I’ve been making jokes about DC’s afterbirth event and finally we have a comic with enough class to call it like it is! “Afterbirth” is the name of this inaugural issue that re-launches the series that just concluded last week. Chad Hardin returns to render yet another Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti extravaganza of Harley lunacy.

For newcomers to the new number one, the book opens with a spa day for Harley and Poison Ivy, quickly recapping the essentials while tying back to the previous series. Harley then introduces herself and all of her motley gang of friends to what appears to be an empty audience, but is in fact and audience of two: Jimm Salabim (who you would only know about if you managed to pick up that elusive Loot Crate special–but which has thankfully been included in the Harley Quinn Vol. 5 trade), and the Red Tool (Harley’s new love/hate squeeze–I love how she calls him Toolbag).

It’s a lot of exposition up front, but to be expected, I suppose. Hardin does an amazing job cramming every character into the frames, and let’s face it, this series is so densely populated it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of what’s going on, even if it’s in a who’s who sort of fashion. And again, especially for newcomers, it’s pretty essential to pick up quickly on Harley’s current circumstances.

Fortunately, in the midst of all this set-up, Madame Macabre’s wax museum is suddenly overtaken by zombies because–well, of course it does.

Cue flashback of how this all begin: namely with an alien named Vertigax crash-landing on a farm and disguising himself as a cow, who accidentally gets butchered. After a lovely nine-panel depiction of the meat-processing…er…process, we see that Vertigax has been shipped all over as various meat products (particularly Coney Island hot dogs), contaminating everyone who eats him. This, naturally, results in zombies.

Red Tool and Harley team up to fight the apocalypse.  This seems to go well until Red Tool gets bit and then the seriously crazy stuff starts to happen–and I don’t mean Red Tool suddenly turns into a zombie; it’s far more violent and hilarious than that!

Hardin is in top form on this one. He handles the opening with ease despite the risk of a lot of staticky flat talky panels: the spa day between Harley and Ivy is all eye-candy, but aside from one fluffy towel that somehow manages to reveal the indentation of a navel, it’s more of a titillation-fest than a full-out boob-a-thon. As usual, the visuals push along the edges of a mature rating without needing to tip over and the tacit love affair between Harley and Ivy is more innuendo than overt smuttalk.

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I like a book that doesn’t apologize for its fan service–but also doesn’t cross that delicate line

Once we get into the action, I have to say I really like Red Tool and Harley together. Their relationship is over-the-top ridiculous with Harley trying to teach him some manners (in a funny subversion of the abuse she took from the Joker for all those years), and it works. Red Tool is crass and panting after her like a lovesick hound without any self-consciousness about it at all, which makes him more endearing than creepy. There are moments when you can see that he’s actually trying so hard to win her over. As a die-hard Harley/Joker fan who has a lot of mixed feelings about her “moving on”, it’s the highest praise I can offer to say: hey, maybe this Red Tool guy isn’t such a bad proposition.

For those of you keeping score on Harley’s anti-hero status, yes, you will be disappointed to see she’s still towing a moral line. It might be time to give up the hope of her returning to her darker roots at this point. With the Joker officially behind her and her desire to do good in full swing, I feel we’re going to see a much less ambiguously heroic Harley–even if she’s no less violent and occasionally misguided in her approach.

Frankly, I’m okay with this. If you consider her origins in the animated series, she was always yearning to be a do-gooder underneath her fixation of pleasing the Joker. It’s not out of character for her, accordingly. And frankly, I’m tired of morally gray anti-heroes. The world needs real altruism–even the imperfect sort of altruism that a character like Harley can offer.

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Even in the face of the apocalypse!

Despite a bit of a slow backtracky informative start, this comic finishes up spectacularly–and with one of those cliff hangers that has you flipping the page screaming: no wait! I want to know what happens next!

Recommended If…

  • You’re new to Harley Quinn and want to dive in feet first into her crazy castle.
  • You like comics that are witty, altruistic, and violent (what better combination!).
  • You need something that will bring you joy after the Suicide Squad reviews.
  • You never get tired of the zombie apocalypse trope.

Overall

There’s no rest for the wicked!  Harley Quinn may have closed out its series with issue No. 30 last week, but it’s back with a new No. 1 and the writing team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti effectively invite new readers while giving us a taste of the cracky sort of adventure endemic to this series. Harley and the Red Tool team up to battle zombies with one very big, very unexpected turn of events. Though I have a feeling everything’s going to somehow work out okay in the end, it’s edge-of-the-seat fun to think about how they’re going to resolve this one. Red Tool may have started off as a blatant Deadpool parody, but he has since proven to be a hilarious foil for Harley’s newfound independence from the Joker. I hope he’ll be around for a long time to come.

SCORE: 8/10