In a Variety piece on subversive comic book television series, Harley Quinn co-creator and executive producer Justin Halpern (Surviving Jack, Cougar Town) revealed a network note he received from DC that launched a bevy of memes across social media. According to Halpern’s Variety interview, a script for the upcoming third season of the animated series included a scene of Batman performing oral sex on Catwoman that DC asked be removed because “heroes don’t do that.”
#HarleyQuinn co-creator Justin Halpern on why DC rejected a sex scene between Batman and Catwoman in Season 3: “It’s hard to sell a toy if Batman is also going down on someone.” https://t.co/mYqPd2cwqS pic.twitter.com/0hVnmZm5wz
— IndieWire (@IndieWire) June 15, 2021
Halpern further disclosed that he pushed back on the Harley Quinn note, asking: “Are you saying heroes are just selfish lovers?” (Variety). The executive producer went on to share that the comic book company felt the scene should be cut for the sake of Batman’s marketability as a toy and overall brand with an all-ages reach. While Halpern shared the story in good fun and even expressing gratitude toward DC for giving Harley Quinn the space for more adult story-telling in Gotham, the creator “probably wasn’t expecting the widespread social media reaction to this new interview” (Den of Geek).
Does he or doesn’t he…? pic.twitter.com/oGVfqf0tUx
— Val Kilmer (@valkilmer) June 16, 2021
Social media, particularly Twitter, quickly flooded with jokes and sexual innuendos about Gotham’s Caped Crusader on Tuesday, with some even putting the topic up for debate. Former Batman actor Val Kilmer (The Doors, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) tweeted a suggestive gif from Batman Forever and posed a hypothetical question about the fictional hero’s sex life. Writer Tze Chun (Children of Innovation, Once Upon a Time), who has had a hand in DC canon on Gotham, disputed DC’s Harley Quinn note by simply tweeting “ive written Batman and he does.”
ive written Batman and he does
— T$E CHUN (@thetzechun) June 14, 2021
Deidrich Bader (American Housewife, Napoleon Dynamite), who voices Batman on HBO Max’s Harley Quinn, sided with Chun’s response to DC’s note that heroes don’t perform oral sex, via Twitter. According to Digital Spy, Harley Quinn voice actress Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory, The Flight Attendant) found the situation amusing, simply writing “LOL” in response to a headline regarding the viral story on her Instagram story.
yeah they do https://t.co/OIC9dT4JpY
— Diedrich Bader (@bader_diedrich) June 14, 2021
Much like Cuoco, many found the story an amusing distraction, a fresh well for new Batman memes and a way to laugh at executives for giving television creators seemingly non-sensical notes. However, some fans looked beyond the surface-level sex jokes and scrutinized DC’s ascribed reasoning for cutting the oral sex scene from Harley Quinn.
A chief criticism regarding DC’s Harley Quinn feedback is that the series itself is adult, violent and not marketed toward children in the first place, meaning the audience buying toys is not the same one watching this particular DC property. In fact, The A.V. Club points out that “DC isn’t selling specific Harley Quinn Batman toys.”
A prevailing media criticism points out the hypocrisy of heavily policed sexual content in television and movie franchises where violence runs rampant and unchecked. While Batman’s storied history on page and screen has run the gambit from family-friendly Adam West (Batman, Family Guy) to Christopher Nolan’s (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) dark trilogy, “Batman and those around him have definitely been in some suggestive situations during his eight-decade run in Gotham” (SyFy). The A.V. Club even mentions how Batman’s violence has escalated to include guns in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but it’s more than just the divide between violence and sexuality that fans have found perplexing about DC’s particular note.
All I’m gonna say on the Batman thing is that I am glad it is drawing attention to the best thing in the DC Universe everyone should watch, Harley Quinn
…which is allowed jokes like this, but not the other thing pic.twitter.com/7oPJp0w6Yp
— Paul Tassi (@PaulTassi) June 15, 2021
Forbes writer Paul Tassi, a fan of the HBO Max Harley Quinn series, insinuated that DC executives have seemed to draw an arbitrary line as to what variety of sexual joke and innuendo are allowed on the animated program, via Twitter. Many on social media also pointed out the controversial animated adaptation of The Killing Joke, in which Batman is seen having a sexual relationship with Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, which plays no role in the canon of the comic from which it was adapted. Not only was a sexual scene and relationship added to The Killing Joke beyond the lore of the comics, in the context of that film, it resulted in Batgirl’s ultimate fate playing into a more harmful trope than the comic book version of the story, via Time.
Whether the rationale behind DC’s oral sex note in Harley Quinn is legitimate or not, the exposure of said note certainly evoked a wide array of both mockery and criticism on social media. This would not mark the first occasion in which a poorly-worded studio or network note has gone viral online, back in 2016 CBS received massive backlash on social media for passing on a Sarah Shahi (Person of Interest)-led Nancy Drew adaptation by calling the procedural series “too female,” via Screen Crush.
As the internet poked holes in the DC’s Harley Quinn feedback throughout the day on Tuesday, it became clear that there may not be any hard-and-fast rules at DC as to what Batman’s sex life is allowed to look like on-screen. Perhaps this is the reason that Halpern told Variety he prefers to write villains in the DC universe, as their actions evoke less push-back from higher-ups.
So uhhhh watch Harley Quinn on HBO Max?
— Justin Halpern (@justin_halpern) June 15, 2021
While the viral story may not have been a win for DC as a whole, it was certainly a win for Harley Quinn as the show received plenty of publicity from the story. An awe-struck Halpern recommended people check out the show after Tuesday’s lengthy discourse and writer Jamiesen Borak (Harley Quinn, Misdirection) even used the viral moment network, after originally pitching the Batman/Catwoman joke.
I pitched the “Batman goes down on Catwoman” joke and I’m available for staffing✌️
— Jamiesen! (@jamiesenborak) June 14, 2021
Harley Quinn, which moved from DC Universe to HBO Max last fall, does not yet have a release schedule for the third season, though the cast did return to the recording studio in February.
I’m just glad Batman’s parents aren’t alive to see this discussion
— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) June 15, 2021