revisits the animated capers where it all began. Harley appeared in 15 episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” and its successor, “The New Batman Adventures,” with some of those episodes devoted entirely to her. Let’s count down Harley’s finest moments from those 15 episodes, starting with…
12. “Trial” – May 1994
A fleeting moment for sure, but one that totally encapsulates Harley Quinn (and a great way to start off this list). Poison Ivy, being sentenced to another stint in Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, gets escorted through the penitentiary by two guards. Harley, whose cell is located directly across from Ivy’s new home, gives Pamela Isley a typical warm welcome.
From the peephole of the closing steel door of Ivy’s new room, we get a glimpse of Harley standing behind the plexiglass wall of her cell, a guard stationed in front of her. Harley takes the moment of the guard’s distraction to stick her tongue out at the him, behind his back. The guard, sensing that Harley was up to something, turns to catch her in the act. The helpless guard can only respond by shaking a fist at her as menacingly as possible.
What amounts to a silly, throw-away moment, really reflects the carefree, petulant nature of our favorite girl.
11. The Commercial from “The Laughing Fish” – January 1993
The first of many of the Joker’s diabolical schemes on the animated series, this time around the Clown Prince of Crime attempts to extort Mr. Francis at Gotham’s copyright office over alleged past due royalties from fish bearing his “frankly fabulous face.” Long-time Batman readers will recognize this episode is based on the classic comic book story of the same name from “Detective Comics” #475 by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin.
To promote his delicious fish (and threaten Mr. Francis’ life), Joker broadcasts a “commercial” across all Gotham’s TV channels that features Harley. Playing mom to Joker’s thugs in the commercial, Harley informs the Joker that she has “a little problem with fish.” Ignoring her pleas, “fisherman” Joker forces a piece of Joker’s Laughing Fish down Harley’s throat. Forcing Harley to bolt off screen, retching in the background as Joker continues to proclaim his fish are “tasty and tempting” for his captive audience.
10. “Beware the Creeper” – November 1998
Another failed caper has our man, the Joker, down in the dumps. This time it’s even that much worse because it takes place on the seventh anniversary of the accident at ACE Chemicals that turned him into the Joker. Looking to cheer him up, Harley surprises him back at the hideout with a gigantic baked pie. Slowly extracting herself from the gooey mess that is the pie, Harley sings “Happy Anniversary” (a la Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK in 1962) to a very startled Joker.
To say the whole segment reeks of sexual suggestion is an understatement. Harley extracts herself from the pie, rear end first, with the pie crust running off of her in a way that completely defies physics. She goes on to ask the Joker if he would like to “try her pie.” It’s fairly amazing what the show’s writer/producers were able to get away with in that episodes, especially considering the series was intended to be watched by kids.
9. The Wrong Kind of Mermaid from “The Laughing Fish” – January 1993
This second moment from “The Laughing Fish” is both somewhat at Harley’s expense and has plenty of meta qualities, too. With Harvey Bullock hoisted above a tank full of hungry sharks, Harley yet again comments to Joker about not being a fan of fish. “Again with the fish, I hate fish,” she tells him. Joker does his best to console her, patting her lovingly on the head. “Poor Harley, this caper’s been kinda rough on you, hasn’t it?” To which, Harley sadly agrees.
We all know that Joker’s not the sympathetic type, though. Offering the role of his “very own little mermaid” to Harley, he proceeds to cover his favorite girl with one large fish head mask. It’s not exactly Harley’s dream role, or the mermaid she was expecting.
Harley’s reply? From deep within the fish mask she says to Joker: “You’re really sick, you know that, boss?”
8. “Joker’s Favor” – September 1992
This one goes back to the very beginning, taking place in Harley Quinn’s debut episode of the series, and marks the beginning of Harley vs Harvey. In round one, we find Harvey Bullock playing footsies with Harley Quinn. During a ball in Commissioner Jim Gordon’s honor (part of another of Joker’s crazy schemes), Harley, dressed as a policewoman, wheels in an oversized cake. Only to be stopped halfway, by the foot of an overzealous Harvey Bullock. Harvey suggestively asked the incognito Quinn if she would “read him his rights.” Harley responds in turn, telling him he has the right to remain silent, followed by a swift baton strike to the shin.
Harley continues on her way, leaving Harvey to nurse not only his wounded leg, but wounded pride, with a resounding “jerk.” While Harley may not have been intended as a feminist symbol (especially this early on), she showed right from the beginning she was more than capable of taking care of herself.
7. Kissing the Bat from “Holiday Knights” – September 1997
It’s a few days before Christmas and Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are bored to tears. So, the girls do what anyone else would do right before a holiday: kidnap a billionaire. With the help of Ivy’s patented secret toxin, the girls take helpless billionaire Bruce Wayne hostage and bring him on the shopping spree of their lives.
On their way to the second leg of their spree, Poison Ivy’s secret mind control toxin, delivered by a kiss, starts wearing off on their captive. A very annoyed “Brucie,” carrying a ton of brightly wrapped presents, tells the pair that he’s had “just about enough of this.” The girls aren’t quite done shopping yet, however. Ivy hands Harley a lipstick laced with the toxin, to give their captive “another shot.” As Harley finishes applying the mind controlling toxin to her lips, she closes in on Bruce, telling him: “Give me some sugar, baby.”
