The Matt Signal – Episode 106: Mad Love

Plot summary: Harley Quinn remembers her first meeting with Joker and decides that the two of them will never be happy unless she kills Batman.

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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: ‘Mad Love’

Original Air Date: January 16th, 1999

Directed: Butch Lukic (4)

Written: Paul Dini (30) & Bruce Timm (5) (story)

This is an adaptation of the award-winning comic of the same name, also written by Dini and Timm, which I covered previously in this column. I for one had no idea that was the case growing up!

Many of the interview scenes were re-recorded for Batman: Arkham Asylum, written by Paul Dini and featuring Hamill and Sorkin reprising their roles.

Joker’s exit line in the dentist’s office was changed from the comic to make a Star Wars gag at Mark Hamill’s expense.

Recap

Commissioner Gordon attends a dental check-up, much to his chagrin. Naturally, his dentist has been replaced by Joker who attempts to drill his brains out. Not in a sex way.

Batman smashes through the window, pointing out how obvious a clue the wind-up teeth were. Harley Quinn claims the credit for the teeth and gasses Batman, but annoys Joker by attempting a one-liner. He drags her out of the office, leaving behind a grenade that Bruce manages to toss out the window just in time.

Back at Joker’s hideout (Funnibone Shipping), Harley attempts to seduce Puddin’, crawling all over his blueprints in negligee. The Murder Clown has sub-zero interest, tossing her aside in favour of brainstorming ways to kill Batman.

Harley suggests simply shooting him, offending Joker, who insists it be an act of unrivalled comic genius. He kicks her to the curb, literally, and she responds by… blaming Batman!

We flash back to her first meeting with Joker as an intern at Arkham Asylum, openly admitting she is drawn to extreme personalities. She is thus instantly attracted to Joker, who manages to send a flower to her office.

Intrigued, Harleen was able to secure an interview with the Murder Clown. Joker span her a tale about his abusive father and made her laugh, more than enough to make her fall in love with him.

After Joker escaped Arkham and was promptly returned battered and bruised by Batman, Harleen couldn’t bear to see her beau in pain any longer, so stole a costume and makeshift weapons, returning to the asylum to bust him out.

Harley Quinn was born!

Back in the present, Harley doubles down on her assertion that Batman will always come between the two, so sends the Caped Crusader a faux plead for help, claiming to have come to her senses.

A cautious Bruce meets her at the docks but lets his guard down when a fake Joker attacks, leaving himself open to being knocked out by Quinn.

Bats awakens suspended over a piranha tank as Harley is determined to make one of Joker’s schemes work (if he’s upside down, the fish will appear to be smiling). When she mentions settling down with Joker after the job is done, Batman laughs his ass off, terrifying her.

Bruce points out Joker loves nothing but himself, reciting a variation of the sob story Joker told her in Arkham, one of his many fake lines. Harley tries to kill him anyway, but admits Batman is right that Joker will never believe her as the fish will leave nothing but bones.

Harley summons Joker who… pimp slaps her. Yeesh. She tries to reason with him about the genius of her remix of his plan, but he points out it’s not funny if you have to explain it and… throws her out of a window!!! YEEEESH.

Joker unties Batman and prepares to leave… but then realises he could just shoot him in the head. That doesn’t go well, with Bruce forcing him to shoot the tank and using the chaos to free himself.

A brief chase leads them to the top of a moving train and Batman taunts Joker that Harley came closer than he ever did. A fist fight culminates in an uppercut that sends Joker flying from the train to his apparent… death!!!

The horrifically wounded Harley is put back in her cell, where her inner monologue writes Joker off for good… but she looks over to her bedside table where he’s left her a flower, and just like that, she’s back under his spell.

Best Performance

Arleen Sorkin has always excelled when given the proper time, and this definitive Harley episode is no exception. Her default manic setting fires on all cylinders, and the tragedy of ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘Harley’s Holiday’ returns in full force to boot. I actually don’t think it’s her best outing vocally, but it’s right up there, and she’s able to show her range with funny lines like “Don’t you want to rev your Harley? Vroom! Vroom!” as well as devastatingly sad ones like “My fault, I didn’t get the joke.” Her terror when Batman laughs is pretty great too.

