Featuring Origin Stories for Harley Quinn and Robin / Damian Wayne

I was super-excited to see both Harley Quinn and Damian Wayne featured in this issue and it doesn’t disappoint!

While there’s always the danger of flat retread or (sometimes worse) total overhaul, this book does neither for any of its featured characters, providing instead origins within the context of other stories that, while slight, are fun to read. Tomasi’s tale particularly reminds us once again you can have a satisfying comic book that doesn’t need to sprawl over the course of a year and yet can still have depth by drawing from the Batverse’s huge tapestry of familiar and much-loved characters.

Also, Jeff Lemire and Denys Cowan give us a Green Arrow story that’s gorgeously drawn and exquisitely colored by Marcello Maiolo. Down south in Louisiana, we would call this welcome addition to an otherwise Bat-centered book: “lagniappe”.

“Secret Origins: Harley Quinn”

Last time we saw Harley Quinn’s origin story was in villain’s month Detective Comics No.  23.2 written by Matt Kindt with art by Neil Googe. As I recall, fan response was not positive to the depiction of Harley killing children with handheld gameboy-type devices. I was equally offended at the recasting of the Joker as the sexually aggressive predator in their relationship. The story made Harley a weak homicidal victim, contrary to her original conception as a spunky spitfire with delusions of a happily-ever-after in a one-sided relationship with the object of her obsession. Maybe some people think that’s splitting hairs, but I think it makes a big difference between Harley’s own agency in her psychosis and merely being a pawn of the Joker.

Series writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti provide Harley with some much-needed leveling in this revamped origin featuring lovely art by Stéphane Roux. Much of it is retread, but it’s carefully done without betraying previous writers or tossing any babies with the bathwater. Taking the best elements from both Kindt’s outing as well as Suicide Squad, the best part of this story is that it plays up Harley’s smarts and gives her more spine–she’s not just a ditzy punching bag.

As a bonus we get to see the background and source of Harley’s beaver.

Yes, feel free to laugh at that.

Wide-reading comic fans should scan Harley’s literally captive audience in the end scene for familiar headgear, by the way. Some goofy jabs at other characters in other universes are in that final moment.

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Harley starts out by echoing a bit of Moore’s game of personal history multiple choice

“A Boy’s Life”

Peter J. Tomasi and Ian Bertram retell that tale of the Demon’s Daughter and her Bat-offspring. Tomasi wrote the issue No. 0 for Batman & Robin originally, so it’s especially refreshing that he’s done more here than simply regurgitate what he’d done before (as Lobdell kinda did last month with Tim Drake). So we get a few panels of Talia and some narrative, but the bulk of the story is actually a stand-alone story, which is more than somewhat enjoyable.

Those of you who might have been a bit put-off by Bertram’s recent turn on Batman Eternal No. 11 should have no fear! The artwork here is beautiful and a good match for the story Tomasi is telling: Damian’s struggle against being a child in the absence of his Dark Knight Dad. And if you enjoyed Dick Grayson’s time in the cowl, you’ll definitely turn to the last page, finish the story, and put it aside with a smile (I’m still smiling!). This one has been the best of the origins so far and makes the most of the Batfamily relationships (even–in the absence of Batman!).

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Damian starts out in the costume we last saw him wearing in Issue No. 0

The Good

The covers for the Secret Origins series showcase the incredible talent of Lee Bermejo. His Harley here is stunning. Practically worth the sticker price already and we haven’t even opened the book!

Bravo to Palmiotti and Conner for a respectful retelling of Harley’s origin. While some fans probably would have liked to have seen the bleach bath get retconned, it works here in the context of Harley’s narrative (or else I’ve just become immune to it). We don’t learn anything new in this story (aside from the Beaver), but it’s enough for entertainment’s sake.

And Brett Smith’s discotheque coloring is awesome.

The real hero of this issue, however, is Tomasi’s Damian. I admit I struggled to accept the character when he came on board, felt a vague sense of the blahs when he bought the farm, but have since come to regard him as more worthy of Batman’s genes and it’s stories like this that have helped make that transition possible. Not because of anything he does, mind you, but by being given the opportunity to see him through the rest of the family’s eyes.

The Bad

If I had to quibble I would point out that Bermejo’s Joker on the cover lacks his typical coiffure and so appears strangely flat-headed. While Bermejo is known for doing the Joker in his own style, this depiction looks stuck somewhere in between (and therefore strangely unfamiliar). I think he should have just gone with his signature Joker. We’re all going to buy it anyway.

Also, a very minor point: neither the Green Arrow story nor the Harley Quinn story have titles of their own, which struck me as a weird omission. They’re simply: “Secret Origins:…”. Kind of a missed opportunity.

The Ugly

No ugly. Seriously. This was just pure fun.

Recommended If…

  • You want to see how the current Harley Quinn creative team have reconciled elements from villain’s month and Suicide Squad–and you’re curious about her Beaver.
  • You don’t need a refresher on Damian’s conception, birth, and upbringing, but a little story about how he was loved in spite of being an obnoxious brat will help you appreciate his potentially imminent resurrection.
  • Green Arrow is also one of your favorite DCU characters.
  • Cover by Bermejo. Enough said.

Overall

Harley needed a new origin story in spite of the fact that she’s been made over and over since the New 52 began, so her inclusion here was necessary. And rather than restomp old ground, Tomasi gives us something fresh in his take on Damian Wayne. Both stories are fun and all-in-all I think this is a great book (the Green Arrow story being a bonus alongside two strong Bat-related origins). Add to that Bermejo’s awesome cover and you’ll want to pick up this book!

SCORE: 8.5/10