Batman ’66 #25: “Night of the Harlequin/Bad Men”
Written by Jeff Parker and Gabe Soria
Illustrated by Lukas Ketner and Ty Templeton
Colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick and Tony Aviña
Letters by Wes Abbott
At long last, Harley Quinn is making her full Batman ’66 debut. Long after her first appearance as Dr. Holly Quinn in the third issue, and her tragic fate after the Dynamic Duo’s battle with the Joker in issue 11 left her in an uncertain mental state, the fan-favorite villain has finally appeared to give the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder grief. Ant let me tell you, it is a delight.
Listen, you start your issue off like this:
…and you and I are going to be friends.
Finding a Joker card at the scene, the Dynamic Duo naturally suspect the Clown Prince of Crime of committing the robbery. Heading to the Arkham Institute, they discover that the Joker has been in his cell the entire time, so there’s no way he could have possibly perpetrated the shenanigans. Acting on a dreaded hunch, they check the cell Holly Quinn has been interred in only to discover that she has escaped, using a nurse hooked up to a tank of laughing gas as a decoy.
Upon reading the note Quinn left behind, signed Harlequin, Batman’s fear has come to light: with her mind in an already fragile state, her fractured sanity and the influence of the Joker have pushed her over the edge to become a criminal mastermind. This leads to one of the best lines of the issue, with Joker being outright offended that Batman would think someone was a more worthy adversary than him.
Our heroes finally encounter the villainess face to face after being ejected from a booby-trapped Batmobile. And man, do I love her character design. As great as her Animated Series look was (and it was great), it might not fit the aesthetic of the ’66 series. Given how difficult it’s been to update her look over the past few years, with most redesigns being questionable at best if I’m being absolutely generous, it’s nice to see a new take that keeps the spirit of the the character while not stooping to sex appeal and crassness. The “roller derby” look was a great direction to take, with the goggles and helmet being a cute and practical stand-in for her harlequin mask, and being on skates fits with her more manic personality. Plus, she still has her trademark giant mallet, so it’s a win-win all around.
Escaping in her hot air balloon, Harlequin stays one step ahead of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder on her crime spree. Her felonious acts range from stealing pizzas from a delivery boy, outright robbery, defacement of public property, and worst of all, tearing a tag off a couch cushion.
If it isn’t obvious yet, this is one of Jeff Parker’s funniest issues in a while, and Lukas Ketner’s visuals are a delight. Some of the facial expressions are worth a laugh in themselves, and in addition to the great design for Harley he draws a lot of great visual gags and some decent action scenes to boot.
If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that the story ends a little abruptly. It’s funny seeing Harlequin audition some henchmen of her own, and it’s easy enough to see where it’s going to go with a brawl to weed out the weaklings, but it all happens within just a few pages. I don’t know that this story needed to be a two-parter, but the ending, while fitting, just felt a tad anticlimactic. It was still a great story, though, and I hope to see more from the Harlequin in the future.
The second story, “Bad Men”, I was actually kind of dreading. The title page is a riff on the series Mad Men, of course, and I was in fear that this would be a forced parody with dated references to a popular show.
I can admit when I’m wrong, and boy was I wrong.
While it does deal with advertising firms and corporate jargon, the satire here is pretty spot-on and absolutely hysterical. Batman’s “top four” antagonists, Penguin, Joker, Riddler, and Catwoman, are concerned that their images are old hat, no longer striking fear in the hearts of the general public. Hoping to resurrect their image and get a makeover, they kidnap the top executives of Gotham’s main advertising firm to force them to assist in their Cobra Commander-esque plan.
That description in itself is funny enough, with the villains being so petty as to think they need a better perceived persona and marketing than actually, I don’t know, really doing anything to make the populace fear them. I mean, pretentious ad campaigns are pretty scary, yeah, but you’d think it would be a lot easier to poison a reservoir or, I don’t know, bomb the Cute Puppy Veterinary Hospital or something. Maybe this is why I’m a D-List Bat-villain at best, though; I just don’t think big enough.
Unbeknownst to them, the new intern at F K R & D (good money on that standing for Finger, Kane, Robinson & Dini) is none other than Barbara Gordon, alias the crimefighting contessa Batgirl. Barbara considers what she could do had she had her Batgirl costume, but it’s unavailable to her and slipping away would arouse too much suspicion.
Instead, she decides to use one of the most dastardly weapons at her disposal: corporate jargon and meaningless babble.
Given their egos and the petty nature of the plan to begin with, it’s no surprise that this works. All credit to Gabe Soria for not just giving us a funny issue, but taking what could have been a tired parody and making it decidedly witty. I’ve no doubt this group of villains would come up with a plan exactly like this, and even fewer doubts that they’d react the way they do in the end. Ty Templeton, long a favorite artist of mine, brings some fine work to the table here too. His Penguin and Riddler are pretty spot-on, and it’s nice to see them use the Eartha Kitt Catwoman instead of the much more popular (even if rightly so) Julie Newmar iteration. Just once, though, I’d like to see an issue with the Riddler based on John Astin’s likeness, just to keep things in that similar vein. Ah well, Gorshin’s phenomenal so no harm no foul.
I like issues like this every now and then, with two shorter stories instead of one longer one, especially when they’re done well. It gives us a chance to spend more time with different characters, and the shorter format allows for some different types of stories to be told. Better still when both stories are solid, and these two are some of the best one and dones I’ve seen in months.
- You like Batman ’66.
- You like Batgirl.
- You like Harley Quinn.
- You like ok just get the issue. It’s great.
- Seriously: she ripped the tag off a cushion. That’s up there with some of the worst the Joker’s ever done.
Overall: Two great stories for the price of one, featuring great renditions of fan favorites like Harley Quinn and Batgirl. This book is always a nice breath of fresh air even when it’s not top quality, but when it is it deserves to be mentioned along with the best of the best Batman books. Reinterpretations of beloved characters can be difficult, as can parody and satire, but the two creative teams working this month strike the perfect balance and deliver some great one-shot stories.