You know you’re in for something really special on seeing the title page with “Crappily Ever After” rendered in nicely poo-shaped lettering. Harley Quinn always keeps it classy!
On reading this, I decided not to ask all those questions about why we have a Harley Quinn Futures End book when this series doesn’t appear to exist within the same continuity as the rest of the DC Universe (or does it?)–either way, she can’t be a giant mutated lummox five years from now in Suicide Squad while simultaneously still her svelte self vacationing in the Bahamas, right? Right. So just don’t bother trying to reconcile that. Let’s just proceed with the joys in store.
The basic premise is that Harley has decided to take a vacation. Being short of cash, she’s freighting herself (along with her Beaver) to the Bahamas. Naturally, her plane encounters a storm and goes down in the ocean. When Harley is washed up on a not-terribly deserted island, she’s taken in by an indigenous tribe (dressed bizarrely in Joker and Batman masks) who appear to worship her. Then they take her to meet their god-king, and, well, I’m sure you can guess where it’s going from there.
mmmmm….bacon (yes, I’m referring to the pig on the spit).
But first, some ambling preamble: the first time I saw Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated Series, I was genuinely horrified. It was a kids’ show, after all, and the last thing little girls need is a role model for how to be a good abused woman. But there was no denying the character’s appeal and later, when she joined mainstream comics during the No Man’s Land arc, Paul Dini attempted to temper the abuse by at least letting her give as good as she got.
To be honest, that’s what works best–and it’s the only way the relationship between Harley and Joker makes any sense. Nothing is more cringe-worthy than an imbalanced power dynamic between these two: seeing Harley physically and emotionally thrashed by the Joker the way she was in Death of the Family was dreadful. Artist Fernando Dagnino’s panel in which she takes a punch full in the face (Suicide Squad No. 14) is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in a comic book (and that’s saying a lot if you know by now how grisly I like my stuff). I was going to link to it for your convenience, but couldn’t stomach it. That’s not a judgment, by the way: it’s just the reality of what that kind of abuse actually looks like.
This is why to my mind, the only way these characters mesh that isn’t completely uncomfortable for any rational audience is to keep it on the “Punch and Judy” level and not go so dang dark. Otherwise you hate the Joker (which is probably fair enough anyway), and you can’t respect Harley because she’s too pathetic for words. It’s a really weak lead character who can only be pitied.
The backlash of this is that there have been writers who have tried to recast Harley as either worse than the Joker in some ways (killing children–did you miss that one?), or somehow “over” him and throwing her mad love at whatever else might be presently available (sexually or otherwise). Neither of these choices are very good because they only serve to diminish the character even further. It’s pitiable enough to be in love with a psychopathic murderous clown–worse still to be indiscriminately in love with psychopathic murderers in general.
The good news is that Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti appear to understand these things. This is a comic book, a fantasy. It’s not meant to emulate real-life, and it can be just as crass or ridiculous as it needs to be for a laugh–all the while appreciating that there is a line that doesn’t need to be crossed. Punch and Judy is funny because it’s outrageous. There is a perverse equanimity in the long-standing tradition of the violently squabbling couple there, and so there is not only no need for offense, there is also no need for further social commentary.
I realize that’s a lot of heavy blather as an introduction to a pretty otherwise lightweight foray. At heart this is just a funny episode on a volcanic island with two of DC’s most volcanic personalities. But the best, most simple comedy comes from complex human emotion, and to appreciate how subtly brilliant this is, perhaps a little context is useful.
Hail the triumphant return of Chad Hardin to art duties for this outing. He’s been absent for a couple of issues of the regular series and I’ve definitely missed him. There’s plenty here for him on which to exercise his chops: the jungle, the volcano, Harley’s wedding fantasies (replete with cheerful animal attendants, Disney-princess-style), and the 148-steps up to the Joker’s chalet (I kept thinking 148 was an in-joke since it’s mentioned numerous times, but nope: I got nothing).
The highlight of the book, of course, in the rotten dynamic between Harley and her Puddin’. It’s all very predictable, but that’s why it’s so much fun: she loves him, she hates him, they just want to kill each other!
Later she’s going to kick him in the Joker Junk.
Also, I’m going to have to add “Skunky-trunked chicken hag” to my catalog of insults.
What’s more to love:
- There’s a lot of bacon in this book. Harley has a bag of it (like popcorn) in the hold of the airplane and later there’s a roasting pig–totally made me hungry.
- Bernie (the Beaver) gets fried in the plane. I’ve never really liked Bernie, but there is something delightfully macabre about Harley stringing up his charred skull to be worn as a necklace. Later, after he gets pitched into a gator pool, there’s a great panel of his commentary from inside an alligator’s stomach.
- Joker and Harley look so genuinely ecstatic to see one another again at first, you can’t help but love ‘em.
- There’s absolutely no rationale for the Joker’s return. Oh, sure, he perfectly explains what he’s been up to–as Joker would. And it’s all absurd–as expected. His murderous rule over the islanders is awful and hilarious (mild shades of Emperor Joker, if you remember that one from 2000).
- Joker is distinctly drawn with stitches around his restored face, which is never referred to, but lends itself to at least one side-gag when threatened with ripping his face off (“Been there, done that”).
- Colorist Alex Sinclair’s island palette is a real treat: lush greens, tropical blue skies, and a red-hot volcano, coupled with two of DC’s most colorful characters, renders this issue a veritable Candyland for the eyes.
- Not sure who came up with the design for Harley’s thought diamonds (as opposed to bubbles), but they’re brilliant! If it was letterer John J. Hill, he deserves recognition!
Also worth noting: this issue’s lenticular (by Connor and Paul Mounts) makes the most of the transitional switch: from adoring newlyweds to bitter rivals (or is it the other way around?). I’m not that crazy about the gimmicky covers, but I like this one for its humor (we get to see both sides of this perverse relationship all at once).
So what happens? How does it all turn out? Do they, indeed, live “crappily ever after?”
Leaving Harley on the beach with the Joker notoriously “maybe” dead all over again is a hilarious joke that never gets stale (75 years later!). And yet the treat of a surprise rescue gives Harley at least one kind of fairytale ending that by now feels richly earned.
The gods of comics were so generous to me this week! No complaints, no nitpicks! Just pure awesome ridiculousness through-and-through.
Once again, for those with sensitivities to ultra-violence, there’s a sequence in which two islanders literally cut each other to pieces. Otherwise, everything is safely broad-brushed as wacky mayhem. Yes, there’s a lot of death minimized here, but that’s what you get when you read comics about sociopaths in love.
- Harley Quinn meets Fantasy Island sounds like a good mash-up.
- You want to see some throwback classic Joker and Harley fisticuffs. This is Joker and Harley as they should be written!
- Joker with a restored face alone is worth $3.99 to you.
I admit, I approached this one with trepidation given my strong opinions about Harley Quinn as a character and past personal objections as to the way her relationship with the Joker has been handled, but Connor and Palmiotti restore outrageous comedy to this outrageous couple with the purest of slapstick sensibilities. If anyone can honestly say they find offense here, they haven’t got a sense of humor.