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Harley Quinn: The Complete First and Second Seasons Blu-ray Review

11 min read
I thoroughly loved these episodes when first watching them weekly on the DC Universe service and getting to revisit here over a weekend through this higher quality format only shows its strengths all the more.

The ultimate combination of Batman and the DC Universe.

What They Say:
Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) has finally broken things off once and for all with the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and attempts to make it on her own as the criminal Queenpin of Gotham City in this half-hour adult animated action-comedy series. With the help of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) and a ragtag crew of DC castoffs, Harley tries to earn a seat at the biggest table in villainy: the Legion of Doom. Don’t worry – she’s got this. Or does she? In Season 2, Harley has defeated the Joker, and Gotham City is hers for the taking.what’s left of it, that is. Her celebration in the newly created chaos is cut short when Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler and Two-Face join forces to restore order in the criminal underworld. Calling themselves the Injustice League, they’re intent on keeping Harley and her crew from taking control as the top villains in Gotham.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release gives us the original English language mix only done up in 5.1 and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that has a good bit of fun at times with the forward soundstage, but it largely works a standard design here with some minor but decent directionality across it as the action moves and some good placement with dialogue. There are some good areas where it throws some of the action and dialogue to the rears but it’s more of an overall feeling at times. The use of music definitely takes a larger and warmer feeling throughout that takes advantage of the 5.1 mix. The design is one that plays to the way the show is animated and it works well for giving it plenty of movement with the sound effects and the music where appropriate, but the majority of the dialogue is fairly center channel based with appropriate placement and depth of it where needed. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2019 and 2020, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across three discs spaced well with enough room for it. With only one language track and no extras here, each disc holds just under four hours of animation and it comes across pretty well. There’s some detail to be had in the backgrounds to be sure, but the characters are a little simpler and use bold and solid colors without a lot of gradients and details to them, so it’s an easier encode overall. The bit rate is fairly variable with what it does but it spends its time in the low twenties for a lot of it and spikes high when required. The series has a lot going on with its action and background details and it has a really great look to it overall that definitely gets captured with the encoding here. It’s bright, vibrant, and definitely better than what the streaming or broadcast runs could present with their limitations. It’s definitely a very solid encode.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is kept simple as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds two discs against the interior walls and the third against the back. I’m not a fan of the whole split design when putting multi-season shows together but we basically get the key visuals for the two seasons side by side below the logo but with a Mature Audiences stamp on it. The first season has a bit of a darker look to it with its color while the second is full of explosions, but there’s also a kind of wild joy to the expressiveness of the characters that works. The back cover goes for a soft purple background to it that’s fairly indistinct but I think is part of some Gotham architecture. The premise is covered well enough in highlighting what it’s about and the variety of villains that show up in it. It also does a decent job of breaking down the concept for both seasons without spoiling much. The rest is given over to the usual legalese with a minor technical grid to cover the basics of what’s included. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After all these years of Harley Quinn, a still relatively new addition to the DC world from the 90s and one of the few that has lasted, it’s a real hit or miss character for me. I’ve enjoyed the way that the comics have grown her relationship so that the toxicity is out but that means when going to almost any other medium, the creative there wants to step back into the Joker/Harley dynamic and do their own moving past thing, if at all. That’s just like redoing an origin story that gets tiring or going back to a version of the character that has had this event dealt with so many times that it’s just very wearying.

With Kaley Cuoco having taken on the lead role here for this new animated series, I think she fits in well by bringing something both familiar and new to it with her growing confidence over the course of the run. Changing it up from other recent animated works and live-action helps because this is definitely in the R-rated realm with the violence and swearing, providing a new approach definitely works for me. And we also get from the start that this intense Joker is just that, going right past the edge with glee and then running a mile. The opening pre-credits goes through the Joker tearing off a human face mask, melting people with acid, flamethrowers melting people, it’s all just much more intense than what we’ve seen before, even in comics to some degree while playing with the comedic angle. And even amid this, Harley’s getting tired of being upstaged and abandoned in the face of Batman and the knowledge that she’ll not get anywhere while being just a sidekick. So much of this was the main setup from the promos but they bang through it hard and fast.

What helps foster this break more is that while she thinks that he’ll break her out within a day, it’s six months and there’s been no sign of him. She’s still waiting for her Mister J to come but I like that it’s Poison Ivy that’s spending the most time with her, trying to get her to realize that she’s been abandoned here. It fits with Ivy going back quite a ways as she’s always been more of a solo player but I also really enjoy the relationship that these two have had in various comics over the years. The months spent in Arkham are a delight to watch as everyone is on the same page except Harley in that the Joker isn’t coming and they’re all exhausted by her pining. Having Ivy be the one that breaks her out of there is cute as she’s got her own Little Shop of Horrors critter that watches over the place and is pretty disturbing on his own.

