NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Harley Quinn”, including a major character death, are present in this review
DC Universe’s adult-oriented animated series, Harley Quinn demonstrated quite the bold commitment to lasting consequences at the end of its first season, which concluded just over a month ago. The gap between Season One and Season Two of Harley Quinn is likely the shortest in streamer TV history in fact, with Harley Quinn’s second season premiere already starting in the fallout of Season One’s conclusion, as if barely any time has passed (because, really, not much has, even in the real world), and sure enough, it’s a kooky, unpredictable riot that quickly capitalizes on Gotham City’s drastic new status quo. “New Gotham” lives up to its name in more ways than one, portraying a new kind of Gotham City that no longer has Batman, the Justice League or even the Legion of Doom present to regulate its criminal affairs anymore.
The way that this episode takes this premise and runs with it is immediately inspired as well, while also tying into Harley continuing her shaky rise into independent super-villainy. Despite Ivy yet again being the voice of reason, and urging Harley to wrap up her party of random mayhem and madness, Harley ultimately and obliviously fails to take her shot at genuinely taking control of the newly-lawless Gotham City. Even when the U.S. President declares Gotham City cut off from the rest of the country, and no longer a part of the United States (this actually mirrors a well-known Batman storyline from DC Comics, Batman: No Man’s Land, which also saw Gotham City temporarily isolated and abandoned by the rest of the U.S. after a major earthquake devastated it in DC’s comic book continuity), Harley fails to take her shot, instead inspiring the henchmen of Gotham’s other remaining super-villains to all rise up and take up their own villainous mantles, in a well-meaning, but misguided blunder.
At the same time, Commissioner Gordon finds himself clinging to the idea that Batman is still out there, despite the Dark Knight being missing since the city fell. This nicely continues to develop the tragic, but weirdly cute story of this animated universe’s Gordon, who is truly left with nothing in Batman’s absence, at least beyond an upstart Robin deciding to take up Batman’s mantle for himself, while not even fitting the costume (this also satirizes a well-known DC comic book arc, Battle for the Cowl, which ultimately saw the former first Robin take up Batman’s mantle after Batman’s since-reversed death). Even the rest of the cops ultimately join Bane’s gang, which occurs after the super-villains fight to take back control of their henchmen and respective rackets, complete with a newly-debuting Mr. Freeze, voiced by Spider-Man 2’s Alfred Molina.
All of the writing in this second season premiere for Harley Quinn is wonderfully on-point and funny, but it does sometimes feel weirdly rushed in some places. There’s some very promising ideas that this episode frustratingly doesn’t develop to their full potential, and could have easily occupied their own episodes. These include Harley’s aforementioned henchmen revolt, which forces Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face and Bane to carve up their own territories throughout the abandoned Gotham, begrudgingly giving Harley a small island off the coast of the city in turn, while proudly declaring that they are forming the ‘Injustice League’. The idea of the villains having to deal with a legion of imitators and upstarts, while ironically trying to imitate the Justice League themselves, is amusing to the extreme, but it’s over with too quickly. Even the series itself kind of pokes fun at how fast the henchmen gave up on their revolt, but that merely draws attention to so many funny storylines that could have been, had this premise lasted a couple of episodes.
Likewise, Harley ends up being temporarily taken out of the picture, after naturally rejecting the invitation to join the Injustice League, along with their city-dividing terms. It even takes Harley’s crew a whole two months to break her out of confinement at Penguin’s club, the Iceberg Lounge, with a bizarre heist conceived by Clayface being the one to succeed, after several other heists fail. Not only do we never see these heists, which is a big let-down, but the chance to spotlight Harley’s crew now having to survive in a lawless city without Harley’s leadership is also frustratingly left un-realized. This is especially true in Ivy’s case, since a chance for her to try and fail at being a leader would have been perfect here. Still, the mission to break Harley out is predictably entertaining, and it even results in Harley shockingly murdering Penguin successfully! This follows up Scarecrow’s own surprisingly unambiguous death from the Season One finale, with another commendable pledge to having villain deaths truly be fair game within a universe that otherwise clearly exists in hyper-time, and seems to involve Batman fighting, defeating and re-engaging these same villains for decades on end.
Overall, while the series could have pursued some of this episode’s creative ideas a little more than it ultimately did, Harley Quinn nonetheless finds a lot of fun, clever ways to start taking advantage of the radical new status quo in Gotham City throughout its second season premiere. With no Batman, no superheroes in general, no government oversight, and not even any police left, the villain-infested, lawless playground that Gotham has now become feels like the ideal environment for the manic, violently amusing shenanigans of this show to best play out in. “New Gotham” even sets up a promising post-Legion of Doom conflict for the show to boot, namely Harley having to witness the remaining super-villains carve out their own territory throughout Gotham, leaving Harley and her crew no slice of Hell to call their own. This once again forces Harley and her friends to fight an uphill battle toward super-villain supremacy, while effectively switching up the stakes from Season One, and all without needing the Joker or Batman to make it work. Thus, it already looks like we have a very promising sophomore season ahead, with even the astonishingly short wait between Harley Quinn’s first two seasons doing nothing to disturb this sharp adult animated series’ zany, highly entertaining momentum.
- Exciting, unhinged new status quo for Gotham
- Zany, hilarious heist at the Iceberg Lounge
- The absence of Batman and Joker doesn't hurt the storytelling
- Leaves a bit of sidestory potential unrealized