Comics Review: The Promise and Problems of Harley Quinn

harleyBy Nicole Keating

I had been ignoring the New 52 iteration of Harley Quinn.  Not because I don’t like Harley.  Au contraire, puddin’!  Since I laid eyes on her, Dr. Harleen Quinzel alias Harley Quinn has been a personal favorite, so I knew I would want to write about her new solo series.  I hesitated because she is so disturbed and so complex that she can be a problematic character to discuss.

On the one hand, there is her…difficult relationship with The Joker.  Dysfunctional-at-best, violent-at-worst, her love for Mr. J is straight out of an after school special on abusive relationships.  She shouldn’t be a character beloved by modern, feminist, powerful women…right?

BUT, on the other hand, she’s just so fun!  She totes comically oversized weapons.  She has a total disregard for (most) human life.  Oh, and of course she’s 100% bananas.  It makes her unpredictable and deliciously violent.  And I love it!  Plus she found the time to become a doctor and master complex gymnastics like it was no big deal, so she must be intelligent and determined.  It’s a combination with promise.

Like Harley herself, Issues 0 & 1 of Harley Quinn, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, art by Chad Hardin (and others) had promise as well as problems.

Issue 0 was fun but a little confusing.  I found myself constantly flipping back a few pages to make sure I didn’t miss something.  No, I hadn’t missed anything.  I was confused because of awkward pacing, an abundance of inside jokes, and a main device that took a while to become clear.

This prelude issue is an opportunity for, to quote Harley on her own cover, “Seventeen artists telling me how good I look?  Eat your heart out, puddin’!”  And on that, it delivers.  The artists switch as Harley imagines herself into a comic book, fantasizing about who would draw her.  This gives her the power to comment on the artists:  “Hmm, I love the way this guy makes me look, but can he keep a monthly schedule?”  There are even more meta touches; Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti speak directly to Harley, guiding her through the changes in artists.

Not so confusing, right?

Well, all of these meta elements are introduced simultaneously on page 2.  It’s like if you were to start watching Inception halfway through.  There’s reality, then there are the writers, then there are the artists.  Harley operates on all three levels, but she’s an insane supervillain.  It takes more than 2 pages for us mere sane mortals to operate on three levels of reality.

On top of that, they begin the change in artists with an inside joke.  If you don’t catch it, you’ll also have a hard time getting wrapped up in Harley’s fantasy-or-is-it-a-hallucination.  That’s not the last of the in-jokes and references, either.  There are so many, scattered throughout the comic.  I’m sure even I didn’t catch ‘em all.  So your level of enjoyment may depend on the depth of your knowledge of DC artists, their work, and rumors about them.

All that said, each interpretation of Harley is really awesome.  I thought my favorite was Dan Panosian’s Mad Men-esque secretary Harley.  Miss Quinn does not agree:  “Yeah.  Nothing more exciting than being the hot secretary in an office pool of advertising geeks.  How is this any different from the DC offices?  Yawn!”  Then one of my perennial faves put in an appearance:  Adam Hughes!

On top of all the amazing art, each of these 17 artists gift us with a unique scene of mayhem with Harley at the helm, sledgehammer in hand, taking charge of her own story.  She’s a psychopath in command of her life!

This command—while it may not extend to her mental faculties—continues into Issue #1.  We see Harley striking out on her own.  She inherits a building on Coney Island, and the spread where we see the whole block is one I’d like to frame.  The artist that Harley and her writers finally chose—Chad Hardin—gives us a seedy cityscape with loads of carnival touches.  Harley’s building itself is a four-story square with signs boasting: “Freakshow,” “Burlesque,” and “Madame Macabre’s House of Wax and Murder!” I can only agree with my girl Harley when she says, “Jackpot.  I hit the friggin’ jackpot!”

But, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and being a landlord is no different.  Harley has to get not just one but two jobs to cover the building expenses.  Her first stop is an assisted living home with a special subdivision for dangerous patients.  Then, she kills it at a roller derby tryout.  Oh, the possibilities!!

When Harley Quinn isn’t relying on The Joker or Poison Ivy—though we still don’t know who gave her the building on Coney Island, and we still don’t know whether she imagining this story a la Issue 0—she unlocks possibility.  For laughter, for mayhem, and for a good story!

Like Harley herself, the series seems to be nothing short of fun!

Summary:  Skip Issue #0 if you don’t care for inside jokes, but the series itself will be worth more than the cover price.  With Harley in charge, we have loads of chaos and comedy to look forward

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