Speaking of which, Kevin Conroy almost threatens to steal the show, with many pointing to the third act as some of Batman’s finest psychological warfare, playing Harley and Joker like fiddles. Bruce has been far more stern and snippy in this season compared to BTAS, per the producers’ instructions, so it was nice to get something a little more involved here.

Mark Hamill remains Mark Hamill.

Ranking

Not as good as the comic, but still tremendous. The original has more time to play with, extending some scenes and showing Harley’s life pre-Arkham, a dream sequence of domestic bliss with Joker, and states Joker prevented Batman’s death for fear of the other Gotham criminals laughing at him if his girlfriend had to do it for him. It’s also a little edgier, but not in an overly gratuitous/cringe way. Oh, plus everybody is drawn in their BTAS incarnations, which for Joker in particular is a massive win.

But as I said, it’s still an excellent episode that gives an origin story to Paul Dini’s finest creation (more on that below) while also serving as a great character study of Batman and Joker. It crams an awful lot into its run time without feeling overly rushed, stuffed to the brim with iconic lines that have been discussed to death.

The visuals are pretty great too, though they did have a comic book to use as a storyboard and there are some little animation goofs here and there. The most effective upgrade is the little stylised montage of Joker transforming, terrorising Gotham and battling Batman while Harley plays unreliable narrator, calling him misunderstood while he unloads a tommy gun into a crowd. It paired well with Batman returning Joker to Arkham after one of his escapes, the kind of scene we have seen a dozen times, but this time spun as a horrifying act worthy of sympathy rather than justice being served.

Some feel this is the peak of the franchise, which I’m not quite willing to go all the way on. ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ uses its increased budget and runtime to deliver a more beautiful, emotionally elegant story, while ‘The Laughing Fish’ is in my opinion the platonic ideal of the show.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Mad Love (NEW ENTRY)
  4. Over the Edge
  5. Almost Got ‘im
  6. Heart of Ice
  7. Harlequinade
  8. The Trial
  9. Riddler’s Reform
  10. Double Talk
  11. Legends of the Dark Knight
  12. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  13. I Am the Night
  14. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  15. Baby-Doll
  16. Sins of the Father
  17. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero
  18. The Man Who Killed Batman
  19. Perchance to Dream
  20. Two-Face Part I
  21. Girls’ Night Out
  22. Torch Song
  23. You Scratch My Back
  24. Bane
  25. Batgirl Returns
  26. A Bullet For Bullock
  27. Joker’s Favor
  28. Read My Lips
  29. Feat of Clay Part II
  30. The Ultimate Thrill
  31. Catwalk
  32. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  33. Harley and Ivy
  34. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  35. House & Garden
  36. Beware the Gray Ghost
  37. Mean Seasons
  38. Old Wounds
  39. Growing Pains
  40. Holiday Knights
  41. Second Chance
  42. Mad as a Hatter
  43. Heart of Steel Part II
  44. Appointment In Crime Alley
  45. Two-Face Part II
  46. Pretty Poison
  47. Deep Freeze
  48. Harley’s Holiday
  49. Lock-Up
  50. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  51. Feat of Clay Part I
  52. Cold Comfort
  53. His Silicon Soul
  54. Off Balance
  55. Vendetta
  56. Birds of a Feather
  57. Joker’s Millions
  58. Heart of Steel Part I
  59. Never Fear
  60. On Leather Wings
  61. Love is a Croc
  62. See No Evil
  63. The Clock King
  64. It’s Never Too Late
  65. Make ‘Em Laugh
  66. Joker’s Wild
  67. Eternal Youth
  68. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  69. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  70. Zatanna
  71. Day of the Samurai
  72. Avatar
  73. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  74. The Mechanic
  75. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  76. Terror in the Sky
  77. P.O.V.
  78. Christmas with the Joker
  79. Fear of Victory
  80. Be a Clown
  81. The Worry Men
  82. What is Reality?
  83. The Demon Within
  84. Animal Act
  85. Night of the Ninja
  86. Fire From Olympus
  87. Mudslide
  88. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  89. Nothing to Fear
  90. The Lion and the Unicorn
  91. Prophecy of Doom
  92. Cult of the Cat
  93. Tyger, Tyger
  94. Blind as a Bat
  95. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  96. Dreams In Darkness
  97. The Last Laugh
  98. Cat Scratch Fever
  99. Moon of the Wolf
  100. Paging the Crime Doctor
  101. Time Out of Joint
  102. Sideshow
  103. The Under-Dwellers
  104. The Forgotten
  105. Showdown
  106. Critters
  107. The Terrible Trio
  108. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (twelfth appearance)

