The Matt Signal – Episode 56: Harley and Ivy

Plot summary: After being dumped by The Joker, Harley Quinn finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy and the two proceed to Be Gay, Do Crime.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Harley and Ivy’

Original Air Date: January 18th, 1993

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (13)

Written: Paul Dini (10)

There are lots of little animation errors here, including Harley and Ivy’s faces disappearing and Batman typing on a flat surface with no keyboard.

The trio of catcallers are modelled after Bruce Timm (creator), Eric Radomski (producer) and Ted Blackman (background supervisor).

For some reason Joker called Harley and Ivy “busy little beavers” in the original airing but it was changed to “busy little bees” in subsequent ones.

Recap

Another episode that begins in media res, with a terrified Harley Quinn acting as chauffeur for Joker in a car chase with Batman. Mistah J plays backseat driver, giving bad directions and vague instructions, but still blaming Harley despite her being solely responsible for them getting away.

Back at their lair, Joker continues to berate Harley, who inadvertently embarrasses him in front of his henchmen. Enough is enough and he tosses her out on the street. Literally.

Attempting to show up/impress Joker, Harley executes the diamond heist that they failed before the events of the episode, but alarms sound because Poison Ivy is stealing rare plants from the same museum!

The pair make introductions while evading the police, and turn out to be quite an effective team, escaping the museum and making a getaway in Ivy’s car.

Ivy takes Harley back to her hideout, a condemned housing estate closed due to a chemical spill. Pam gives Harlz an injection to let her survive the environment and then scolds her for putting up with Joker’s abuse, vowing to help raise her self-esteem with some good old girl gang villainy.

Sure enough, they head to the Gotham Peregrinators Club (a concept I only know from Catch Me If You Can) to troll a bunch of well-to-do misogynists (and also tie them up in vines and rob them blind.)

Some time later Ivy hangs the latest of a series of front page headlines about the ‘New Queens of Crime’ (with an anti-Batman fridge magnet) while Harley sets the table. Just gals being pals. Unfortunately Quinn is still hung up on Joker despite how much fun they’ve been having.

Speaking of the Clown Prince, we see him struggling to keep himself organised without Harley, claiming ignorance when his goons point out he kicked her out. He’s positively furious to discover what she’s been up to since.

Ivy continues to needle at Harley, but approves of her blowing up the car of a group of cat-callers (who naturally fled the vehicle first as nobody dies on this show.) This is at last enough to get Batman’s attention.

Alfred rightfully questions why Bruce is looking at what are essentially pin-up pictures of the two on the Batcomputer, forgetting our hero may well be ace. He finishes analysing the soil left behind in the car hijinx, learning of the location of Ivy’s hideout.

Harley secretly telephones Joker while Ivy is out, needing to know if he’s still angry with her. Naturally he lies and traces her location. Batman gets first crack though, smashing through the window in a gas mask to protect him from the toxins.

Ivy immediately captures him with her plants and the two tie him to a kitchen table adorned with household appliances typically associated with housewifery. Legit, Ivy makes sure to say it out loud. Harley shoves the table down into a pool of the toxic sludge, apparently killing him!

Unfortunately this allows Joker and his crew to sneak into the house. Harley takes it well. Ivy does not, pointing out they’ve got about ten minutes until they die from the noxious air. Joker isn’t fazed, trying to steal their loot, but making the mistake of trying to gas Ivy with his trick lapel flower.

Naturally she shrugs it off and kicks everybody’s ass before leading Harley outside.

Batman, having escaped certain death yet again, joins the fray, allowing the ladies to escape while the men burn the whole place down with their wanton violence. Batman rescues Joker from the flames and speeds them both to safety so he can lock him up. Urgh.

And what of our intrepid girl gang? Rene Montoya shoots out one of their tyres and arrests them both. The episode ends with all three villains in prison, with Joker swearing no more women in his operations, while Harley and Ivy garden. Harley expresses hope she can work it out with Joker, so Ivy throws soil in her face.

Best Performance

There can only really be two candidates here and they are NOT Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, which is significant in itself!

Arleen Sorkin continues to excel, demonstrating she can make one of the most recognisable voices in animation work in larger doses, while also arguably getting her first real opportunity to demonstrate her acting ability. It’s not that I like Harley as the prisoner of an abusive relationship, but it’s undeniably some heavy material for Sorkin to sink her teeth into, and her talents helped permanently etch the character into the superhero hall of fame.

Diane Pershing is simultaneously a playful rebel who lives for chaos and wants Harley to cheer up, and a self-sufficient actualised adult who wants Harley to follow her example and gain some confidence. She’s fantastic at both, and blends the two in sublime fashion. She pouts, she decries the patriarchy and she’s just generally a fun time.