This show throws a ton of stuff at the viewer with a very busy series of events going on in the background as well. But it also knows how to slow things down right, such as when Harley converses with a picture of herself that reminds her of who she was pre-costume and what her relationship with the Joker is really like. And that has her taking control of things in a way that embarrasses the Joker and in order to save face, he hauls out plenty of lies as to why he never rescued her. The toxic male elements are red flags so big that’d they’ve cover the skyline. And poor Ivy is struggling to get her to realize this because of the hold that the Joker has on her even after all of this. Joker is simply all about himself and when a situation comes where he’s presented with a choice, you know it’s not going to go Harley’s way. The Riddler has both Harley and Batman hanging above vats of acid and he has to choose one to live and one to die. He can’t be without his main foil as Batman is the other side of him, so he has her dropped into the vat.

Can it be any clearer to her? It’s hard for her to see through all the lies that he’s been telling her and all the lies that she’s been telling herself as well. When we do get that toward the end and the realization finally settles in, she’s at that point to make the break. And that it was Ivy’s plan all along makes it all the better because she has a real concern for her – even if it’s the right kind of snark. This kind of opening episode was a given in that we’d get the old Harley and have her breakthrough to the other side and that’s a been there and done that thing too many times for me already. But at the same time, this was done creatively enough – and fast enough – that it really does work well. I’m wary of how many times we’re going to see her emancipation, to provide a nod to the live-action film, but there’s also the reality that only animation can truly capture this kind of Harley.

With all this in mind, the series is able to move forward well with its two distinct seasons as we follow Harley on her journey. The first season is a strong one in that yes, it plays out in episodic form as it reveals many of the players in Gotham and how they operated, but it also puts its own spin on it. I absolutely have a love/hate relationship with this version of Gordon but it allows for a great relationship exploration later when Barbara enters the picture and essentially tries to help her father find his mission again. We also get a very different Batman that utterly delighted me when he was used in ways not seen before. After a brutal battle that has him on the outs, we get to see how he tries to “man up” like only Batman can to fight but it’s such a slog because of how much pain he’s in after the beating he took. It doesn’t show it in a more realistic way but it takes the concept and conceit of the comics and takes it to its comedic ends.

And let’s not forget anytime that we get Robin on screen and how he handles playing against the big names of the DC Universe when the Justice League members are there. This may be my favorite interpretation of Superman, ever, in animated form.

The second season is one that in its own way is probably more repetitive in what it’s doing structurally but it’s also working through a lot of great material. Taking the changes from the first season with Gotham under the control of the villains with each having their own domains, we eventually get Harley and the gang looking to break them down for various reasons and goals. That gives us time with each section and their unique aspects because of it and it’s certainly fun to see how they run them differently. But while this plays out we also get a strong focus on the other main storyline of this series, that of Harley and Ivy. While the show went into things by saying to the press that they weren’t going to play up the relationship in a romantic way, that was a sleight of hand thing and it’s had a great under the surface and overt aspect at times that really delights. But, that said, I found myself so invested in the relationship between Ivy and Kite-Man that I was really conflicted about what I wanted to have work. I’ve long liked the Harley and Ivy dynamic, especially from the quirkier non-continuity comics, but the creative team here made me so invested in Kite-Man and him having a good happy life that I really rooted for the two of them to figure it out.

What really drives me with this show is that it manages to do so many things at once and to do it so well. It’s a series that’s completely accessible if you’ve never seen any of it before at all. It’s a show that works well if you’ve only seen her in the live-action movie. But it also designs so many things that are deep cuts for the comics fans as well as those from past incarnations in other media. There are so many good easter eggs to be found within the show and the characters as well as through the dialogue. And some characters are given a whole new lease on life in terms of personality. While the Joker is the Joker, just with some quirks to this series, others like Bane end up becoming such a surprise hit with how well they’re done while going in a whole other direction. Which is like with Kite-Man as well, a largely unknown character that somehow manages to become the real heart of the series.

In Summary:
With a third season on the way that’s going to get its own direction to go in, there’s a lot to like with these first two seasons. They have some strong replay value and a lot of things that you can see both with a second viewing in general but also a different flow to it when you can basically binge it. This release is pretty barebones in general but at its heart what you want is the show itself and it delivers it well here. It’s a great looking show whose design is captured well and deserves this kind of high definition release. The package is simple but it’s a good, tight little release at a fantastic price. I thoroughly loved these episodes when first watching them weekly on the DC Universe service and getting to revisit here over a weekend through this higher quality format only shows its strengths all the more. Highly recommended.

Features:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Warner Archive
Release Date: February 16th, 2021
MSRP: $29.99
Running Time: 594 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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