The Gang of Harleys are already in trouble and it’s the one and only original Harley Quinn to the rescue in this continuation of last month’s storyline called “Fish Food.” If you saw Jay’s comment in the Upcoming Comics article, you know already that Amanda Conner’s cover for this issue is an homage to Action Comics No. 421 (1973), which featured the first appearance of Popeye look-alike Captain Horatio Strong. Strong is an ordinary sailor who develops extraordinary powers after eating an alien seaweed which is both addictive and, ultimately, destructive. In this issue, Harley decides to go after him on his own level, consuming the radioactive green stuff herself, resulting in a six-page hallucination full of pirates and swashbuckling. This alone, makes this book a must-buy in my estimation.
Let’s get the weak points out of the way so we can focus on the good stuff. The book opens with a solid page of very wordy exposition explaining how Mason was arrested, how Madame Macabre is in the dumps, and how the Gang of Harleys have hit a glitch with Harvey Quinn and Harlem Harvey missing after a run-in with Captain Strong. This leads to Harley, Bolly Quinn, Carli Quinn, Harley Queens, and Eggy charging off to investigate in a big action splash, which then gets quashed immediately in favor of yet more exposition–pages of it, in fact, including a lengthy discussion about ghetto appropriation by hipster gentrification. By the fifth page of wall-to-wall dialogue you just want something to blow up. And thank God, it does.
Extra points for the unapologetic follow-through on this explosion–that’s the Harley Quinn we all know and love!
Sunny Side Up
Once the action kicks in, this book doesn’t let up. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti once again serve up all sorts of goofy in the midst of high action with references from all across the nerd-spectrum (always something for everyone). Then Harley and Bolly get soundly trounced by Captain Strong, leading Harley to sample Strong’s power source: the glowing green seaweed he dredged up from the bottom of the sea.
Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair provide the framework art for what follows: a six-page psychedelic interlude in which Harley and the Joker face off aboard pirate galleons. This sequence is wonderfully rendered by Jed Dougherty with Hi-Fi providing colors.
Immediately I was reminded of Detective Comics Annual #7 (1994) by Chuck Dixon and Enrique Alcatena, an Elseworld’s tale of “Leatherwing” and “Robin Redbade” dueling “The Laughing Man” on the high seas. This is one of my favorite comics of all time, so the nostalgia alone got me misty-eyed, and then Dougherty did such a nice job with roughly the same context: the pirate versions of all these characters is pure joy (the Joker’s ship is a veritable who’s-who of the rogues’ gallery, and all the details are a delight). Though I think Dougherty’s faces lose a little bit in the wide angle shots, his action is clean and every panel is a fun study. His previous work with DC has been with World’s Finest. I would definitely be interested in seeing what he could do with a whole book of Harley Quinn.
You know where this is leading!
If you have been reading my reviews of this title for any length of time, you already know that I have a terrible bias in favor of putting Harley and Mistah J back together again and that’s not going to change any time soon. So whenever the Joker makes an appearance in this book it’s going to make me happy. Mason Macabre can just rot in jail.
But don’t let my glowing praise of Dougherty detract from the impeccable quality that we’ve come to expect from Chad Hardin on the main storyline. While I had a brief moment of puzzlement over a panel in which Harley asks “what’s this thing in my arm” and we can’t actually see anything there, I have to say I was really impressed with his six-panel fight in which the whole Gang of Harleys takes on Captain Strong. Cramming that many people and that much action into that structure is no easy feat and Hardin keeps it clean and readable, effectively breaking the panels to keep the page from feeling at all static, instead giving it a perfect sense of motion and progression. Sequential storytelling at its finest!
- You like pirates! Come on, who doesn’t like pirates?
- You want to revel in the absurdity of a Gang of Harleys taking on Popeye–er, Captain Strong.
- You miss Mistah J. Yeah, I do.
I confess to feeling tentative about this whole Gang of Harleys thing, but so far Conner and Palmiotti have made this work: the Gang is functioning without being an annoying distraction, Harley herself is still the focus of the book, and Captain Strong as a foe is fun and interesting: perfect for the boardwalk environment, and goofy enough without straight-up being a giant robot gorilla. Ending on another cliff-hanger, this story isn’t over yet and I’m looking forward to seeing a possible team-up between Harley and Ivy as they race to rescue Harley’s foundering gang.