6. “The Man Who Killed Batman” – February 1993
Ready for Round 2 of Harley vs Harvey? It’s the re-match of the century, and it’s on! This time around Harvey faces off against Harley, dressed as her alter ego, Harleen Quinzel. Harley, er… Harleen has become legal counsel to a small time gang member, Sidney “The Squid” Debris, who’s been implicated in the murder of Batman (Don’t worry kids, Batman isn’t really dead.) Harleen, dressed in a red business suit, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, is there to pick up her client. And with bond already taken care of by the legal eagle, there’s nothing legally there to stop her.
Bullock reluctantly lets Mr. Debris go with Harleen. Something about her seems overly familiar to him, but he can’t quite place her. Intrigued, he asks how he might know her, to which Harleen responds by telling him, “I think I served you a subpoena once.” As she walks away with Debris, she manages to get in one last jab. “It was a small subpoena.”
5. There’s Only One Harley from “Joker’s Millions” – February 1998
Harley’s back in Arkham, due to the Joker leaving her at the scene of the crime. And while she’s “upstate,” the Joker ends up inheriting $250 million from Gotham mob boss King Barlow. Flush with money, the Clown Prince of Crime heads out on an elaborate spending spree — one that doesn’t involve bailing out Harley Quinn, because, according to Joker “it’s cheaper to hire a new one.”
And that’s exactly what the Joker does. Putting out an ad in the paper for a new “henchgirl,” the Joker gets a lineup of new recruits full of women (and men) of all shapes and sizes. None seem to fit the part, though, being “too fat” or “too small” or “too old.” Until, that is, he comes across one that looks exactly like well, Harley Quinn, and proclaims “drown the kids and shoot the neighbors… we have a winner!” But, looks can be deceiving and the Joker’s quick to learn that no one can fill Harley’s costume.
4. Shopping Spree from “Holiday Knights” – September 1997
There’s yet another great moment from the previously mentioned “Holiday Knights.” With billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne under their spell (and footing the bill), it’s time for Poison Ivy and Harley to do some last minute holiday shopping at Gotham’s “Bergduffs.” What proceeds is a video montage like no other. Featuring a holiday synth track right out of an early ’80s Christmas album, the girls put on their best fashion show.
Trying on different styles and looks, the ladies opt for “civilian” clothing more matching their personalities. Ivy goes for a a sophisticated look, while Harley sports more “Harley-esque” stylings. At one point, she even douses herself in perfume — after all, since she’s not the one paying she can finally get the really good stuff.
The girls leave the fashion show montage, and Bergduffs, with tons of nicely gift-wrapped boxes. And Bruce? He’s left footing the bill, grinning and bearing the whole episode. Literally.
3. Love Hurts from “Joker’s Millions” – September 1997
That previously mentioned $250 million the Joker inherited from local mob boss King Barlow? That whole thing was a scam put on by the King himself. Sorry, Mister J. Barlow would only leave Joker a few million, knowing full well he would blow through it in no time. The rest of the money? Fake “Barlow Bills.” This left Joker to get apprehended the same way Al Capone did, on tax evasion evasion charges. The Batman couldn’t bring down Joker, but the IRS is apparently a match for the Clown Prince of Crime.
And where does poor Harley fit into all this? Oh, she’s was waiting for him, dressed as a police officer (once again), in the back of the paddy wagon. And while Joker may have been happy to see her, the only thing Harley had for the Joker was a meeting with a police baton. Love definitely hurts.
And the number one moment? Well, it was too difficult to decide, so we have a tie…
2. “Harley’s Holiday” – October 1994
This is the first Harley-centric episode of the series. Harley’s been rehabilitated, even passing her competency hearing. Ready to be released from Arkham Asylum, “mentally sane and sound,” a run-in with Batman and Robin before leaving the asylum puts Harley on edge. Still, she leaves the next day, a free woman at last.
Things quickly take a turn for the worse for poor Harley after running into billionaire Bruce Wayne at a local department store. Harley is wrongly accused of shoplifting, which brings her whole rehabilitation stint crashing down around her before it really got a chance to begin.
Donning her harlequin costume, the episode gives us one of Harley’s best lines. Bruce Wayne does his best to rationalize with Harley, but she’s having no part of it. Exploding from her dressing room with a mannequin limb in one hand, she threatens Bruce, “Watch it, rich boy. I’m armed!”
1. Our other 1. “Mad Love” – January 1999
While “Harley’s Holiday” is Harley-centric, “Mad Love” is the ultimate Harley Quinn tale. Part origin story, part tale of vengeance, “Mad Love” is all love story. After yet another failed caper to kill Batman, a frustrated Joker takes it all out on poor Harley (who’s just looking for some lovin’ from Mr. J).
Her advances rebuffed once again, Harley gets introspective, wondering to herself (and explaining to us) exactly how she got herself all mixed up in the Joker, anyway. A flashback reveals Harley as a young doctor, fresh out of medical school. Still her “normal” self, Harleen Quinzel, takes an internship at Arkham Asylum. Where, she quickly finds the tables turned on her. Starting out at Arkham as a doctor, Harley ends up with the Joker as her patient.
Quinzel, realizing she’s fallen for the psychotic madman, embraces the madness in herself, becoming the Harley Quinn we all know and love. Stealing a bunch of stuff from a magic/trick shop (including a certain red and black harlequin costume), Harley does the unthinkable… and breaks the Joker out of Arkham!
Joker, once again, does Harley all wrong, almost making the poor girl give up on him once and for all. But, a token gesture at the end of the episode, only reaffirms Harley’s one true love to be Mr. J.
What’s your favorite animated Harley Quinn moment? Let us know in the comments!
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