Why Harley Quinn‘s Diedrich Bader is actually the best Batman ever

Let us sing the praises of Bader's turn as the sad-boy Dark Knight on HBO Max's animated gem of a series

Why Harley Quinn‘s Diedrich Bader is actually the best Batman ever
Harley Quinn Image: HBO Max

Fight me if you must, but here’s the stone-cold truth: Diedrich Bader is actually the best Batman. The actor has voiced Gotham’s brooding superhero in various projects starting with Cartoon Network’s 2008 animated series, Batman: The Brave And The Bold. It’s safe to say he’s perfected the trademark gravelly (read: sexy) cadence, a.k.a. a husky tone with a lingering sense of self-deprecation. This vocal weapon is all he needs to wield in HBO Max’s Harley Quinnno dollops of black eyeliner or intense facial expressions are required to make an impression. Bader executes the most bizarre version of his Bruce Wayne/ Batman yet in the show’s third season, which had its finale on September 15.

Created by Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Dean Lorey, Harley Quinn is a flawless and ridiculously fun adaptation of the titular DC Comics character. In its latest season, the series’ priceless gift is the chaotic, wholesome romance between Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). Their budding relationship is threatened when Bruce kidnaps Ivy’s beloved plant, Frank (J.B. Smoove). And why does everyone’s favorite caped crusader resort to crime? It’s simple, really. Sad boy Bruce just wants to scientifically modify Frank’s healing abilities to resurrect his dead parents and mess with his origin story.

It’s a delirious and rarely explored direction in a Batman story. He usually deals with his grief through lonely contemplation on rooftops or in his bat cave, hunting down lawbreakers, and being taken care of by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Thanks to the power of animation, Harley Quinn superbly stretches the limits of where its heroes and villains can go—live-action wouldn’t dare give us a zombified Thomas and Martha Wayne. Here, Joker (Alan Tudyk) is Gotham’s well-liked mayor, the villainous Bane (James Adomian) morphs into a secret softie, and Clayface (Tudyk) is a thriving aspiring actor. Harley and Ivy are, of course, openly dating, and it’s too freaking cute.

The icing on the cake is the show’s refreshingly witty discernment of the Dark Knight, especially in the last few episodes of season three. Bader revels in the emotional gravitas that Harley Quinn’s Bruce demands, retaining the character’s immaculate moody vibes while placing himself in increasingly wacky circumstances. The actor’s voice has never been more oddly soothing. (Okay, fine, maybe it was back when he played BoJack Horseman’s Judah Mannowdog.)

Bruce is determined to bring Thomas and Martha back to life after being put through the wringer, whether it’s his nemesis running the town or adjusting to an expanding team that’s now comprised of Batgirl (Briana Cuoco) and Nightwing (Harvey Guillén). He even becomes the cultural archetype of a cat lady, naming his two felines after (and dressing them up as) his parents. Things start falling apart when DC’s favorite director James Gunn (appearing as himself) decides to make a Thomas Wayne biopic. It would mean Bruce has to publicly relive a trauma he replays in his head constantly, as seen when Harley enters his psyche in the terrific eighth episode, “Batman Begins Forever.”

Harley Quinn doesn’t let poor Bruce succeed romantically, either, sending him and his fashion sense on a downward spiral. (Side note: Can we partly blame HBO execs for reworking the scene of him giving oral to Selina Kyle/Catwoman? Why is a woman getting pleasured a problem, but episode four’s orgy scene is not? News flash: It’s all animation! Superheroes can and should fuck! And nothing’s hotter than Batman wanting to go down on his girlfriend!)

Catwoman & Batman Need Couples Therapy | Harley Quinn | HBO Max

Back to the topic at hand: His romance reaches well past the point of desperation. Bruce’s pathetic pleading to Selina stems from feeling isolated, mainly when the couple is therapized by Music Meister (Larry Owens). Luckily for us, that means Bader croons in his deep voice. Forcefully singing to express his innermost desire for happiness? Your fave Batman (whether it’s Adam West, Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, or anyone in between) could never.

Bruce falsely assumes the only way out of his loneliness is to resuscitate Thomas and Martha, so he succeeds in his mission. Billionaires want to pull off the wildest shit even in a fictional universe, huh? In this case, at least, Bruce suffers consequences. His parents aren’t the only zombies running around town. All the buried bodies rise out of their graves, giving Ivy a chance to use them to terraform the city (a plan she announces at Gotham’s impeccably named Jazzapajizza jazz festival). Ultimately, of course, Bruce Wayne comes to his senses, even if he’s arrested, and Gotham is as safe as it can be.

Harley Quinn embraces its source material but dares to venture out of a certain superhero comfort zone. It means all the voice performers get to experiment with characters we’re super familiar with. And who’s more omnipresent on screen than Batman? We started 2022 with Pattinson’s gritty take, Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck are set to reprise their roles in different DC projects, and various actors are known for their Batman portrayals, from George Clooney to Kevin Conroy, an ace voice performer himself. So how can Gotham’s Defender continue to stand out and not get tedious? Harley Quinn and Bader’s spin show us exactly how. Thank the powers that be for that.

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