Part 5: Female Duos (in practice)
While there are not a lot of examples of female duos to draw from in animation (pun intended), in this section I will look at a popular pair of female duo side characters: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) was a darker look at the franchise then early television versions. Incorporating quick dialogue and a film noir aesthetic, it used coding and visual and verbal euphemisms to wink at the older audience that made up a large portion of it's viewers.
Harley Quinn was a character created for the series, and one that became so popular she was incorporated into the comic book canon. The short comic, Mad Love, featuring Harley's back-story won an Eisner Award.
As a duo they embody all the traditional elements of a comedy team including slapstick violence... but with the dark setting of the show the violence against Harley at the hands of the Joker is presented to adult viewers as a clearly-coded case of domestic abuse. As Zack Beauchamp writes in Batman: The Animated Series.
"The abusive structure of the Joker-Quinn relationship being obvious to adults but invisible to the show’s young audience reminds the adult viewer of how societal blindness perpetuates actual instances of horrific abuse."
In the episode Harley and Ivy Harley is kicked out by the Joker and ends up teaming up with Poison Ivy. The duo become a crime team, and Ivy takes the position of the brains in the comedy duo she forms with Harley. While only containing a relatively short screen time together, fans latched on to their ambiguous relationship.
The characters lived together in Ivy's home, with one bed. They had meals together, languishing in a casual attire of just men's shirts. Scene's driving in Ivy's pink convertible drew visual reference to Thelma and Louise.
The question of whether or not the lesbian undertones of the relationship were originally intended is debated by fans. Considering the sophisticated writing style of the show, and the repeated use of coded adult narratives, it is not a far stretch to say that the writers knew exactly what they were doing. The comic Batman:Harley and Ivy which features writing from Paul Dino and artwork from Bruce Timm (the producer of the animated series), also includes much slashy fan-service and a prison shower scenes of the two.
Regardless of whether or not the gay undertones were originally intended, just as viewers loved the character of Harley Quinn, viewers loved her ambiguous friendship with Poison Ivy. Even her most recent series, Harley Quinn (New 52), incorporates her winking relationship with Ivy as a part of her character.
In the next section I will look at the history of the 80s, and what led to the 90's revival of the animated Male Duo.