There can never be any doubt that Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are going to bring the great big bloated crazy each and every month with Harley Quinn. This month’s “Ship of Fools” is no exception. Pair the writers’ zaniness with Chad Hardin’s art chops and this book can’t fail to please. Unless you think you’re Harley’d out, in which case you’d be missing one of the best-produced mainstream “comedy” comics on the stands of the last decade.

Last month Haley’s gang was captured by Captain Horatio “I’m NOT Popeye” Strong, whose addiction to some space seaweed has made him one angry sailor. Now Harley concocts a plan with the help of Tony, Eggy, and Poison Ivy to rescue her crew. Naturally none of it makes a lick of common sense. Naturally things will go cock-eyed, and naturally, Harley will figure her way out of it, regardless.

In addition to all this wackiness, Conner and Palmiotti are already setting up the next arc with Sy Borgman breaking up a hospital equipment theft ring that’s been very slowly building in the background for some time.

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And then there’s plenty of this.

All Aboard!

This issue is a great example of why the writing in Harley Quinn works, no matter how daft the plot is. First of all, it never goes precisely as you think it will. Without limits, the only thing you can expect with this book is the unexpected. Last month I thought Harley and Ivy were going to embark on some boat-stealing rescue operation. Instead, the writers make use of things set up earlier in the series (like the Scatapult), to take a different route.

Although they are juggling an immense cast (seriously: in this issue Chad Hardin manages to successfully squeeze 13 characters into a single panel–twice), there’s never any confusion about who’s who or what their relationships are. Narrative threads are also sewn carefully through the book–the kinds of threads that actually go somewhere (such as the equipment theft). Another thing to watch for: Mason Macabre has phoned Harley from prison. She doesn’t take the call and it’s practically a toss-away line, but it reminds readers that he’s out there and that we might yet circle back to him. Harley’s day job at the “home” similarly resurfaces. And yes, she conveniently seems to take a lot of time off from work, but the job was never set up so strictly that it defies believability–especially in the world that the writers have crafted for her.

Some other specifically great things about this particular issue:

  • I’m glad Poison Ivy was used sparingly here. I tolerate their friendship because it’s occasionally amusing, but I also feel like Harley is beneath Ivy and there’s really nothing that should make them want to hang out together. I feel like her presence in this comic is for the fans who are into their sexy shenanigans and I applaud the writers for trying to keep everyone happy (they do really well with such a thankless job).
  • Hardin’s character expressions throughout this issue are particularly great and really demonstrate his range. He can do the broad slapstick stuff, sure, but he’s also capable of more subtlety. I especially like his handling of the scene with Sy Borgman–the shift in tone and the greater attention to realism help sell that moment in a dramatic, non-cartoony way.
  • The Brady Bunch-inspired cover is awesome (Conner and Alex Sinclair, who also does the interior colors splendidly as always). Also look for the Ant Lucia Bombshells variant–it’s fun!
  • Spoiler
    I have to say I really appreciate Harley’s treatment of Captain Strong after all the bludgeoning gets done. I know there are fans who have a real problem with her being a sympathetic character, but if you have a comic book where she’s ostensibly the “hero” it’s good that she occasionally behaves like one.

Walk the Plank!

I actually got punned-out this issue. Most of them are funny and work within the context of the story, but when Captain Strong started spewing them, I felt like the horse was down and the clubs were beating all over it. That doesn’t typically happen in this book–the writers often get us right to the brink and then reign it in, but this time there’s no stopgap: just punnarhea until you want the characters to stop talking (or you just stop reading their dialogue boxes).

Five of the Harleys in Harley’s gang get taken out. I think it works, but it did surprise me a little: they haven’t been around long enough to really develop and now, just like that, they’re axed from the team. I appreciate trimming the cast, so this isn’t really a negative thing, but it does seem to happen out of the blue.

Lastly, Captain Strong wears a seaweed speedo. You’ve been warned.

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the spoon…the spoon….

Recommended If…

  • You just can’t have enough Harley Quinn (or her gang of wannabes).
  • The fate of Popeye Strong (and his pants) is of dire consequence!
  • You want to see a guy get tased in the nads.

Overall

This issue has a great balance of action, sight gags, and character moments that have become the trademarks of this great series. Conner and Palmiotti have a clear direction for Harley, which makes even her most picaresque jaunts all part of a larger narrative. While this book feels like a bit of bridge (ending one plot point and starting another), it’s purely entertaining. With a bonus added gross-out factor of 7/10, you might not want to read this while eating.

SCORE: 8/10