I’m almost at a loss about what just happened in this comic. Consider the whole review a SPOILER because there’s no talking about why I am so conflicted over this comic without getting into the nitty-gritty.

Some caveats, though most of you who have been following my Harley reviews know all this stuff. It bears repeating, though, just for context:

  1. I like Harley and Joker together. They were awful to each other and he is an abusive creep, but she actually found an occasional softness in him–or at least sufficient possessiveness that he actually cared whether she came or went. Likewise, she also got her own licks in now and again.
  2. All that said, yes, that “relationship” was revolting. Harley wins no “role model” awards–and guess what: she never will. Even without the Joker, Harley is plenty awful just on her lonesome. Yes, she loves little animals and occasionally does nice heart-warmy things, but she also maims and kills random people who irritate her–and we’re supposed to think that’s charming. It’s really not.
  3. When Harley and Joker broke up the last time and Harley beat him silly, it was a mutual pitched battle and she came out the victor. I didn’t like it, but I gave it a thumbs up anyway because even though it was violent and excessive, it was perhaps necessary as a catharsis.

Now the Joker’s back. And he’s playing at some kind of game–we don’t know what it is yet because Red Tool has thwarted his attempt to meet with Harley (waiting on a beach bench with flowers no less).

The folks with the selfie stick are totally posting that to Twitter once they realize who is in the background of their photo!

Red Tool loves Harley. He’s obsessed in a way that’s similar to the Joker, but also very different: whereas Joker dominated his affair with Harley, Red Tool grovels at her feet. In his own creepy way, he’s the anti-Joker. That juxtaposition is important. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have deliberately given Harley a violent-minded male suitor who she can dominate.

So Red Tool takes it upon himself to deal with the Joker out of a desire to protect Harley. He confronts Joker, they spar verbally. When the Joker pushes his buttons, Red Tool starts pounding on him.

The Joker doesn’t fight back.

Now, I’m not an idiot. This is part of the Joker’s game. But I don’t care what universe we’re in or who we’re dealing with: there’s no nobility in beating the ever-loving crud out of a defenseless opponent. But that’s fine: it’s Red Tool, he overreacts, and that’s kind of funny in its own way–strangely endearing, even. He thinks he’s doing this wonderful romantic thing for the girl he loves.

Then Harley arrives.

And the comic just goes far south without suntan lotion or flip-flops.

It’s a three-for-all!

Here’s what happens next: Harley stops Red Tool from pummeling the Joker. Okay, that sounds about right. Then, Harley is outraged at Red Tool for interfering with her business.

On the one hand, she has a right to be angry. Red Tool overstepped by messing with her alarm clock and certainly this is Harley’s business, which she did ask him to stay out of. But Harley is livid, banishes him for 30 days, without so much as an acknowledgement that he was looking out for her.  Yes, it all happens in the heat of the moment, but right away, I thought: jeez, Harl, you’re kind of a jerk!

Perhaps all can be mended when their tempers cool, but what Harley does next just made me cross my eyes with frustration. She picks the Joker up, takes him home, and then kindly reminds him that she had previously warned if he ever showed her his face again it would be the last time.

So Harley and Big T tie him to a chair and put him out in traffic to gleefully watch while he’s hit by cars. Presumably it’s okay for Tony to help her since she asked him.

The comic ends with Harley looking at a battered, unconscious Joker and saying grimly, “He deserved it,” then telling Tony to help her take him so they can finish the job.

This is a seriously mean-spirited and ugly thing. I know Harley’s supposed to be an anti-hero of sorts, but is this really behavior we want to see from our lead character? How does this make her any less horrible than the Joker himself?

And for all the people who want her to stop being a victim, how does this demonstrate any change or growth or strength for her?

It doesn’t.

The abused has become the abuser. It’s there in her treatment of Red Tool and it’s there in her abysmal behavior with the Joker.

But I’ll let you all decide for yourselves.

Hey, I like violence in my comics when it’s funny or appropriately horrifying–but this crosses a line for all the contextual reasons I’ve stated above. I’m hoping the story can still redeem itself, but it’s taken a turn I do not care to follow. I will follow it, though, and two weeks from now you may have to listen to more kvetching from me. I sincerely hope not.

Some less kvetchy things about the art:

John Timms is covering art again this issue, with a 3-page assist from Chad Hardin for a dream sequence. The dream sequence in particular is really nicely done because it captures familiar plot points from the beginning of Harley’s relationship with Mistah J, and familiar scenes of Harley’s fantasy of their happy perfect life together, as well as the the reality of them at one another’s throats all the time.

Hi-Fi’s colors are also worth a mention particularly with the contrast of the palette during the dream sequence, which is made to look like Batman: the Animated Series in so many ways. That said, I didn’t like the blood-splatter effect that was used on the Joker later in the comic. It was inconsistently painted on his face through Harley’s interrogation, and at the end, it just seemed like a lazy spatter brush was used to make a mess all over the picture. It looked both silly and yet so excessive, it’s hard to know what the intention was, tonally.

Lastly, I really loved Conner’s cover (with colors by Alex Sinclair). I kind of wish that was the comic we got.

Oh, and meanwhile Madison Berkowitz has just shipped in a bunch of vampires from overseas. Not sure where that’s going just yet, but I trust Conner and Palmiotti to take us somewhere interesting with it!

Recommended If…

  • You like watching the Joker get the snot (and other bodily fluids) beat out of him.
  • You never get tired of Harley being vengeful.

Overall

On a technical level, I give this book a 8.5/10. The art is mostly fabulous as usual and we get a full arc of Harley discovering she’s been scooped by Red Tool to smash in the Joker’s face, intervening on said smashing, and taking over in her own vicious way. Does that make for a good comic book, though? And is it in keeping with the Harley Quinn character as she’s been written so far? To the second question, I think the answer is yes: Harley has been rather goody-goody on occasion, but she has also proved vindictive and downright mean. But to the first question, I have to say no and I give it a 4/10. I’m not interested in a comic that revels in this kind of mean-spiritedness. The Joker is indefensible; he’s horrific and deserves judgment. But seeing Harley dole it out does not endear me to her character–it kind of makes me hate her.

SCORE: 6.5/10