Harley Quinn gets her first annual and she’s going to spend it inviting you to huff her pages in this oversized issue titled “Scratch & Snuff”.  This time around Harley is on a mission to rescue her bestest friend ever from the clutches of evil scientists. The book features a guest appearance from Poison Ivy as well as other fantasy cameos from the Joker to Batman to…Swamp Thing? Also be on the look out for non-traditional heroes like Hurl Girl and the birth of the many-hatted Hairball!

I should preface this review by saying that my nose isn’t so great for distinguishing smells, so your personal experience of this book may vary deeply compared to mine. Noses ready? Let’s take a whiff:

Harley_Annual_01It’s Italian Eldritch!

The Good

I got the Bombshell variant cover by Ant Lucia. I actually think it’s the better of the two covers because it’s less misleading. Amanda Conner’s cover would have you believe that the smells inside might range from toilets to rotten fish to marijuana. The alternate cover makes no such (unfulfilled) promises.

It was also fun to see Harley actually wearing her bombshell girl outfit as her costume du jour–an appropriate choice since she parachutes into a pizza parlor as preparation to drive to Gotham in a police car so that she can break Poison Ivy out of Arkham Asylum (forget the logistics of this ~ it makes no sense, but apparently Coney Island is 40 minutes from Arkham).  Once there, she confronts Doctor Bliss and Doctor Bash who are holding Ivy for experimentations, and, in the process of trying to rescue her, manages to unleash a potent drug that sends them all spiraling into hallucinations.

John Timms does the heavy lifting with the majority of the pages that frame this story. His Harley is fun and shows a great range of emotions. Her features are a little sharper than regular artist Chad Hardin, but she can look both playful and mean (and does so within the matter of one panel to the next).  While Timms’ last outing on this book (issue No. 9) felt a little flat to me, everything about his characters, angles, and environments are pitch-perfect here.

There are also four artist guest spots in this book (one for each character’s drug state), and I would have to say I liked Stjpen Sejic’s the best: “Foliage Freakout” is Poison Ivy’s fantasy and in it, both the character rendering and the coloring are outstanding. The creative layout compositions are equally wonderful.

Also worth noting are all the little call-outs where Harley breaks in to direct your attention to the sniffables. I’m pretty sure those were done by Amanda Conner.

In the smells department, I would have to say that the first one (the leather) was my favorite. On first read-through it was hard for me to distinguish some of the scents and occasionally the Harley call-out pops up to tell you something doesn’t smell. But I was impressed by the technology in that the pages aren’t crusty with appliques (which is how these things used to work in ye olden tymes).

The Bad

Something that issue No. 0 did which helped it work with all its myriad artists was that it had a very specific continuity of action (Harley auditioning said artists), and as a consequence the style acrobatics made perfect sense. Here we have a similar structure (though it’s a hallucinogenic experience rather than a dream), but  the action is not contiguous; you’re leaping from one person’s head to the next and on first read-through it wasn’t 100% obvious to me at first. So it helps to understand that it’s not just Harley’s trip you’re experiencing–you’re seeing Poison Ivy and Doctors Bliss and Bash as well. Ultimately, it works for the most part, but the trips are inconsequential to the action of the story and some of them are more interesting than others (Doctor Bash’s is the weakest of the bunch, and unfortunately the one we end on).

And then the drug wears off and Edgar Fullerton Yeung shows up and all bets are off. The hallucinations become the least weird part of the comic. I’m not sure I was on board with this level of weirdness (and the implications of the ending of this book on the action in the regular series), but we’ll just have to see how it all plays out. Also, the fact that Edgar cries yolk was kinda funny.

Apropos of carnivalesque Harley, this kind of felt like one of those adventure rides where the cart bounces along a rickety trestle, making abrupt whiplash-inducing turns when you least expect. If you like that sort of thing, you won’t have any problems with this.

Harley_Annual_02You’re going to feel the effects of this one if you whiff too deep

Me? I’m not big on carnival rides, and one huff of the intensely perfumey smell of Cannibisylocibe 7-A made it almost impossible to smell any of the rest of the book. I’m seriously snuffing a pear-scented candle right now as I try to get that other odor out of my nose.

I’m curious about the way this was created and the possibilities yet to be explored, however. The story seems to have been written and drawn with many additional smells in mind (some not so pleasant: like barf and poop), and others that could have been fun (like popcorn and pollen), so one expects that certain limitations forced some choices to be made.

The Ugly

Let’s face it, $5.99 is a chunk o’change for a single comic book (even one with added content and the scratch n’ snuff gimmick). Given that my olfactory senses are not so great and that most of the smells didn’t especially enhance the story, it’s hard to justify the price tag: your sense of overall value may vary, but I knocked off half a point. Apparently the digital version has other features to make up for the fact of having no smells, though I have no idea what those might be (probably something similar to the “motion” comic function of Batman ‘66, I’m guessing).

At the end of the day, am I glad I bought this? Despite the ouch-factor at the cash register, yes, of course! I always enjoy this series and go back to it frequently because it’s the kind of mindless fun I need more of. That said, right now I feel like I want to air the book out so that maybe it won’t stink up everything it touches!

Recommended If…

  • Harley and Ivy is one of your favorite team-ups.
  • You like gimmicks and want to rub n’ sniff (scratching is not necessary).
  • You enjoy lots of variations in art (along with Timms and Sejic, there’s work from Joe Quiñones, Ben Caldwell, and Kelley Jones).

Overall

Bordering on a level of insanity that might feel excessive even for a Harley Quinn book, the story nevertheless has a strong throughline and is satisfyingly complete. On the downside, it’s pricey and that stinks (pun thoroughly intended). Is it a must-buy? I think, if you’re just a fringe fan, you can probably skip it, but if you’re buying the regular series, you’ll want to have a complete set.  And if you decide not to pick this up, remember that we still have one more Harley special before the year is out (a holiday book coming in December).

SCORE: 7/10