In the comparatively short period of 25 years that Dr. Harleen Quinzel has been dressing a certain way, following a certain guy, and calling herself Harley Quinn, her relationship with video games has been complicated. Within the pages of Detective Comics #23.2, for example, Harley Quinn distributes hundreds of “Aceboy” hand-held game consoles to all the boys and girls. These over-joyed boys and girls are then obliterated when their video game systems explode. Here, with wide-eyes, I would like to gently back off and shift my focus away from that one reprehensible scene of carnage to concentrate on Harley’s representation within video games, where we will see how she has evolved during a Classic phase, appearing in the fold whenever an animated series or newly released product-line commanded her presence, through to the more mature games in which Harley’s narrative arc transitions from villainess to anti-hero via nurse’s uniforms and wedding cake.
A Very Animated Harley
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). For the second season (1994-1995), the show was retitled The Adventures of Batman & Robin. For context, at this moment in entertainment history, the straight-to-video-game bandwagon was being intensified by the proliferation of critically and financially successful Disney animated adaptations; see: The Jungle Book (1993), Disney’s Aladdin (1993), and The Lion King (1994). Disney was driven by an ongoing pursuit of “synergy,” which is when a media conglomerate is able to utilize different branches of its business to both enhance and further profit from a franchise through ancillary methods. The classic case study for this is the release of the Batman movie in 1989. DC Comics is a subsidiary company to Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc, which in turn is a division of Time Warner (which was also created in 1989 from the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications), so in addition to comics, records, clothes, and action figures being released, 1989 Batman led to a flood of film-licensed games being successfully released across multiple platforms.
In fact, Time Warner’s 1993 Annual Report specifically uses the Batman franchise as a beacon of marketing excellence, so it’s no small wonder then that in the years immediately following the report, Time Warner gave some of their property licenses to various video game developers, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment published The Adventures of Batman & Robin video game, or more specifically: between 1994 and 1995 they released four separate games across four separate platforms, but generously bequeathed them all with the same title.
Despite the homogenized title, the Batman & Robin games are diverse, catering to both the limitations of the platform and the expectations of the target audience. The SNES version is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up with the same silky lines as the animated series; the Genesis iteration is a techno-driven, Contra-like, bullet-hell game; the Game Gear one is a limited-pallet limited-platformer; and the Sega CD flavor manages to be both the greatest affront to the Batman name while simultaneously being one of its most spectacular, being both a fantastically poor racing game while equally lionized as a “Lost Episode” from the show itself (as with Batman: The Animated Series, the animated parts were written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm)…
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