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REVIEW:
DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS HARLEY QUINN
By Thomas Wheeler


Mattel's excellent line of DC Universe Classics figures, essentially the DC Universe version of Marvel Legends, insofar as they are 6" scale, highly articulated, realistic representations of DC Universe characters, continues, even if the second assortment has been notoriously hard to find.

One of the new characters in the second series of DC Universe Classics is someone that, compared to decades-old characters such as Superman and Batman, is a relative newcomer on the scene, and entered into the DC Universe in a somewhat untraditional way. Nevertheless, she has proven over the years to be extremely popular, even having her own title for a time.

Her name is HARLEY QUINN. Best known as the daffy sidekick to the Joker and first introduced in the first Batman animated series of the 1990's, the character was ultimately brought into the mainstream DC Universe through her sheer popularity. Let's check out her background in more extensive detail.

Harley Quinn first appeared in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favor" (episode #22, original airdate: September 11, 1992), as what was originally supposed to be the animated equivalent of a walk-on role - a number of police officers were to be taken hostage by someone jumping out of a cake, and it was decided that to have The Joker do so himself would be too bizarre. A female follower of the Joker was thus created.

The character was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and was voiced in the Batman: The Animated Series and its tie-ins by Arleen Sorkin. As suggested by her name (a play on the word "harlequin"), she is clad in the manner of a traditional harlequin jester. The character is a frequent accomplice and love interest of Batman's nemesis the Joker, and is also a close ally of supervillainess Poison Ivy.

The 1994 graphic novel "Mad Love" recounts the character's origin. She started out as Dr. Harleen Quinzell. It reveals that Joker intended to twist her mind as a joke because her name was close sounding to the word harlequin, a French clown character, but in his joke he found some affection for her. Told in the style and continuity of Batman: The Animated Series and written and drawn by Dini and Timm, the comic book describes Harley as an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who falls in love with the Joker while working with him at the Asylum with The Joker as her patient, and becomes his accomplice and on-again, off-again girlfriend.

The story received wide praise and won the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best Single Issue Comic of the Year. The New Batman Adventures series adapted Mad Love as the episode "Mad Love" in 1999, making it the second "animated style" comic book adapted for the series.

As portrayed in the comic, she becomes fascinated with the Joker while interning at Arkham, and volunteers to analyze him. She falls in love nearly instantly with the Joker during their sessions. After helping him escape from the asylum more than once, she is caught by her superiors, who revoke her license and put her in her own cell. During an earthquake in Gotham City, she flees and becomes Harley Quinn, the Joker's partner- in-crime.

After Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, Harley makes several other animated appearances. She appears as one of the four main female characters of the web cartoon Gotham Girls. She also made guest appearances in other cartoons of the DC Animated Universe, appearing in the Justice League episode "Wild Cards" (alongside The Joker) and the Static Shock episode "Hard as Nails" (alongside Poison Ivy).

She appeared in World's Finest: The Batman/Superman Movie as a rival and foil of sorts for Lex Luthor's assistant Mercy Graves; each has a mutual immediate dislike for the other, at one point fighting brutally with each other as Luthor and the Joker have a business meeting. In the film's climax, Harley nearly kills Mercy when she duct tapes her mouth shut and tapes her to the top of a gigantic killer android, although she is rescued and untied by Batman and Superman. At the conclusion, Harley is taken away in a padded ambulance screaming, "I want a lawyer! I want a doctor! I want a cheese sandwich!"; Mercy chuckles "Now that's funny!" as she watches Harley get locked away on TV.

The character proved so popular that she was eventually added to the Batman comic book canon. The comic book version of Quinn, like the comic book version of The Joker, is more dangerously psychotic and somewhat less humorously kooky than the animated series version.

Quinn's DC Universe comic book origin, revealed in Batman: Harley Quinn (October 1999), is largely an adaptation of her animated origin from the Mad Love graphic novel.

A Harley Quinn ongoing series was published monthly by DC Comics for 38 issues from 2001 to 2003. (Ironically, the Joker's own comic book in the 1970's lasted a rather meager nine issues). Creators who contributed to the title included Karl Kesel, Terry Dodson, A.J. Lieberman and Mike Huddleston. The series ends with Harley turning herself in to Arkham Asylum.

She then appears in the Jeph Loeb series Hush. She is next seen in Villains United Infinite Crisis special, where she is one of the many villains who escape from Arkham.

Harley subsequently appeared in Batman #663, in which she helps The Joker with a plan to kill all his former henchmen, unaware that the "punchline" to the scheme is her own death. Upon realizing this, she shoots him in the shoulder.

Harley resurfaces in Detective Comics #831, written by Paul Dini. She is still a borderline psychotic, but has apparently reformed. Harley has spent the last year applying for parole, only to see her request systematically rejected by Bruce Wayne, the layman member of Arkham's medical commission. She is kidnapped by Sugar, the new female Ventriloquist, who offers her a job; Harley turns the job down out of respect for the memory of Arnold Wesker, the original Ventriloquist, and helps Batman and Commissioner Gordon foil the imposter's plans. Although Sugar escapes, Bruce Wayne is impressed with Harley's effort at redemption, and agrees with granting her parole.

In Birds of Prey #105, Harley Quinn is revealed as the sixth member of the Secret Six. In issue #108, upon hearing that Oracle has sent the Russian authorities footage of teammate Deadshot murdering the Six's employer as payback for double-crossing them, Harley asks, "Is it a bad time to say 'I quit'?", thus leaving the team.

