NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Harley Quinn” are present in this review
Despite Harley’s bittersweet defeat of Mr. Freeze during the previous episode of Harley Quinn, the series didn’t ultimately address the fallout of these major events this week. Instead, the show made the rather shocking decision to spend an entire episode without any mention of Harley, Ivy or their friends, a first for DC Universe’s adult animated series! Instead, “Batman’s Back Man” shifted perspectives entirely to that of the eponymous Dark Knight, as he finally awakens from a coma, and discovers the horrible new state that new New Gotham has found itself in. This also happens to coincide with the rising popularity of Batgirl, who has now earned herself quite a large online following, after livestreaming her own crime fighting throughout the city.
Despite the huge change in narrative focus for this week, Harley Quinn managed to keep its soaring momentum going strong in its latest episode, presenting a brilliant re-introduction to the recovering Batman, who must now confront Gotham’s new status quo on his own battered terms. At the same time, this finally allows the series to start honestly addressing what’s been going on with the fledgling Batgirl as well, since the past two weeks haven’t really checked in with her at all. The injured Bruce Wayne is of course eager to get back into the fight and take back the city as Batman, Batgirl or no, especially when he learns that someone else is wearing his logo- er, symbol, but Alfred explicitly forbids it, citing that other vigilantes are doing a solid job of cleaning up the city on their own terms. Oh yeah, we finally meet the Harley Quinn universe’s rendition of Alfred Pennyworth in this episode, and sure enough, his comically polite, yet aggressive no-nonsense demeanour doesn’t disappoint!
All of these inspired story ideas not only provide tons of great jokes that beautifully riff on the stubborn legacy of Batman, but also provide a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek satire of DC itself, along with modern DC fanboy expectations, and even the DC Universe platform that hosts first-run Harley Quinn episodes in the U.S.! This episode is even book-ended by two unnamed stereotypical nerds in the supposed real world, who scoff at Harley Quinn being a woke feminist series where Harley beat several villains in just a few episodes, using only her, “Mary Sue powers”, before concluding that DC Universe’s weekly episode distribution model is ridiculous. Sure, the joke doesn’t totally translate here in Canada, where the DC Universe app isn’t currently offered, and we have to watch both new and re-airing episodes of Harley Quinn on the Canadian Adult Swim channel, but WarnerMedia and DC having a laugh at the expense of their own modern, mainstream Batman and DC Universe franchises is pretty amusing nonetheless.
Even Marvel ends up being dragged into the superhero franchise spoofing this week, to strong effect! After Bruce finds himself too heavily injured and physically disabled to truly fight crime as Batman, he orders Lucius Fox to build him a new Bat Suit, one programmed with an A.I. assistant, jet boosters, automatic targeting, and the ability to automatically graft onto Bruce’s body remotely. Yes, this blatant bad idea is a very obvious satire of Marvel’s highly beloved superhero, Iron Man, right down to how the A.I. and targeting is laid out in the new Bat Suit! It’s almost blunt acknowledgment of the likely fanboy argument behind why Batman doesn’t think more like Iron Man in the modern DC Universe, namely having a more hi-tech suit that does almost all of the villain battling work for him. This new Bat Suit even allows Batman to go toe-to-toe with an enraged, fully Venom-powered Bane later in the episode, only for Batman’s legs to be horrifically broken in the end (at least it’s not his back for a change!), forcing Batgirl and Alfred, who has now also become a vigilante called ‘The Macaroni’, to intervene and save him.
Speaking of Bane, seeing that he and Two-Face are the only surviving villains of Harley Quinn’s ‘Injustice League’ at this point (Riddler is technically still alive and in Harley’s custody for now, but he still doesn’t count), Bane proposes that he and Two-Face team up, only to see Two-Face hogging the spotlight of their freshly-minuted partnership. It’s nice that Two-Face finally gets proper development for the Harley Quinn universe in this episode, finally revealing this version of the character as a vain, glory-seeking crime lord with a particular fear of Batman. The tense Bane/Two-Face partnership certainly provides a lot of great jokes too, intentionally confusing the audience as to exactly what Bane’s role is within this new criminal team-up (humourously called ‘The Two Faces’), while nicely teasing that an increasingly tormented Bane may eventually become the ultimate threat to new New Gotham this season, especially with Joker still remaining MIA at this point.
Ultimately, Batman is forced to entrust the continuing fight for new New Gotham to Batgirl for now, complete with ordering Gordon to accept Batgirl as a proxy, which makes one wonder what the hell is going on with Robin, actually. That was the only head-scratching part of this otherwise excellent Harley Quinn episode in fact; Where’s Robin? Robin even appeared to make off with one of Batman’s Bat Suits at one point during the start of this season, and yet, he weirdly wasn’t even mentioned here, creating a bit of a stubborn plot hole. Still, the lack of Harley, Ivy and their crewmates didn’t end up slowing Harley Quinn down at all this week. This latest episode managed to re-tool the show’s humour and storytelling from Batman’s perspective in a very smart way, while affectionately poking fun at the changes and evolution behind DC’s distribution and franchising methods in the modern era. It seems like Harley Quinn itself is on as much of a tear as its titular anti-heroine lately, even when we don’t actually see her! That being said, I’m very eager to witness how Harley and her friends will receive the imminent news of Bane and Two-Face consolidating their remaining power next week, even if Bane’s influence is rather debatable at this point.
- Batman's amusing, increasingly desperate efforts to keep fighting crime
- Storytelling isn't hurt by Harley's absence, nor the absence of her crew
- DC effectively poking fun at their own history and modern franchising
- Did the show forget about Robin?