For someone who thinks superhero movies are “mostly boring” to him at the moment, James Gunn sure excels at making them. With the incredibly fun The Suicide Squad, he made fans forget David Ayer’s Suicide Squad ever happened. Gunn’s first venture into the DC universe falls more in line with Cathy Yan’s standalone Harley Quinn flick Birds Of Prey than the first movie, showing how Harley can shine when she’s not in her Puddin’s shadow. In The Suicide Squad, Harley still gets to be the most recognizable antihero onscreen, but she’s accompanied by lesser-known DC characters, like King Shark (a.k.a. Nanaue), Bloodsport, and Peacemaker, who hadn’t gotten the live-action treatment until now.
The Birds Of Prey comparisons are inevitable, since it became the first DC film featuring Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn that wasn’t panned by critics, and takes on a similar biting sense of humor. But The Suicide Squad is actually far more similar to DC Universe’s underrated animated series, Harley Quinn, which is just as deserving of attention as Gunn’s movie.
The Suicide Squad is very enjoyable in part because it doesn’t take itself seriously; it’s riddled with gore and dark humor, featuring jokes that wouldn’t fly in any Marvel movie. And that’s exactly what makes Justin Halpern’s Harley Quinn so entertaining, too. It’s hilarious and witty, and uses animation to create grisly scenes that would be tough to replicate in a live-action movie, including murderous trees and a massacre by the Big Bad Wolf (yes, that Big Bad Wolf). And just as Gunn’s movie allows lesser-known antiheroes a chance to shine, Harley Quinn introduces a crew of misfits as Harley’s sidekicks. Instead of the focus solely being on its titular character, the show tells the story of how a scrappy group of villains join forces to take down the bad(der) guys and prove their capabilities—with some blunders along the way.
Most of Harley’s posse in the show is made up of antiheroes that didn’t appear in The Suicide Squad— including Clayface, Dr. Psycho, Poison Ivy, Sy Borg, and Kite Man. One familiar face is King Shark, who, instead of acting like a cutesier, more muscular version of Sloth from The Goonies, is a chatty tech whiz who’d rather use his hacking skills than chomp on some humans. He’s far different from the version of King Shark we see on The Suicide Squad, who can’t even read. King Shark’s become a fan favorite since the movie’s release, so anyone who hasn’t watched the animated series can now also fall in love with the hoodie-wearing nerdy version of the character, who’s just as endearing.
King Shark’s not the only DC live-action movie newcomer we see in the animated series. Harley Quinn also gives us a brief glimpse of Ratcatcher (Ratcatcher 2’s dad, played by Taika Waititi in The Suicide Squad), but with a far different take on the character. Here, he works for Two-Face, and narrowly escapes Batgirl and Commander Gordon with the help of his rats. It has the opposite effect as his portrayal in The Suicide Squad; while the movie showed a serious, touching side of him, the animated series reminds fans that he’s a villain, allowing him to be as goofy as Gotham’s other ne’er-do-wells.
The show continuously introduces new villains, and the upcoming third season could be a chance to see more of the motley crew from The Suicide Squad. Gunn wrote the new antiheroes in a way that feels in line with how the animated series portrays its villains, so we could easily see someone like Weasel being introduced for comedic effect, or Polka-Dot Man joining Harley’s squad. The series hasn’t shied away from making tongue-in-cheek references to the movies, so it would be a worthwhile opportunity to take it a step further, letting fans who haven’t read the comics learn more about these “new” names.
Harley Quinn previously streamed on DC Universe, which likely limited the number of eyeballs on it. But with its first two seasons currently streaming on HBO Max and a third on the way, it’s now more widely available to fans craving more villainous team-ups after watching The Suicide Squad—not to mention, the best portrayal of Harley Quinn yet.