Harley's relationship with The Joker is one of the most complex in the DC Universe. While he often abuses her, sometimes near the point of death, there are as many instances that show a mutually affectionate side to their bizarre relationship. Certain stories imply that the Joker wrestles with the confusing reality of actually caring for someone, giving in to the sentiment more or less at times depending on his mood or state of mind.

During an early meeting with Poison Ivy, another frequent partner-in-chaos, Ivy gives Quinn a treatment that immunizes her to various assorted toxins and Ivy's own poisonous touch. It also dramatically enhances Harley's strength and speed.

Most recently, within the pages of Countdown, Harleen Quinzel appears to have reformed and is shown to be residing in an Amazon-run women's shelter. Having abandoned her jester costume and clown make-up, Harley now only wears an Amazonian stola or chiton. She befriends the former Catwoman replacement Holly Robinson, and then succeeds in persuading her to join her at the shelter, where she is working as an assistant. She and Holly become friends over their adventures in the center, Themyscira, Apokolips and Earth-51. In the series' final issues, we see the two are now living together in Gotham. Whether we've seen the last of Harley Quinn within the pages of DC Comics is certainly debatable

Harley Quinn represents the first female character in the DC Universe Classics line -- quite the honor for this lunatic. The figure stands about 6" in height, and Mattel has done a really nice job with her.

To a degree, Mattel caught a bit of a break with Harley's design. Except for her ornate collar and hat, and the wrist cuffs, Harley's costume, from a sculpting standpoint, is straight-on tights. This gave Mattel the opportunity to create a basic female body format that I would not be the least but surprised to see turn up elsewhere, with some modifications, on future female figures in the lines.

In contrast to the more colorful Joker, whose green hair and traditional purple suit with orange vest and green shirt makes him a character surprisingly adept in the use of the secondary colors of the main spectrum, Harley Quinn's color scheme is far more limited -- red, black, and white -- and not all that much white.

Harley Quinn's costume is alternating sections of red and black on her upper torso and lower torso and legs, with a few diamond shapes of red and black here and there. One must remember that this costume was originally created for animation in a program that had a somewhat simplified style to it. It was also, however, a rather distinctive look that probably would not have worked to have altered extensively for use in the more realistic, and often more detailed, world of the mainstream DC Universe.

Harley Quinn wears a headpiece that has what more or less look like two long ski caps coming out of it, one red and one black, each ending in a fuzzy tassle. Her face is painted white -- it has not been bleached white in an accident as was the case with The Joker. And she either wears a black mask around her eyes or paints it on as part of the make- up (to be honest, I'm not sure which), and has red lipstick.

Mattel did something just a little -- peculiar in painting the figure. While in some animation, the color palette is adjusted very slightly to differentiate Harley's face from the white details of her costume, Mattel chose to, in my opinion rather excessively, put an overspray of light blue over Harley's face. You can still see evidence of white in it, but honestly, if they'd sprayed any more blue here, she'd be mistaken for an Andorian from Star Trek, and they'd be wondering if her antennae were hidden in those tassles.

The only other major costume detail to Harley Quinn is the collar, a white semi-bib with three tassles down the front and three down the back. Although a separate piece, it is not removable. This piece is a very direct white, and honestly only makes the blue on her face look that much more peculiar by comparison. Still, it's a well-made piece, and certainly crucial to the appearance of the figure.

Harley's articulation is excellent. The figure is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The waist proved a little difficult to turn. I don't know what it is about Mattel figure, but lately I've had the worst time getting their waists to turn. Harley, Lobo, King Grayskull -- I'm all for good, tight articulation, but when I start to worry about breaking the figure if I'm moving a part that I'm not supposed to be, that gets to be a little much.

Harley's main accessory is a large, almost comical hammer, which she has used on more than a few occasions, especially in the animated series. Her other accessory is a somewhat comical pistol, with a ridiculously large barrel covered by a cork on a string. The cork is unremovable, and don't be fooled, either. Few things are as funny as they seem with the Joker or his girlfriend. This would doubtless be a real gun in real life.

Now, I do need to address the other item that comes packaged with Quinn. The DC Universe Classics line, taking a cue from Marvel Legends' "Build-A-Figure", is doing their own version, called "Collect & Connect". For the assortment that Harley Quinn is a part of, the "Collect & Connect" figure is Gorilla Grodd, a longtime foe of the Flash who has managed to make trouble for the entire Justice League from time to time. Grodd is a renegade from a hidden community of generally peaceful sentient simians. Don't think "Planet of the Apes" here. These aren't semi-human-looking apes with fancy clothes. On the surface, you wouldn't be able to tell them from zoo specimens. Until they start talking.

Given that Harley Quinn is technically the physically smallest figure in this assortment of DC Universe Classics figures, it makes sense that she comes with the largest piece of Grodd, which in this case is his head and torso. Mattel has done a really nice job sculpting a very plausible gorilla -- with a nasty look on his face. But somebody in the packaging department must have decided to have a bit of fun, because the way Harley and the Grodd section are packaged on the card, it looks like Harley is standing over Grodd, one foot on his torso, maybe having gotten a lucky shot with her hammer.

So, what's my final word here? You've got a cool line here that I'd like to be able to find a little more easily than this! Hopefully by the time this review makes it to the Web, that will have happened -- but it is frustrating.

However, as for Harley Quinn, this is one very impressive figure. She's one of the kookier characters of the DC Universe, certainly one of the most popular to come along in relatively recent years, and certainly she's deserving of being part of this superb line of action figures, which I sincerely hope has a good and healthy run for many years to come.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS HARLEY QUINN definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!