Detective Comics #23.2 – Harley Quinn #1 review

Well, if Matt Kindt can’t fix the New 52 Harley Quinn then I don’t know who to trust anymore. I really had my fingers crossed for this one because last month I caught up on the fantastic series Mind MGMT and it’s now one of my favorite books so with the man behind that title writing a Harley Quinn one-shot I had high hopes. Sure, if he went the usual route (as most of these Villains month books are doing) of retelling the character’s origin I didn’t expect Adam Glass’ Suicide Squad #7 origin to be altered too drastically, but I was hoping for at least a few tweaks here and there to make me a little more accepting of it. Unfortunately, this Villains Month issue did take the origin route and while it does contradict a number of things from Adam Glass’ take, it actually makes it even worse. And even more disappointing is that the solicits promised some info on how Harley joined the Suicide Squad in the first place and that just isn’t here.

What we get is basically a regurgitating of Suicide Squad #7, but with some added details about how she pieced together her costume and her methods of psychoanalysis while she was a psychiatrist at Arkham– which are different from what we saw in Suicide Squad. So what was actually made better by the changes in Detective Comics #23.2? Well, now instead of falling into the vat of chemicals a blonde and climbing out with perma-black hair on one side of her head and perma-red on the other side of her head, Harley had already dyed her hair those colors prior to plunging into the acid bath. As a result of the acid mixing with the dye the colors set permanently. So… that’s fixed. Way to go, gang! It’s such a relief that that’s settled. (yes, that was sarcasm)

What’s made worse? Well, where to begin? I might as well just dive right into everything I didn’t like about this issue and that starts with the Villains Month formula, which is getting old real quick. Here’s the checklist:

  • Vague mention of Forever Evil #1
  • Our villain walks around aimlessly in a ruined Gotham City
  • “Hey, I know! I’ll flashback to my origin story, but instead of thinking about the interesting bit I’ll look back on my child hood first!”
  • “My childhood was terrible!”
  • More flashbacks to the actual villain origin
  • Flash forward to what’s happening now, after walking aimlessly for a bit the villain finally decides to go do something
  • Final page– usually a splash page– that features a little ad at the bottom that reads something like “Hey readers, if you want to see something really cool go buy ____ which is out next month!”

This comic follows that template to a T (except Gotham is not quite ruined yet). And when our villain already had her origin explained just a year ago and you’re not adding any great revelations to that tale then it makes the comic kind of redundant.

Next we have the artwork by Neil Googe, which actually isn’t bad (at least I don’t think). I think his artwork is pretty dynamic, cartoonish (although Joker’s head was a bit too enormous), and very expressive. It’s a good fit for a fun, energetic, and, above all, comedic Harley Quinn story, however this comic isn’t funny. Hell, its final pages feature one of the most despicable acts of any villain I’ve seen so far in Villains Month… maybe even the whole time I’ve been reviewing comics. Any good Harley Quinn story should have a few good laughs, but this was rather joyless and a waste of Googe’s talents. I firmly believe that even when focusing on the more tragic details of her life that Harley Quinn herself should remain a likeable character and that there should be a great deal of humor but I was disgusted by her at the end of this, frankly. She’s irredeemable. The entire New 52 portrayal of the character has been much too violent and this issue took that bloody trait to a level it should never have reached. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s rewind.

NOTE: I’m going to be walking you through basically the whole book because I feel like ranting so there will be spoilers from this point on. So if your’e just stopping in to see if I think this comic is worth a buy– it’s not. I don’t think it is anyway. Check the comments at the bottom of the page to see if some good folks disagree with me and think it’s $3 well spent and listen to what they have to say, but in my opinion you’d be better off buying Batman: Black and White #1 if you care for the Harley Quinn character.

The pacing of the book goes quite quickly and glosses over the actual one-on-one sessions between Harleen and the Joker, scenes that were elaborated on more in Adam Glass’s comic, but still not given the level of importance that I feel they should have. The Joker’s manipulation of Harleen Quinzel doesn’t come across as a cunning plot by the Clown Prince of crime at all in the New 52. I much prefer the idea of Joker growing like a cancer in the good, ambitious doctor’s mind but in the New 52 Harley succumbs to the Joker much too easily and showing those sessions between doctor and patient would give us a better sense of Harleen being a strong willed woman who was ultimately twisted by the all-consuming evil of the Joker instead of…well, it just being an inevitability.

