The premise here is basically the whole of the plot: Harley Quinn goes to San Diego Comic Con (ostensibly to help her tenants sell shirts; it’s pretty nebulous) and decides to take the opportunity to pitch her own comic book to the scads of famous editors who should be lining up to meet her. Easy, right? Well, in Harley’s mind that’s how it works. Reality, of course, is a whole ‘nother animal and, ill-equipped to deal with the world on even the best of days (let alone the insanity of the world’s largest comic convention), the Mistress of Mayhem crashes her way through the pages of this book in her mounting desperation for an audience.

I have a feeling I did not love this as much as many other people might (and not nearly as much as I wanted to). I’m going to blame it on the creative team themselves for setting such high standards throughout the series thus far. And while this is a lot of fun, too many elements just knocked me right out of my enjoyment.

Harley_ComicCon_01

De-pansting? Does he mean pantsing? Most confusing verb ever.

The Good

Amanda Conner’s beautiful wraparound cover with vivid colors by Paul Mounts sets the stage and tone for this romp through Comic Con, rife with spot-the-cosplay characters, a pile of flattened Bats and Harley in all her winking mischievous glory sailing through the con crowd, hammer in hand.

Inside you get the sort of nonstop zaniness that’s typical of a Harley Quinn comic: she wreaks havoc everywhere she goes, gets thrown out of the convention daily and confounds the regular con-goers with her special brand of crazy. Also, this seems to be deliberately more all-audiences friendly with none of the usual R-rated gore (though still plenty of PG-13 violence).

Highlights you’ll want to enjoy for yourself:

Spoiler

  • The comic book that Harley has drawn is genuinely funny and conceptually original. Could it have been funnier if her work had actually been horrible? Maybe, but Hurl Girl is pretty entertaining anyway for three pages (courtesy of Amanda Conner).
  • After being thrown out, Harley (literally) crashes the con for what she thinks will be a hookup with her puddin’, only to find a room full of Joker-wannabes (who she deals with in style).
  • Harley pantses a Batman cosplayer who happens to wearing silly boxers with a Harley Quinn design on them.
  • Harley winds up in a police lineup with a cosplay gang all wearing Harley outfits–a funny contrast of a wide array of different Harley styles.
  • Harley meets her maker–literally. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm make a brief appearance and star struck Harley gets their autographs.

The Bad

Something this book has that the regular series generally avoids is walls of text.  It’s all clever, but occasionally drowns out the environment and bogs down what little story there is. Look at the sequence below: Harley even remarks that the place is a “zoo”, but weirdly the panel in which she says it is just white space. The balloons also prevent us from getting any sense of the crowd claustrophobia that SDCC has come to epitomize, and in the third panel above there’s only a few people milling about.

Overall, the comedy slants way toward industry in-jokes rather than convention in-jokes, which, again, feels like a missed opportunity. Even the promos say Harley battles “the dreaded con crud”, but we never see the likes of it. Instead, we have a lot of funny cameos by industry greats like Katie Kubert, Dan Didio, Jim Lee, etc. But unless you really know your artists well (and know what they actually look like too), you might feel left out for much of this.

Additionally, for my tastes, the meta-story doesn’t really work. It worked in Harley Quinn No. 0 because it was a dream sequence where anything could happen. But here we are presented with a world in which the comics industry as we know it exists and prints comics about “real” people like Batman and Harley Quinn. On the one hand it’s all in good fun and you shouldn’t think about it too much, but on the other, the worlds collide and once you do start thinking about the implications, it’ll probably make your brain hurt.

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Exhausted from reading and haven’t hit the punchline yet

The artwork throughout is a bit of a roller coaster from being a splice-up of 8 different artists (sadly none of which is Chad Hardin). While there’s some great work here (John Timms and Javier Garron stand out), the range (and sometimes clash) of styles makes the juxtaposition of some sequences a bit jarring. The change in styles happens in logical breaking points in the story, however, so there’s at least unity within the individual scenes. Four colorists (including cover regular Mounts) also do an excellent job maintaining consistency throughout and that helps keep things together.

In terms of composition, smash cuts (particularly one involving a limousine) may have you flipping the pages trying to figure out what you missed between the panels. Sometimes this works for comedic effect, but other times it’s just confusing. The worst of “convenient” storytelling happens in the limo scene as well:

Spoiler

Harley causes the limo driver to nearly wreck. Then, instead of throwing the girls out, he gives up the limo and walks away (huh?). When Harley then trashes the limo and encounters the cops, she accidentally shoots one in the butt. But because he can’t identify her in the lineup with all the other Harleys, they just let her go. I’m okay with rolling with the occasional random over-the-top goofiness (giraffes included), but this was too much.

I also feel like the location wasn’t depicted in a way that regular con-goers would more readily recognize–we barely get to see Comic Con in all of its frenzied glory and that’s a downright shame. It couldn’t be a licensing thing since making up parody booths could have been really funny, and while I get that the storyline places limits on what could be reasonably shown and there are panels that try to scope the environment (Timms’ sequence is especially nice in this regard), it doesn’t otherwise make much of an impression even though it should visually be a major player in the book given the fact that the event technically shares billing right in the title.

The Ugly

To be honest this feels like it was thrown together on a lark without sufficient time to really think it through. And while showcasing lots of different talent can be fun, seeing this makes me worry about the demands on the creative team in terms of putting out a new Harley book every two weeks–the results here make me wonder whether the regular series will be able to handle the strain of so intense a pace.

Recommended If…

  • You’re going to Comic Con and want something for Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti to sign in Artist’s Alley!
  • A cosplay fantasy in which players get to meet the character they’re playing (for better or for worse) sounds like a pretty good time!
  • Self-referentials/industry in-jokes are a big turn on.

Overall

A pastiche of art styles, thin plot, and nudging good humor about the comics industry make this a book mostly aimed for serious fans rather than the casual reader. Still, there’s plenty to be amused about in this light romp through Comic Con from the perspective of one very screwy clown chick. I love that this is a specialty issue with plenty of extra content for your additional dollar, but I really feel like there were missed opportunities. I wish it had more of an actual plot and featured more of the actual convention. If we are to take Harley’s closing line seriously, however, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to see more next year.

I’m off to SDCC myself next week– I’ll keep an eye out for cosplayers who may, in fact, be the real deal.

SCORE: 6.5/10