“Twenty-five Big One$” celebrates the start of Harley Quinn’s third year going solo with the amazing team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. And it’s a big celebration featuring Harley’s long-awaited reunion with the Joker whom he hasn’t seen since he blew up her storage unit and sent her fleeing to Coney Island in issue No. 0.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know what I think of Harley and the Joke as a couple. And so you know I was bound to struggle with this one. But let this stand forever as evidence that I can absolutely dislike the direction of a book and still acknowledge its greatness. Because, really, this is a great book.

I suspect some of you who don’t typically read Harley Quinn might pick this up just to see the Joker back between the pages and you won’t be disappointed. Mistah J is just as obnoxious, insulting, offensive, and violent as you could hope for. But this time Harley’s not letting him get away with any of his crap.

This book is effectively a nail in the coffin for the relationship between Harley and the Joker. I’m sure the feminists who have decried Harley’s years of abuse are cheering. And you know what? I’m okay with that–I’m going to cheer too.

Because Conner and Palmiotti have written a story that needed to be written. They have invested real time to meticulously establish Harley’s new life, new direction, new modus operandi. They have given her a supporting cast of supportive characters. They have demonstrated her desire to start a new life without compromising one iota of the madcap zaniness that defined her when she was nothing more than the Joker’s moll. This didn’t happen overnight. She didn’t suddenly move to a new town, adopt a new costume, forget herself, get her ears pierced, start wearing Doc Martens and drinking lattes. And she’s actually struggled in her relationships over the last two years: holding strong that she was never going back to her poisoned previous life, while acknowledging it’s a part of what’s made her and always will be.

So is it hard to see her say her goodbyes to the Joker? Absolutely. For me it is. Not because I liked seeing her get beat up and thrown down and treated like garbage, but because she was always going to help humanize him–just a little, and now that seems gone for good. And it should be. Because at the end of the day the Joker is a monster and no matter how much I am inclined to sympathize with the bad guys, they’re still bad. And the Joker is the rottenest of them all.

So What Do you Get for Your Well-Spent Bucks?

Harley kicks a lot of derriere in this book. If you’ve been following along, you know she’s gone to Gotham to break her boyfriend Mason Macabre out of Arkham Asylum. Poison Ivy meets her there to assist her with the getaway, but Harley’s going into the prison alone. She has a plan and it involves some crazy “Ferrigno” pills, but who cares about the particulars. It’s Arkham and no matter how good the security is, it’s always going to collapse into chaos at the slightest provocation. If it were any other Batbook, I’d cry foul, but as usual Conner and Palmiotti make it work with the usual absurd logic and keeps Harley always buoyant.

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Harley’s high kicks should be considered a super power!

Mason (prisoner 8675309, of course) is sharing a cellblock with Harley’s former flame, who has filled Mason with all manner of dire tales of Harley’s past exploits. So when Harley busts him out, he’s not exactly game to run away with her. Interestingly, through the progress of this storyline, we’ve really come to find that Mason is a moral person who committed a serious crime and accepts responsibility for that–even though it was provoked by a corrupt Mayor.

Then Harley realizes who’s been turning Mason’s mind and she decides to take action. Using a stolen cell block key, she lets herself into the Joker’s room, trapping them together so that they can talk.

We all know how much the Joker likes to talk, but his conversation with Harley is pretty one-sided. And involves a lot of punching, biting, kicking, and bashing.

Yes, the two duke it out for page after page while Harley explains why she’s done with him for good. He probably doesn’t hear one word of it and takes masochistic pleasure in her kicking him silly, but Harley’s not saying it so much for his benefit as she is saying it for hers (and ours). We get to watch her exorcise this demon in a very visceral way.

Yes, it’s a bit of a wish-fulfillment fantasy more than anything else. Perhaps there are women who would like nothing better than to trash the man who’s hurt them in the past. Harley asserts that she merely wanted to “talk” and he wouldn’t leave well enough alone and you know what? I believe her. Because she’s not vengeful. She just wants to get her point across. And she does.

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He’s just askin’ for it.

In the end maybe some people will think it’s facile how she lets him off, but I like the way they identifies with Batman when she’s faced with what to do about him. Even (and I stress this again) if I fundamentally disagree with that rationale. The important thing is that it works.

And speaking of the Dark Knight, as an added bonus, we get a lovely cameo from Batman himself at the end of this book (the fun cover by Conner does not lie!). I was skeptical at first, but have come to trust the writers to only bend logic so far as the edges of Harley’s world–without impinging on the reality of the rest of the DCU and here they don’t disappoint. There is no happy ending here, folks.

Which is brilliant.

Despite Harley’s triumph of rescuing Mason and her even greater triumph of confronting the Joker, Mason is going out of her life–first into witness protection and ultimately probably back to jail to serve out his sentence (Batman will see to it). Because even though Harley gets away with her murder and mayhem, the real world doesn’t reward crazy and it shouldn’t reward killers. And the last thing Harley needs is to finally push past her relationship with the Joker and jump right into the arms of another potentially complicated boyfriend.

So yeah. I’m glad to see the good ship Mason sailing out of port and it makes the best sense for the direction of this story. Harley needs room to continue to grow on her own.

All this and More!

As if the story isn’t enough, Chad Hardin bludgeons us with some of the most beautiful brutality imaginable. I can’t figure this book working nearly so well without his perfectly treacherous and hideous depiction of the Joker. To see him through this lens: pasty, wicked, red-eyed, and spike-nosed–there’s none of the suave tail-coated dapperness that has occasionally given the Joker some mild gangster appeal. He’s just disgusting and, like Harley, you have to wonder what she ever saw in him to begin with.

But Hardin’s work on this series has always been phenomenal: the perfect balance between broad-stroke cartoon humor and flesh and blood characters that move and react like real people has always given this book a life that literally seems to leap of the page. Alex Sinclair’s colors contribute to that as well: his shading has always brought out the most beautiful contours, which is on full display across these pages (particularly in the playful scene between Harley and Ivy where Harley’s body is so neatly defined by the light and shadows). Harley and Ivy is almost pure sexy beefcake, but so well done from a technical perspective it comes off like fine art rather than fap art, which is something I have always appreciated about Hardin’s ability to capture Harley’s sex appeal without making her trashy.

And I really love Hardin’s Batman, who has always looked sleek and mysterious (and captures the essence of the animated series).

In sum, you’ll want to read this book again and again; not just for the story and the words, but to marvel at the buffet of figure work, action, shapes, and colors. I only wish all comic books were this gratifying on so many levels.

Recommended If…

  • You want a Harley Quinn one-and-done with a fun Batman cameo and heavy emphasis on the Joker.
  • You want to see Harley and Mistah J trash each other one last time.
  • You want to see what logical character growth actually looks like in a comic.

Overall

Harley says her farewells to the Joker and there’s nothing equivocal about it. If you’ve been rooting for Harley to stake her independence, this is the flag planted firmly in the ground. If you’ve been hoping she’ll go back to that horrorshow of being a battered sidekick, you’ll want to see why that’s just not going to happen.  The best part about it is that no matter what side you’re on, writers Conner and Palmiotti will likely have you nodding with approval for how this all shakes down.

SCORE: 10/10