Rather than one-on-one sessions between Dr. Quinzel and the Joker and the snappy dialogue that would surely come with it we see that the doctor had a very unorthodox approach to psychology that got her in a heap of trouble. She decided to disguise herself as an inmate and try to get closer to the rogues gallery than anyone ever had before. It’s here that we see that Joker is given free time in the yard with the other inmates (which doesn’t seem like it would be allowed given the way he has behaved in the New 52, even in flashbacks before his face removal, but I can still suspend my disbelief) and Harley approaches him. It all felt a bit extreme and unnecessary, but it did give her a chance to dye her hair and allow the acid-bath hair-color make a little more sense so… I guess we’ll just take positive changes in baby steps.

The next few pages are where the rally new material begins and they are probably the more amusing portions of the comic, but they’re also about an aspect of the character that’s very widely hated. It entails the creation of the much despised New 52 Harley Quinn costume with its big collar, corset, stockings, and short-shorts (but no miniature cape anymore! Yay, another small baby-step toward… oh, forget it). It’s a costume that definitely over-sexualized the character and I recall seeing a number of jokes about it and cries from angry fans saying it made her look like a prostitute, etc. etc. But guess what? Here we learn that part of the costume actually did come from a prostitute! Not only that, but she beat up some cheerleaders for the stockings, took the short-shorts from a jogger, asked nicely for the ruff collar from a kid who works at a burger joint (yes, you read that right), the corset from a prostitute, and last, but not least, she snatched her trademark giant mallet from the window of a pawn shop (which begs 2 questions: who would be hard-up for cash and think “Oh, no, looks like I’ll have to pawn my ridiculously big mallet!” and how bad is your pawn shop’s inventory that you put a giant wooden mallet in the window display? I suppose it does get the message across that you’ll give cash for anything).

So what happens next? A brief montage of the now fully-formed Harley Quinn wreaking havoc at Joker’s side? Some laugh-out-loud panels of the two doing cliche, everyday dating activities but with a humdinger of a super-villain twist? NO–and this is a mark that’s been missed for far, far too long in the New 52. We have a character who laments how she no longer has her “puddin” and is lost without him, right? It’s something we’ve seen for 2 years. But these glory days she wants to have back? Where are they? Have you seen them? Here was an opportunity to show that important part of her life but what we see is a single splash-page of Harley on a solo rampage through a Gotham City mall! Where are the Harley/Joker days? Did Joker and Harley have a relationship AT ALL? Does she simply look up to him because she had a crush and he created her because I’m certainly not seeing the history between the two of them. It’s bad enough that this “5-year timeline” has diminished the bond between Dick and Bruce, but have we somehow lost much of the Joker and Harley days as well?

Once we see that Harley set off on her own to smash-up malls and whatnot the story flashes forward to the present day. Our aimless villain, Harley Quinn, is suffering from dis-association. She’s numb, without purpose in this world now that she has no Joker and no Suicide Squad. So with her hating the seriousness of society with all its rules and order she takes it upon herself to create some chaos (why isn’t Gotham already in chaos since we’ve seen it that way in almost every other bat-villains month book?). Brace yourself. Are you interested in seeing an emotionally numb Harley Quinn kill countless children? Because that’s happening! The closing pages of this book showcase the once cheerful and vibrant Harley Quinn handing out hundreds of explosive gameboys to children and grown-ups (but a lot of children) all over the city and just as you think she might possibly snap out of this and we get a joke out of the whole thing (dark though it may be) she pulls the trigger and boom, boom, boom… Hundreds of people are blown-up.

I was originally going to give this a 2.5/10 but after writing that much about how much I don’t like it, I’ll give it a 1. I’m sure somebody in the comments will be a voice of reason pointing out the positive aspects of the book, but the more I think about it I’m not happy about this at all. But the good news is that I’m sure by reading this review I’ve lowered your expectations and thus guaranteed that you’ll enjoy it more than I did! Huzzah!

Recommended If…

  • You thought Adam Glass’ New 52 Harley Quinn origin story was as good or better than Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s “Mad Love”
  • You’re a fan of Neil Googe’s artwork
  • You really want to collect all of the 3D covers
  • You want something dark and violent


If you want to read a good Harley Quinn story, pick up last week’s Batman: Black and White #1.

SCORE: 1/10