Thus for the first time I declare co-winners of this category.

Ranking

We take the relationship between these two characters for granted given ubiquitous they have been in the comics, and even co-leads in the Harley Quinn cartoon, with their romantic subtext gradually becoming text, but Dini originated the whole idea right here. The episode that launched a thousand ships, if you will.

Some homophobes claim it’s all just fans clutching at straws (the same people who think Wonder Woman would be straight after spending her entire life in the company of women), but to my eye it’s pretty plain to see even in this early 90s children’s cartoon. They cohabit a perfect little suburban house wearing very little clothing. It is 100% ‘Be Gay, Do Crime.’

My SJW agenda aside, this is just a really fun little caper that succeeds by shifting Batman to the background to put the spotlight on three of the show’s most compelling villains. He’s in the opening, likely to satisfy a network mandate, but then vanishes for over ten minutes until he finally decides it’s time to ruin Harley and Ivy’s fun. Heck, even when he does, they beat him up and almost get away.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Harley and Ivy
  12. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  13. Beware the Gray Ghost
  14. Mad as a Hatter
  15. Heart of Steel Part II
  16. Appointment In Crime Alley
  17. Two-Face Part II
  18. Pretty Poison
  19. Feat of Clay Part I
  20. Off Balance
  21. Vendetta
  22. Birds of a Feather
  23. Heart of Steel Part I
  24. On Leather Wings
  25. See No Evil
  26. The Clock King
  27. It’s Never Too Late
  28. Joker’s Wild
  29. Eternal Youth
  30. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  31. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  32. Zatanna
  33. Day of the Samurai
  34. The Mechanic
  35. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  36. Terror in the Sky
  37. P.O.V.
  38. Christmas with the Joker
  39. Fear of Victory
  40. Be a Clown
  41. What is Reality?
  42. Night of the Ninja
  43. Mudslide
  44. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  45. Nothing to Fear
  46. Prophecy of Doom
  47. Tyger, Tyger
  48. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  49. Dreams In Darkness
  50. The Last Laugh
  51. Cat Scratch Fever
  52. Moon of the Wolf
  53. Paging the Crime Doctor
  54. The Under-Dwellers
  55. The Forgotten
  56. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (fifth appearance)

Through four appearances Harley quickly graduated from a non-entity to a fantastic double-act with Joker, with memorable little moments that cemented her staying power. This is the first episode to demonstrate what she will ultimately become, as she co-leads the episode.

In addition to establishing her relationship with Ivy, the episode is also for better or worse the main origin of Harley’s inability to get over Joker despite his abusive treatment. He’s been comically mean to her in the past, and ‘The Laughing Fish’ ended with a line to this effect, but after telling the story from Harley’s point of view, it’s suddenly not so funny anymore. Personally I find people that are super into them as a romantic pairing to this day a little disturbing, but each to their own I guess.

Also keep an eye on Harley’s physical abilities going forward, as the shot Ivy administered has lasting side effects beyond immunising her to the toxins of the housing estate.

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (ninth appearance)

We’re used to Joker occupying the role of antagonist when opposing Batman, but this episode takes a stab at setting him up as a very different kind of villain, that of a jealous, misogynistic domestic abuser. He is awful to Harley, throws her out, but then can’t abide her succeeding without him and attempts to take her back by force, only to suffer defeat at both Ivy and Batman’s hands.

While I condone none of his behaviour, this episode is important, because it’s easy to get caught up in the whimsy and Mark Hamill’s performance and forget that he’s meant to be the worst of the worst; an irredeemable inhuman monster.

Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) (fourth appearance)

While Dini did Ivy a disservice in his first effort writing her, he did establish her immunity to all toxins, which is nicely alluded to in the form of her hiding out in a housing estate closed down by the health board. It’s the little things. Like sitting backwards on a chair…

What I mean by that is Dini also transforms her into a full-blown man-hater in this episode, which I mean as the highest form of compliment. It fits her perfectly and I much prefer it to her siren routine. Of course I see the appeal of her as a seductress, and the two roles can often co-exist, with her manipulating men with her feminine wiles in order to ultimately punish them, but she’s SO fun in this episode.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Poison Ivy
  4. Harley Quinn
  5. Two-Face
  6. Mad Hatter
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clayface
  9. Penguin
  10. The Riddler
  11. Clock King
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Josiah Wormwood
  17. Scarecrow
  18. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  19. Rupert Thorne
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis
  39. Montague Kane

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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