Harley’s backstory is often taken for granted, but the idea to make her a doctor who got a little too close to her patient was a stroke of genius by Dini. It simultaneously fleshes her out and asks more questions, fertile for future stories, such as what in her own past would lead her to be drawn to psychopaths and how such a glaring red flag could go undetected during her career. Dr. Leland doesn’t bat an eyelid! There’s also Joker’s observation that Harley was repressed due to the intensity of her career choice, making her susceptible to a hard swing in the opposite direction. All great, believable stuff.

But the part people seem to love most about this episode for Harley is the degree to which she’s been broken and gaslit by Joker without even realising it. The fact that we’ve had so many episodes ending with her breaking free from his control, only for us to do it all over again can be summarised in that haunting final moment as it only takes the slightest bit of affection from the centre of her universe and all is forgiven. Never mind the fact he physically and emotionally abuses her, literally throwing her out of a window, which she reacts to by saying it was her own fault. Just… brutal stuff that far too many people glamourise.

We also can’t overlook the fact that Harley had Batman dead to rights, arguably twice, and it was Joker who ruined it. Never has her argument to claim the number one spot been stronger. But… not quite. Joker is Joker. It’s the definitive version of the definitive comic book nemesis. Still, more episodes like this and ‘Harlequinade’ and she might have pulled it off.

Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice Poison Ivy being the first person shown when Harley talks about attraction in the flashback sequence.

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (nineteenth appearance)

As Batman points out, Joker’s ego could never allow Harley to upstage him, essentially saving his nemesis twice to ensure his girlfriend doesn’t get the glory. Definitely something delightfully homoerotic to look into there, especially given a sexed-up Harley couldn’t tear his attention away from Batman. Heck, Hamill even plays the moment where he frees Bruce at the end with the nervous energy of talking to a crush.

Dini managed to get his own version of The Killing Joke in with the multiple choice origins being used to manipulate Harley. There’s also a nod to ‘The Laughing Fish’ with the piranha plan, and it even ends identically, with Batman knocking him from a great height to his apparent death. But of course, Joker is eternal. More on that in six months!

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. The Ventriloquist
  6. Catwoman
  7. Two-Face
  8. Bane
  9. The Riddler
  10. The Phantasm
  11. Baby-Doll
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Clayface
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Ra’s al Ghul
  16. Livewire
  17. Calendar Girl
  18. Roxy Rocket
  19. Killer Croc
  20. Firefly
  21. Penguin
  22. Scarecrow
  23. Lock-Up
  24. Lloyd Ventrix
  25. Rupert Thorne
  26. Mutant Leader
  27. Count Vertigo
  28. Clock King
  29. Klarion (and Teekl!)
  30. Nivens
  31. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  32. Enrique el Gancho
  33. Josiah Wormwood
  34. Talia al Ghul
  35. Sid the Squid
  36. Queen Thoth Khepera
  37. Maxie Zeus
  38. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  39. Tony Zucco
  40. Man-Bat
  41. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  42. Hugo Strange
  43. Red Claw
  44. Arnold Stromwell
  45. Mad Bomber
  46. Tygrus
  47. Kyodai Ken
  48. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  49. Farmer Brown (and Emmylou!)
  50. Grant Walker
  51. Gil Mason
  52. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  53. Cameron Kaiser
  54. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  55. Mad Dog
  56. Ubu
  57. Thomas Blake
  58. Professor Milo
  59. Romulus
  60. Arkady Duvall
  61. Sewer King
  62. Boss Biggis
  63. Montague Kane
  64. 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.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, is taking a week off and then will present some quick thoughts on Black Widow, as Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey won’t be covering it for quite some time.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week special effects are pushed to their limit in Death Becomes Her.

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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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