Seldom is it that I get so caught up in a comic book that I lose my perspective entirely, but I have to hand it to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti: I was completely blindsided by this story arc. After others suggested in the comments two weeks ago that we were playing a game of bait and switch, it suddenly seemed obvious to me, and I wondered how it was I had crushed my own early suspicions so deftly.

Never was a title so apropos as this issue’s “Reality Slapdown”.

Yes, I allowed myself to be emotionally compromised the the storyline. Turns out that this bozo who dropped in on Harley isn’t her Mistah J at all, but a whackadoodle wannabe who’s trying to crawl into her life on the Clown Prince’s coattails.

So what do we think? Does this make the story better? Or worse?

Harley ain’t messin’ around in this one, kiddies

First of all, this is Harley like we haven’t really seen her in this book–possibly ever. She is beyond fit to be tied. To the point at which she can barely crack a joke at how angry she is for being manipulated by this creepy loser.

And the creepy loser? He holds out just as long as he can and under some pretty extreme treatment, but ultimately he’s forced to spill his guts while the crew watches on, eating popcorn as they enjoy his confessional narrative.

The tale of obsession he tells is nothing new to the Batverse: people have done pretty extreme things to get close to characters in the past, and when this guy reveals who he is, long-time readers are likely to have two separate and conflicting reactions:

  1. Oh that guy! Wow, guess Harley’s effort on him was totally wasted since he turned out to be ten times the psychopath she ever predicted. That’ll teach you to try to “help” the mentally ill.
  2. It’s kinda unfortunate that the one crazy creeper Harley tried to help in the past turned out to be a mass-murdering maniac–almost as a direct result of Harley’s attempt to rehabilitate him. What does that actually say about the mental health system and giving people second chances? Is it true: “no good deed goes unpunished”?

I fall into this latter category, so I found this story somewhat disturbing–and the final outcome even more so.

The chair isn’t the worst of it

The bulk of the action of this book is straight up torture augmented by our Faux-Joker telling his tale. We also get a dream sequence (compliments of Chad Hardin again), in which Joker and Harley are a happy couple with quadruplet girls. If you’re gonna have a fantasy, I guess go big, right?

For those of you who like to complain about “fluffy, watered-down” Harley (not that she’s ever really been that here), there’s absolutely no mercy in this book and the violence is emphasized with a full splash page of the climactic scene so as to leave no question about Harley’s motives or mindset.

Personally I would prefer to live in a kinder gentler world with a kinder gentler message than this (yes, for all my bloodlust I am a redemptionist at heart). Unfortunately we don’t live in a kinder gentler world, and ultimately the sad truth is that bona fide redemption is a rare miracle.

As for Harley Quinn, the realist in me loves this, but the optimist in me hates it. The writer in me just appreciates that it’s executed in a way that certainly provokes these questions for me and hopefully does for others as well. I won’t be convinced away from my hope for a kindler gentler world, but I do like to be challenged about it regularly–if only to strengthen my personal resolve.

Some other great things about this comic:

  • John Timms on art (with some layout assists from Bret Blevins, and finishes by Hardin). For so many hands in this, it continues to deliver a great-looking Harley. But it’s actually his Faux-Joker at the height of his power who wins the prize in this book. In one particularly horrifying rooftop vista, we see chaos and falling bodies and it’s just deliciously awful in the best and worst way.
  • Red Tool manages to squeak back in despite Harley’s 30-day ban, which I am very glad to see; hopefully she lets him off the hook in the next issue.
  • No build on the subplot with Madison and the vampires here, which was a great decision because it would have been distracting.

Recommended If…

  • You like Harley at her worst–and by that I mean just straight up vicious.
  • Even a Faux-Joker is better than no Joker at all.

Overall

I gave the last issue a frumpy score because I was irritated at the perceived message of it. This issue isn’t coy at all in what it’s trying to say and frankly, that makes it more palatable even if i disagree with it on a moral/spiritual level. Harley takes out her wrath on this joker (small “j” intended) in a way that isn’t played for comedy (and shouldn’t be). And though it’s hard to look her in the eye afterwards, I can appreciate that this team wants to remind us that Harley just isn’t hero material when it comes down to it. I don’t love the message here, but this is a book that Harley fans should read and think about on a less than superficial level.

SCORE: 8.5/10