Later this year, the DC Animated Universe is returning to one of its most iconic worlds, the art deco noir of Batman: The Animated Series for Batman and Harley Quinn. But before the movie, DC is launching a new digital comic that sets up why Harley and Batman are teaming up where Harleen is the star — and we sat down with its creators to learn more.
Set before the events of the film, the bi-weekly Harley Quinn and Batman comic will uncover why Harley has decided to call it quits with the Clown Prince of Crime — and her path to attempting to become her own supervillain, rather than just the sidekick of one. We spoke to writer Ty Templeton and artist Rick Burchett to discuss how the comic will capture the aesthetic and style of one of the most beloved superhero cartoons around, and what it's like being involved in a return to Harley's animated roots. Check out the interview below, as well as an exclusive look at the series' first chapter, making its debut here.
Tell us a little bit about where we find Harley going into the series.
Ty Templeton: Our opening chapter finds Harley and Joker in the middle of a grand caper — still a team, a two-fer, a duo. In my mind, we pick up no more than a month or so after our last adventure in the DCU (which was more than 10 years ago, I think). The last status quo for the characters (in the comics, anyway) was that Joker and Harley almost got married as part of a fairly twisted scheme that didn't pan out (Batman Adventures Vol. 2, issue #16) and each went back to Arkham at the end of that story, so I figure they have busted out since, and were working on a nefarious prank to kill or inconvenience hundreds of Gothamites. Of course, they don't end up a team by the time the story is over.
You've both worked on Batman: The Animated Series-related projects in the past. What excites you the most about returning to this world again?
Templeton: Pretty much all of it excites me. I love these characters more than any others in comics. Who doesn't? Batman, Nightwing, Harley, Joker, Ivy, Catwoman and a few other fun guest stars — I challenge anyone to find a cast as fun as these folks. And working with Rick Burchett again is too much of a win. We actually worked together since Batman Adventures, but most people missed it. Rick, Dan Slott and myself teamed up for three or four issues of She-Hulk over at Marvel a few years after Batman Adventures wrapped up. I'd leap at the chance to work with Rick on anything, but coming back to the DCU is extra-perfect. Also, my favourite colourist in the biz is finishing Rick's pages: Keiren Smith. She's been colouring my artwork on projects like Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures, Quantum and Woody, and other stuff for a while, and always knocks it out of the park, so it was the ultimate cherry on the cake when the editor agreed she'd be great on Rick's art (which she is!) She knows her comics, she knows her colours, and in between making deadlines, she's raising my children.
Rick Burchett: For me, the best part is working with Ty again. He understands the characters and has a genuine affection for them, and that comes through in his stories. Plus, he realises that an injection of humour doesn't necessarily derail an adventure yarn. It can enhance it. In some ways it feels like I never left. When I do sketches at comic shows, the Batman animated universe is just about all people ask me to draw, even to the point of doing "animated" versions of characters that were never on the show or in the comics.
This isn't the first time — either in the fiction of the animated series or the comics — that Harley's relationship with the Joker has soured after he's mistreated her. What do you think makes it different this time around?
Templeton: Well, I don't want to give away too much, as this is a fairly major story point in the 50-page prequel story... but Joker doesn't mistreat her in this story. Something else ends the partnership, but I'm not telling what it is.
Burchett: Like all well-conceived characters, Harley has grown. She's not just a sidekick any more. She's becoming more self assured and realises she doesn't really need anyone to lean against.
Batman: The Animated Series has such a specific, beloved style, both in art and tone. What is the hardest part of nailing those elements for you both?
Templeton: I'm afraid I'm not on board with your question. There's no part of doing this style that's "hard". It's fun. I know the voices of the characters because I've seen every episode about 12 times each. I wrote more than 50 issues of the comic series, and drew a dozen more. I own the DVD set (I did the production artwork for the collector's edition of the series, so it wasn't hard to find copies). This was a part of my life for more than a decade, so it's not difficult to slip back into the role of co-creator with Rick on something we both did, day in, day out for years.
Burchett: At the beginning, I was hired to be the continuity cop for the art. My job was to be the inker on a series utilising multiple pencillers and make sure everything stayed on model. For some reason, I found the style to be easy for me to emulate. Plus the folks at Warner Animation buried me in reference for the series. I probably have the largest collection of model sheets, backgrounds, style guides and storyboards of anyone outside the studio. As far as stories go, I think we just told good Batman stories. The writers did all the heavy lifting, crafting stories that would be complete in each issue.
What can you tell us about the dynamic between Harley and Batman in this series? How does he get himself involved in her troubles with the Joker?
Templeton: Again, without giving away too much of the story: My first duty was to remember this wasn't Harley's story, it wasn't Batman's story, it was a story about both of them, and they both had to play protagonist. The movie is very much about the two of them (three of them, with Nightwing) playing off each other in scenes together on screen. I wanted to set up their relationship before the movie begins so the scenes you see in the film have backstory and history to inform them. There's at least one big scene from the film that will be a lot funnier if you read our mini-series before you see the film. It's a great scene on its own, but we toss some ironic backstory in the mix.
This series is acting as a prequel to the upcoming animated movie. What was the collaboration like between yourself and the movie team? Were you largely given free rein as to how to set up the road that leads audiences into the new film?
Templeton: Free rein. I was sent a copy of the film to watch and asked to set up a prequel. After watching the movie, I knew the story we had to tell. It kind of presented itself to me as I watched the film. We had a story conference with all the relevant people, and I shaped the ideas into a working plot. I'm a team player, so there's a moment or two that was tweaked by an editor or a punchline suggested by someone on the team. If it's funny, I'd be silly to turn down a good punchline just because someone else sweetened a line here or there. But for the most part, I was free to shape the story where it needed to go. Remember, I think I've written more BTAS Harley stories than anyone other than Paul Dini, so the character is familiar to me. I'm not starting from scratch with her. The crazy lady has lived in my head off and on for years.
Burchett: Since day one on the original Batman Adventures, Warner Animation has done everything possible to help with the creation of the comics. If we needed any reference, all we had to do is ask and we'd get it. They have always treated us as an extended part of their family. There was a mutual respect.
Harley is particularly a very special character to the world of The Animated Series, having been created for it and then headed into the comics from there. Twenty-five years after her creation, what do you think has made her character endure all these years later as one of DC's most popular characters?
Templeton: Three things. She's genuinely funny. She's got character, moxie, timing, slapstick, good lines… the sort of combination of actual funny you only get with actresses like Lucille Ball or Tina Fey or someone like that.
She's crazy in love with people who don't treat her well. Both Joker and Ivy (and to some extent, Batman) leave Harley worse for the relationship. We all get to relate to that.
She isn't shy or subtle. She's bigger than life, willing to swing a mallet and destroy stuff, and unafraid of the consequences of any action. She leaps long before she looks, regardless of the carnage it causes. We all wish we could live like that.
Burchett: The character debuted fully realised. Paul and Bruce knew exactly who she was and they knew how to use her. As for her emergence as a major character, it's a matter of originality. There weren't any characters like her in comics. She appeals to both male and female readers, and part of her allure is the humour that comes along with her. In a medium whose characters take themselves and their situations way too seriously, she was a breath of fresh air.
Harley Quinn and Batman #1 is out digitally today.