Harley Quinn's Showrunners Discuss Shifting Her Villainy Out Of The Joker's Shadow

Image: Warner Bros.

Harley Quinn is basically everywhere you look today and we’re about to get a fresh new animated incarnation of the DC character. This time it’s strictly for adults, and the creators behind the scenes seem to understand Harley’s unique place in the universe.

We got a sneak peek at the first episode of Harley Quinn at San Diego Comic-Con and were impressed with what we saw, so we couldn’t wait to talk to showrunners-executive producers Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker about it at New York Comic Con. We covered her toxic relationship with the Joker, the enormous cast of the animated series, and their own emancipation of Harley Quinn.

We’ll have more with Halpern and Schumacker as we get closer to the series’ release.


Gizmodo: Harley Quinn has been going through sort of a change over the last few years where they’ve sort of been trying to disconnect her from the Joker. Where do you see this show in place of that, and is that even a focus?

Justin Halpern: Yeah, definitely. I mean, our idea was when you’re so wrapped up in someone else’s identity when you’re in a relationship with someone who’s larger than life and kind of toxic, like when you — or toxic, not kind of [laughs] — when you extricate yourself from that relationship there’s this like void and you sort of, for the first time, ask yourself, “Well, what do I want since I’m not answering to somebody else anymore?” And so that was an interesting idea for us, and kind of like where our jumping-off point is.

Patrick Schumacker: There’s a lot of that going on with the character now. We’re telling our own version of it. It was developed kind of independently of the Birds of Prey film, but that’s also kinda focusing on, it’s in the title, The Emancipation of Harley Quinn.

We pitched this show three years ago to Warner Brothers, and we’re like, “Yeah, we wanna tell a story about Harley staking out on her own. Our version of the character is like a psychotic Mary Tyler Moore who is like upbeat, girl in the big city trying to make it, but she’s trying to make it by murdering fools [laughs]. So, yeah, that’s the focus of the first season is her climbing the ladder of the criminal underworld of Gotham City.

Well the interesting thing to me is how, you know, she had villainous origins, of course, in the, you know, Batman: The Animated Series she was just the Joker’s sidekick. Always a villain until the New 52 came around, and what Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Amanda [Conner] were doing with the Coney Island stuff and kinda turning her into an antihero. Our show wants to focus on her criminal roots for sure.

We were like, “Maybe she goes there later” to the antihero stuff. Our show takes place in Gotham, it is all the familiar Rogues Gallery from Batman surrounding her and then some. We kinda have a giant sandbox to play in, as the trailer hopefully conveys.

Halpern: She is a bad guy in our show and we wanted to keep her that way, and I think part of the reason why I feel like people gravitate towards the character and it’s become so big is... she’s like inherently fun. So I don’t think you could make like a Harley Quinn movie that wasn’t fun, or Harley Quinn show that wasn’t fun, because the character’s so inherently fun. And she has like no impulse control, and there’s a lot of wish fulfillment.

The voice cast is insane. It’s definitely by far the best cast we’ve ever worked with in any of the shows we’ve done, I mean.

Schumacker: The largest cast we’ve ever worked with. [laughs]

Halpern: Yeah, it was one of those things where we kept saying, usually when you’re on a network sitcom or you’re on a show, you throw out the actor you wish you’d get and then you actually get a different actor. [laughs] And in this case we kept being like, “Oh, it would be great if Jason Alexander did this character.” And then we sent him the material and he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Schumacker: He’s Sy Borgman.

Halpern: Yeah, and like Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, it’s like Lake said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” Wanda Sykes is in it. I mean we just had Matt Oberg, we had just a crazy...

Schumacker: J.B. Smoove, did you say?

Halpern: Yeah, no, I didn’t.

Schumacker: J.B. Smoove plays an original character named Frank the Plant who is a talking Venus Flytrap, one of Ivy’s creations.

Gizmodo: Nice.

Schumacker: So he’s great.

Halpern: I mean we just felt like so lucky to have these people come in. And I think part of the fun for them is like our show is very... Like the dialog is very natural and overlappy and because of that we let the actors improv, and they don’t get to do a lot of that in animation, but our show they did, and so I think they just had like a lot of fun, and they would tell other actors, “This is fun, come in and do it.”


Harley Quinn debuts on DC Universe on November 30, but there's no current word on an Australian release.


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