The Matt Signal – Episode 72: Harlequinade

Plot summary: When Joker steals an atomic bomb, Batman sees no other choice than to recruit Harley Quinn in order to track him down.

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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: ‘Harlequinade’

Original Air Date: May 23rd, 1994

Directed: Kevin Altieri (18)

Written: Paul Dini (14)

A harlequinade is a play (or part of a play) where the clown plays the leading role. Culture!

Elements of Joker’s dialogue in the opening scene are spoken by Harley in the later episode ‘Lock Up’

Despite her claims to the contrary, Paul Dini insists Harley is a natural blonde.

Recap

A bunch of lowlifes start a bidding war on an atomic freakin’ bomb. Naturally Joker gets involved, using a trick explosive to scare them all out of the room and thus winning the auction with a bid of $0.

Batman suggests recruiting Harley Quinn to determine where Joker is hiding, offering her freedom if they successfully capture the Clown Prince. Though reluctant at first, Harlz signs up.

Naturally hijinks ensue as Harley starts pressing random buttons in the Batmobile, causing Bruce to scream at her while she makes mocking faces.

Leading Bats to Joker’s most recent hideout, Harley swaps her Arkham jumpsuit for her costume and calls off her hyenas. Batman notes a series of cameras monitoring Mayor Hill & Commissioner Gordon, but no Joker.

They try another old haunt, a speakeasy run by Boxy Bennet. Harley immediately betrays Batman in favour for the club full of gun wielding criminals.

Noticing Robin spying through a nearby window, she distracts the goons with a gentle musical number about Joker’s domestic abuse. Dick frees Batman and the three fight their way out, with Harley figuring out Joker is holed up at Mayor Hill’s mansion.

Batman attacks his nemesis while Robin saves the mayor. Unfortunately Harley slipped her handcuffs and uses one of Bruce’s gadgets to incapacitate the heroes and then leaps into Puddin’s arms.

Joker’s men wheel out his escape plane as the bomb’s timer ticks down. Batman and Robin successfully talk Harley into a triple cross by pointing out Joker obviously had no intention of rescuing her from Arkham had she not been freed, and still intends to leave their friends and her hyenas to die.

Joker takes off and tries to kill the heroes up from above, but they of course survive and diffuse the bomb. Undeterred, Joker attempts manual detonation by opening fire on the mansion. Harley faces him down and causes the plane to crash.

Held at gunpoint, Joker tells Harley she would never dare pull the trigger… but she does!!! Thankfully for him, it’s one of his many trick guns. Mistah J finds the whole exchange hilarious, tells her she’s the greatest, and they embrace.

Best Performance

As is often the case when she’s given enough lines, Arleen Sorkin dominates. From her first line until her last, she is a relentless hurricane of energy. Part of the joy of the character is her total unpredictability, and a lot of that comes through in Sorkin’s wildly fluctuating tone. Plus she sings! And it’s good without being too good if that makes sense?

This is also one of Mark Hamill’s more underrated performances, taking us on the complete Joker experience, from shrill wails to menacing growls and of course his trademark laughter, which he perfected in Mask of the Phantasm.

Heck, Dick Miller is fantastic in the minor role of Boxy Bennett. It’s mostly just a generic mobster, but he still makes it a lot of fun.

Ranking

This is essentially a MUCH better version of the Batman & Harley Quinn animated movie, right down to the musical number.

‘Mad Love’ gets all the attention, but this episode is a close second in terms of a definitive Harley Quinn character study, establishing for the first time how Harley and Joker met. It’s also just a brilliantly simple Batman vs Joker story, which is the triumph of ‘The Laughing Fish’, our reigning number one.

Joker steals a weapon capable of levelling Gotham. Batman deems this such a threat that he’s willing to write Harley a ticket out of Arkham Asylum. They make for a delightful odd couple and actually end up getting the job done despite multiple betrayals. Then Harley takes Joker down when Batman seemingly can’t, but the status quo is restored when her attempt to murder her beloved ends up charming him. It’s wild that there are so many episodes that try so hard to not follow this kind of formula.

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

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (thirteenth appearance)

While this is undoubtedly a Harley episode, it’s stealthily one of the best for Joker. Freed from the burden of being the star attraction, he cuts loose in multiple silly (in a good way) costumes and causes general pandemonium.

The opening scene is essentially a watered down version of Heath Ledger’s grand entrance in The Dark Knight. His facial expressions tell all when Harley questions him about how he would have found time to rescue her and their friends. His determination to gun everybody down is fantastic, and the final standoff with Harley is both characters in a nutshell. He even invokes one of fiction’s other great domestic abusers, Ralph Kramden.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (seventh appearance)

While you could be forgiven for watching this show back when it first aired and not predicting Harley would become one of the most popular characters in all of fiction, my pervasive thought while watching these episodes has been ‘why didn’t it happen sooner?’

From pulling faces and cracking jokes, to the pet hyenas, to her musical number, to the crack about not being a real blonde, to getting all of The Rogues Gallery’s names wrong and the many betrayals in between, this tour de force moves hers past Mr. Freeze and into third place.

I have generally rewarded strong emotional arcs for villains, and while on the surface Harley is pure mayhem, her inability to break Joker’s hold on her underpins everything she does. She has her big breakthrough that he’s no good for her after all, legitimately tries to murder him, but is a moth to the flame that is the smallest scrap of his affection. Bruce even grills her about what she sees in the Murder Clown, and her tragic reply is simply that he listened to her when nobody else did. And now she’s trapped.

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

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.

Speaking of The Tape Crusaders, why not check out Mike & Matt’s review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?

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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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