DC’s Harley Quinn animation, led by Kaley Cuoco as the titular heroine-villainess-antihero, is my favourite new cartoon in a long time, probably since BoJack Horseman. Animation is infamously hard to nail, especially because it seems to have a bit of a ceiling in terms of both audience and credibility. Because of that, too many shows try a little too hard, opting for quantity over quality when it comes to humour, and trying to give audiences something familiar enough to live action that they’ll stoop to animation, rather than being particularly inventive with what the medium offers. Hoops, which dropped on Netflix last year, is a great example of this – it’s also the only thing Hoops is great at.
But back to Harley Quinn. The show is not part of the DCEU – Cuoco’s Harley is not an animated version of Margot Robbie’s, and their origin stories, plots, and character development are completely different. Cuoco’s is far more destructive, hellbent on power, but also a much less lonely character, with a group of friends… well, that might be pushing it… with a group of people around her in a series built on layered and comedic dynamics. She’s also canonically bisexual and in love with Poison Ivy (also canonically bi in the show), with their relationship explored in ways wlw relationship rarely are in any fiction, animated or not.
However, I don’t expect MODOK to look at similar issues – nor would I want it too. Even if you strip off all the layers and the nuance, Harley Quinn is an extremely chaotic show. The fight scene animation is top notch, using graphic violence, splashes of colour, dark comedy, and intense action to pepper every episode with splatters of blood. In the previews of MODOK we’ve seen so far, it has been light on action, but the violence, colour, and comedy is all there, so it definitely seems like once the full show is out, we’ll be treated to some spectacular – if fairly silly – clashes.
Another thing Harley Quinn has is a complete lack of reverence for the existing DC stories. Each character is still recognisably themselves – Batman isn’t reinvented as a TikTok rapper, he’s still a broody, mysterious loner – yet everyone is fair game. If you’re in Harley Quinn, you’re probably going to have the piss taken out of you. The inherent comedy in everyone is twisted up to eleven, with Joker pretending to read Infinite Jest because he’s absolutely one of ‘those guys’, Kite Man being repeatedly and hilariously useless, Robin being a spoilt brat, and Bane being a lovable – but still murdery – buffoon. It doesn’t need to play safe, or make sure that characters are preserved for the next movie or series they’ll appear in; they exist solely within this cartoon, and that means the show is free to swing for the fences. MODOK will be the same.
We haven’t seen MODOK in the MCU yet, and I don’t know if we ever will, or if any beloved Marvel heroes will show up. It seems very obvious, from the darker comedy, stop motion animation, and the fact the show is on Hulu rather than Disney+, that MODOK is an entirely separate thing – something like the Spider-Man games. An entirely individual story which borrows from the same pool of characters, but does something completely new with them.
The whole thing looks like it was ripped out of a Robot Chicken sketch in the best possible way. I hope the tone we’ve seen in the previews is maintained, because Marvel badly needs a television adaptation to shake things up the way Harley Quinn did for DC.
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