Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special #1 review

Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special

Make way for four wacky tales starring your favorite Maven of Mayhem!  To celebrate Harley Quinn’s 25th anniversary, this special brings together three diverse teams to entertain us with some short Harley stories chock-full of DC guest stars. Bats doesn’t make a strong appearance here, but one story does center around a very cranky Robin. In addition to the stories, this oversized issue includes pin-up art from Bengal, Dustin Nyugen, Babs Tarr, Annie Wu, Greg Tocchini, and Kamome Shirahana.

I think my favorite of the pin-up batch is the one from Wu, which shows Harley tearing up what looks like a fancy office with Bud and Lou giving her a destructive assist. There’s just something very loose and wild about the rendering that matches her character perfectly, she’s wearing a very different take on the usual red and black suit (with exposed blonde ponytails) and the whole thing is washed in murder red. Just fun stuff!

So what’s on the rest of the pages?

Diva Las Vegas by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti

Our first tale is also our zaniest in terms of sheer lunacy. Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman win a Penthouse weekend in Las Vegas after inadvertently helping foil a casino robbery. With carte blanche on the premises, it takes no time at all for them to get up to trouble: inviting in a three-ring circus, male strippers, and more for a raucous all-nighter. Of course there’s not much of a plot here–the fun is seeing how far it can go and waiting for that obvious tipping point at which Harley is going to find herself booted from the premises for sheer insanity.

And it’s Las Vegas, of course, so there’s plenty of this as well:

Viva Elvis!

Strong points for this story include clear sharp art and bright colors–and ridiculous scenarios full of circus animals. Not quite as funny as the penguins on the roller coaster last go-round, but very amusing nonetheless. Catwoman and Ivy don’t actually add much here, but given Harley’s association with the Gotham Sirens, this is a great homage to that period in Harley’s past.

Birthday Blues by Paul Dini with art by Chad Hardin

Dini writes a story straight out of the animated series as only he can write it. It’s Harley’s birthday and she’s looking forward to celebrating it with her Puddin’, but Puddin’ is one cranky clown. Always resilient, Harley decides to entertain herself in other ways, but all of her friends apparently have better things to do. Without giving away spoilers, this is a story with reversals, the last of which some might actually find just a wee bit dark. Of the four tales, it’s the only one that shows any hint of a sharp edge, including a flashback of Harley as a child that i couldn’t decide if it was funny or awful.

Classic Harley and Joker through and through

Hardin’s art here is picture perfect–it’s always great to see Harley in the classic Harlequin getup. The other really fun thing about this particular contribution is seeing a number of classic Gotham villains make a random appearance (Boomerang!). Also, as a big fan of Bud and Lou, it was delightful to see them get a page to themselves in a story short as this one is.

Somewhere that’s Green by Daniel Kibblesmith with Art by David LaFuente

The recent news of the passing of Len Wein makes this final installment in the anniversary special a little bittersweet.

I’ve been a fan of Swamp Thing as long as I have been a fan of Batman and so I am always excited to see our Champion of the Green pop up in guest spots whenever he can. It’s pure coincidence than he should appear now when the comic world is mourning the man who was his last living creator. Normally Wein and Wrightson are given creator credit whenever Swampy appears, but this book misses that, which is kind of a shame.

It’s not easy being green!

The story is nothing to splashy. An incoming storm threatens to do serious environmental damage (also topical, interestingly enough), and Swamp Thing appears at the calling of Poison Ivy (I should mention here that Ivy is in all three of these stories). Harley inadvertently enters the Green and assists with the storm problem. It’s pretty cut and dried, but I do like LaFuente’s art: it’s a different style and at first the soft color palette from John Rauch wasn’t working for me, but in the end I was totally won over by the nicely defined characters, the boldness of the linework, and the simplicity of the action. In particular, it works for this kind of one-off and is a great contrast to the other denser, more vibrant work throughout the book.

Bird Psychology by Chip Zdarsky with art by Joe Quiñones

The last story of the bunch is probably the meatiest!  Harley Quinn (sidekick) faces off against Robin (sidekick) in a battle that’s as much psychological as it is physical–and boy is it physical. This one is probably the most action-oriented of the stories and both Robin and Harley get quite acrobatic.  Some fun things in particular about this story are the juxtaposition of these two characters as sidekicks who are frustrated by their “bosses” and duke it out with not only fists and feet, but emotional weaponry as well.

Naturally this is the Robin least well-equipped to deal with Harley’s brand of psychological taunting, but I like how it becomes a contest of “relating” and the end nicely motivates the characters–particularly Harley in terms of her decision–in the face of a time bomb, of course, so the stakes are high and everything is all that much more urgent. This is also the only story in which we see Batman really do anything (even if he is kind of harsh!).

I’m not in love with Quiñones’ style for Harley, but it grew on me. The unusual mix of ballet slippers and exposed bangs, with the loose white collar felt a little sloppy at first, and yet I liked how it was handled in motion and something about Harley’s big long legs looked believably powerful in the fight. I also feel like he did fun things with their expressions–particularly Jason’s as he fights through a myriad of emotions during the course of this tale. Also this story briefly features Gordon, which always gets an extra thumbs up from me!

Recommended If…

  • You like a nice carry-along book with fun light-hearted one-shots!
  • You enjoy the full spectrum of Harley-style wacky: from classic to esoteric.
  • You enjoy a book in which you can journey through such a broad range of depictions and interpretations of a single character. After 25 years, Harley’s aesthetic continues to evolve–this girl has quite the wardrobe and hair stylist!

Overall

The beautiful Amanda Conner/Paul Mounts cover and the heft of this 25th anniversary edition are half the value here: this book is particularly frameable! There are plenty of variants out there as well, though, so your mileage may vary.  The interior contains three fun stories that don’t cross over with the regular ongoing series, but are still fun Harley tales. Nothing crazy-violent here, so the Suicide Squad angle may be missing in Harley’s iterations here. But it’s a fun read and all three contributions have their strengths. I like the pin-ups though others might dismiss them as filler. So overall, a must-have if you’re a Harley fan, but not essential reading in the long-run for the casual browser.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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