The formula for these Harley Quinn specials has been pretty predictable so far: you take a double issue (roughly), a cadre of very disparate artists (who are typically not regular artist Chad Hardin), a script from Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti that usually involves a variety of hallucinations or fantasy sequences (to help bridge the artistic team turnover), and a lot of goofy hi-jinks and inside gags that don’t actually amount to much in terms of storytelling content.
“Road Trippy” adheres to only a small part of that formula and the results are overall positive. The artists chosen for the book are actually very similar across the board and to an undiscerning eye, the book has wonderfully consistent artistic continuity. There is a single dream/hallucination sequence, but it’s relatively brief compared to the rest of the book. The hi-jinks and gags (aside from what seems a larger proportion of sexual innuendos regarding Harley’s attraction to Ivy), feel almost restrained.
And the story? Well, there is one–with a complete beginning, middle, and end, which is not necessarily something that’s been a priority in previous specials. So let’s talk about whether it all works.
There is no shortage of eye candy for those looking for that sort of thing!
Even though I feel like the plot of this is somewhat manufactured (i.e. not really organic to the Harley Quinn series–if there even is such a thing), I laud the writing team for giving this story some actual structure and trying to infuse it with some heart. Harley is currently gearing up to travel to Los Angeles in her regular series (which makes the timing of this weird), but this story can be treated out of continuity and reading the regular series is not required (though it helps to understand what Harley’s been doing on Coney Island).
The premise here is that Harley’s uncle Louie (not a character known to us before now) has passed away. He has left Harley an Airstream and asks her to see to it that he’s buried back in New Jersey with his wife who died before he moved out to California. Harley invites her two girlfriends (who apparently have nothing better to do), and they all meet up in California to start the trek back in the world’s most awesome retro caravan ever (of course).
This is the first time we get to see Catwoman in this series. Selina is handled very much like her Gotham Sirens counterpart and the whole thing really reads out of that era. If you were a fan of that short-lived series, you will undoubtedly enjoy this.
We also get to see Batman in Harley’s world for a second time. No RoboBat here! Just the real deal sparring with Ivy (and later making a silly appearance in the hallucination sequence).
Batman and Ivy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S–oh wait, that’s later
Batman isn’t the only guest who makes an appearance in this book. I’ll leave the other guest for you to discover, though if you have seen the variant cover by Bret Blevins who will already know who else the girls encounter on the road.
And speaking of Blevins, he’s a great match for this book. He’s got a style that’s good for broad comedy and he renders women very well. While he does the lion’s share of the drawing for this special, he does get an assist from a variety of others: Moritat, who has guested on Harley Quinn before, Flaviano Armentaro (a newcomer who provides half of the hallucination sequence), Pasquale Qualano (who does the other half of the hallucination), and Jed Dougherty who closes out the book with my favorite Harley ensemble ever: a Warriors-inspired studded leather jacket. Mike Manley provides inks on and off throughout the book, and Paul Mounts rounds out the team with his usual superb colors (for interiors and both covers).
Pale and Underdone
Despite a fully developed plot, it just doesn’t seem to have the impact that the writers were going for. At least, I didn’t feel it. The script is well-crafted, but, as I said previously, it’s lacking some resonance. Maybe if Uncle Louie was a real character that we had gotten to know from the start or maybe if Harley’s memories of him weren’t so picture-perfect I might have felt a little more depth here. Unfortunately the ending counts on our ability to relate to Harley’s love for these unknown relations a little too much. It’s hard to get emotional for her when even she admits she hadn’t talked to her uncle in three years. Maybe this is partly a cautionary story for that reason, but it’s hard to treat this as anything but a slim bit of entertainment with lovely colorful art and very silly characters.
And speaking of silly, there’s a villain in this named Darkwolf, who first appeared in Detective Comics #548 (1985), and who was wiped out of continuity during the the Crisis on Infinite Earths event. He’s resurrected here, though he’s not much of a threat. He provides some much-needed action between all the girl-talk, but ultimately he’s mostly ridiculous (and that’s fine).
Did I mention the girl talk? It’s rampant, but fun.
Dave Sharpe does letters and even though he does them well, it’s maybe worth noting that this is a very talky book. Particularly toward the end, readers are faced with a wall of words that bring the story to a close.
As much as I love Blevin’s art for the most part, he does have moments in which the women look like bobble-heads. There’s a scene by the pool that’s nearly Monster-High proportions in the inflated-head-to-skinny-body ratio. But hey, if this is the worst I have to complain about here, you know it can’t be that bad!
- You miss the old Gotham Sirens and want to see the gang back together.
- You’re not a fan of the series, but enjoy Harley in small doses, tempered with lots of other action to keep the wacky to a manageable level.
- You enjoy anything out of the current continuity.
I enjoyed this and, as with many of Harley Quinn’s adventures, it’s not only worth a second read, but often better the second time around. While I felt like the story fell a bit flat for me, I appreciate that it was complete and well-scripted, and the art was not only complementary to the tale, but a nicely coordinated match between a variety of artists. Not much of a villain for an obstacle, but plenty of adventures, and great if you like something a bit girly that’s more on the mature side (you’ll find no trout lips or selfies here!). I gave this an extra .5 just for keeping the fourth wall intact throughout all but the media res framework of the series. I believe that’s a Conner/Palmiotti first for a Harley special!