Harley Quinn has been as much an exploration of DC lore as much as it has a close-up look at Harley herself. While Batman necessarily appears here and there throughout the series, as Gotham only exists as long as he is in it, but he’s never much more than a guest star–until this week. In this week’s episode, we dive into the mind of Batman for what might be one of the most insightful critiques, satires, and commentaries on the character inside Batman media. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 3, Episode 8, “Batman Begins Forever.”
“Batman Begins Forever”
When we meet Dr. Pscyho again, he’s hosting a therapy podcast. Soon, though, he’s helping Harley and the crew dive into the mind of Bruce Wayne. The crew quickly figures out that they’re stuck in a loop as Bruce replays the murder of his parents over and over again in his head. That moment when Joe Chill shoots the Wayne parents and those pearls go skittering across the ground.
Harley comments on how many times we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s origin story and just how tired it is, but she ultimately needs Bruce to talk to her to find out where Frank is. After she protects him, Bruce’s mind dumps the rest of the crew, leaving only the world’s least stable therapist and the world’s greatest detective.
Into the Bat-Verse
What follows is an absolutely gorgeous-looking Into the Spider-Verse and No Way Home-style deep-dive into the history of Batman and his psychology. According to Harley Quinn, every Batman we’ve ever seen is canonical, from the very first comic-book Batman with purple gloves to the Batman who learned from Alfred “why do we fall down Master Wayne” and everything in between.
Batman remembers running down the boardwalk with a bomb over his head, he remembers standing atop a building with crackling lightning. They fall into a memory where The Dark Knight‘s Joker has the 1970’s Robin tied up on a giant firework, with the help of the Animated Series’ New Jersey-accented Harley Quinn. Batman rescues Robin in a triumphant moment, but is quickly reminded about why he does what he does, and transforms from the strong, masterful vigilante back into the scared young boy he was moments before.
Healin’ with Harls
Harleen Quinzell was a college-educated, degree-toting, licensed therapist; she knows what to do when it comes to talking to traumatized children. Harley is in a better place for it at this time in the series than she’s been since before she met Joker (who, reminder, is now a socialist mayor of Gotham whose most significant concern is making sure his kids get into the school district’s language immersion program).
She works with Bruce to get him to talk about his fears and worries, only to discover that the Joe Chill stalking them is none other than Bruce himself, making sure to keep himself stuck in the trauma loop. For Bruce, his quest isn’t one of protection, but of punishment. This is penance for something he believes himself responsible for, and treating the trauma would take him away from his life-long punishment.
In other words, Harley Quinn argues that, so many years after the traumatic event that gave birth to his alter ego, Bruce Wayne is responsible for the way he’s stuck. He’s making a decision to stay there, wallowing in his feelings, and Harley explains to him that you can forgive yourself and grow without forgetting. No one would hold a child responsible for their parents’ deaths.
A choice between penance and growth
And this moment actually calls to mind the ending of The Batman. The dangerously preoccupied Bruce Wayne is forced to rethink what it means to be Batman when he sees the way people view him, and sees that he has to change. This Bruce is not Pattinson’s Bruce, and things go differently. As so often implied in the comics, Batman is the greatest villain in his own stories as much as he is the greatest hero. With Frank the Plant’s biology, Bruce plans to solve his problem not by dealing with it through therapy, but by literally resurrecting his dead parents. It’s as screwed up as anything Harley has done. The award for most-screwed-up still goes to Season 1 Joker, but Bruce is making a play for the trophy.
Harley Quinn has always been insightful and interested in its characters’ inner lives–why they are the way they were, whether there’s room for them to heal, and what they want aside from To Kill The Batman. Turning that lens onto Batman is both the obvious next step and a brilliant one. Harley is uniquely equipped to talk to Bruce in a way no one else can, and Dr. Psycho’s powers are the perfect bridge for that. Strangely, this is one of the most three-dimensional portrayals of Batman that I think I’ve ever seen. It’s silly and often absolutely ridiculous, but there’s a core that works and understands the character intimately. If Joker can become a family man, I can’t wait to see what could become of Bruce.