WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman and Harley Quinn
The arrival of DC's new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie has been eagerly anticipated by fans, but it's Nightwing who may never forget one particularly sexy scene. As the film's trailers made clear, the story was one meant to double down on nostalgia for Batman: The Animated Series with a noticeably... adult tone to the material. That means cursing, tongue-in-cheek allusions to Batman and Robin's own relationship, darker comedy than ever seen in the show - and as mentioned before, a romantic encounter between Harley and a now fully-grown Dick Grayson.
It's not the first time that sexual content in an animated DC movie has stirred up some controversy or strong opinions (judging by early reviews of Batman and Harley), as fans will recall the recent addition of a Batman/Batgirl sex scene in The Killing Joke. While a departure from the source material in that case, it's a different story this time around. For starters, Harley and Dick aren't locked into a child-adult relationship in many viewers' minds. And as the movie makes clear - and fans would be wise to remember - it's obvious that 'fun' is the name of the game.
Even if that's treacherous territory for most mainstream superhero movies.
The brief glimpses of Nightwing tied to a bed and Harley Quinn pacing beside him raised eyebrows during the first marketing and clips from the film, but the story begins before Harley Quinn has even been spotted in Gotham City. A larger plot involving Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man's scheme to 'turn the world green' is what gets Batman and Nightwing on the case (with Kevin Conroy voicing Batman as usual, but Animated Series star Loren Lester returning to voice Dick). And to track down Ivy, Nightwing gets the task of rounding up her closest associate.
Tailing Harley from her undercover job as a Harley Quinn waitress in a superhero-themed restaurant, Nightwing learns that the Joker's Girlfriend hasn't lost her skills in combat. They trade blows near Harley's apartment, with a surprise injection of Joker Venom giving Harley the upper hand. When Nightwing comes to, he's tied to Harley's bed, requesting her assistance in the case as she's far more concerned with deciding what to do with the crimefighter not just in her home, but having uncovered her attempts to 'go straight.'
Sexual attraction and consent are a part of Harley's story from the beginning, issuing threats and breaking bones when her customers get handsy. It's that strength of muscle and resolve that tip off Nightwing in the first place - making it even more interesting when he's firmly locked into the latter role of this game of cat and mouse.
As always, Harley uses a good amount of allure and unorthodox seduction to throw Dick off of his game. And while it's all delivered in the same wry fashion as the original series - matured up to a PG-13 rating (and then some) - some fans may take issue with the rather blunt sexuality Harley demonstrates. For the most part, the moments of gratuitous adult content are played for laughs: Harley undressed because their fight has made her "reek," and bending over to rifle through her closet sends Nightwing quickly staring at the wall beside him (a sign of Batman's training giving him pause and, hopefully, giving the audience a chuckle).
In all honesty, it's not at all out of character for Harley (voiced by Melissa Rauch) to inquire as to the nature of Batman and the former Robin's relationship. Sure, it's an opportunity for her to explain that she always assumed they weren't "into" girls - once again upending Dick's concentration - but an added dig at Nightwing's hairstyles through the 1990s comics will also be welcome for fans.
What happens when Harley flicks off the light switch to join Nightwing in bed may prove a bit more... divisive. Not only on the treatment or mere presence of casual sex, but whether it takes place at all.
As startling as the sight of Harley crawling onto a silhouetted Nightwing may be, the humor and tone of the film to that point do lay the groundwork. Dick Grayson is a grown man, after all, and Harley Quinn has been locked up without any suitable suitors crossing her path in the meantime. It's a compliment to Nightwing that she finds him a worthy partner (in both fighting and physicality), and a nod to Harley fans of the animated series, confirming that Robin may have always had a bit of a crush on the Joker's leading henchwoman.
For the record, there's one major difference between this implied love scene in Batman and Harley Quinn and the one mentioned in The Killing Joke. For one, it's not at all out of character for Harley (given the 'mature' angle being taken compared to the cartoon). And secondly, there's as little as a decade separating Dick and Harley by this point, and no real moral reason why the two can't, as consulting adults, have some "nice" alone time (using Nightwing's words).
But as many critical of the choice will state that a sex scene quite explicitly takes place, that's selling the story and filmmakers short. Because when Harley turns out the lights and goes to bed... well, anything is possible. Which raises the question: when we're talking superheroes, just how ambiguous sex can remain while still startling fans all the same?
When Batman tracks his partner down to find out why he hasn't reported in with an update of Harley's whereabouts, he hears sounds of a scuffle. Sounds that quickly descend into giddy laughter, opening the door to find Nightwing and Harley in a furious tickle fight. But taking in the tape now torn off of the bedposts, and the scattered outfits of Harley Quinn crumpled on the floor, Bruce Wayne realizes what has really taken place. There's just a few little problems...
For starters, Batman set out to track Dick down before he even woke up in Harley's bed. Nightwing is also still fully clothed when Batman arrives, and Harley has gone from trying to decide on one costume of dozens to her completed, classic look. The most obvious explanation for how Dick and Harley spent their time in bed together may be sex (not tickling), but Dick eventually mutters that Batman's disappointment is hypocritical, since he must have "made out" with a super-femme-fatale at some point in his career. Harley soon brushes off Dick's assistance into the Batmobile, suggesting he's fallen head over heels for her after "twenty minutes of naughty fun time."
After that exchange, any mention of their encounter is completely forgotten. Since The Killing Joke left little doubt about Batman and Batgirl's rooftop love scene, Nightwing and Harley's seems playful and casual by comparison. That may anger or frustrate some viewers for other reasons, but it gives the filmmakers the ability to shrug it all off, allowing viewers to read into Dick and Harley's interactions whatever they like.
Whether Harley spent her time with the first man to pass her "choosy" standards purely tickling, sharing wardrobe tips, kissing, or anything else isn't really the point. The scene(s) seem intended to both prove Harley is squarely steering the action, and supply Bruce and Dick with a handful of comic beats as grown men, instead of father and son. The question of considering this romantic encounter as canon for the Animated Series versions of the characters... well, we'll leave that up to the fans.
Batman and Harley Quinn is available now in Digital HD and VOD platforms, with a DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K Blu-Ray release coming Aug. 29th, 2017.