The title of this week’s Harley Quinn is “Angry Bird”, which certainly refers to the important and well-known villainous bird on the cover in particular, but preliminary to anything else about this comic, I submit for your amusement the following show-stealers as the bigger and angrier birds of the book–the return of Maurice and Pierre:

Beefier and hungrier than ever!

These buff mutant penguin menaces first appeared in Harley Quinn no. 27 in a sequence that was just ambiguous enough to suggest it might be all in Harley’s overactive imagination. But here they are absolutely real and treated as such.

Does that work?

Despite the epic level of ludicrous, I really like these silly penguins so I was happy to see them back in the book, but as both Frank Tieri and his artists are finding their legs in this world, throwing Maurice and Pierre in at this stage feels oddly timed and strangely handled. I’m pretty sure giant penguins trashing the city and eating people would constitute a national emergency, but the Coney Island of Harley’s world seems pretty jaded about this sort of thing. Not that it’s the least bit unusual given all the alien invasions and giant bats and Ivy-related phenomena that’s happened in this book thus far. But I’ll be honest: it’s getting harder to take real villains seriously in this series because we always know that once they are cleared from the slate everything is going to return to status quo. The biggest game-changer in this book thus far wasn’t a super-villain, but the crooked Mayor DePerto, after all.

So the Penguin’s come to town and he’s brought lots of muscle (and then some). There’s a big plot hatching in his beaky-nosed head, the likes of which we only get a taste here, but to be honest if we’re going to see those giant mutant penguins be a real thing, I’d rather the book was about that and not dragging in every Gotham baddie for a cameo. But it’s early. Maybe Tieri has an interesting twist up his sleeve.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that the book feels strangely cluttered with characters in a way it never did before. Somehow the previous team always managed to balance the plots and subplots in a way that wasn’t too exhausting. It feels like Tieri is throwing in the kitchen sink right now. It may be to good purpose if there’s a big showdown and even bigger character decisions and direction to come, but for the moment juggling Harley’s old gang, her new independence, and the details of Cobblepot’s plot is a full plate, dessert, and then that something extra for which you forgot to leave room in your stomach.

It’s not inchoate by any means, but for the moment every is at cross-purposes, so hopefully in the next issue it will begin to coalesce in a way that feels more tightly knitted.

I just don’t know how to feel about what’s happening to Harley’s face here

Mirka Andolfo is in the driver’s seat on the art in this one and while she does a nice job with the Penguin (and the penguins), her Harley feels uncomfortably like Rob Liefeld just discovered Shōjo manga. This may work for some of you, but I found it bizarre, sloppy, and full of very strange poses and expressions.  Most of the time Harley looks like a twelve year-old girl with a pixie face–with neither the mischief nor menace that makes her mayhem not only believable but wildly entertaining.

And if I were to be really nit-picky (and I’m going to), I don’t like the single pony tail look for Harley, nor the sci-fi shoulder pads.  I do appreciate, however, that Andolfo did give Harley a different look here, breaking from her pigtails and modifying her usual costume. It just happens to be that I don’t like the choices and I feel like the pony tail in particular really doesn’t work for the character.

The environments are also very loose with lots of large blank color block backgrounds that provide little depth or character (again, a manga influence, so your mileage may vary).  Her rendering of one particular guest villain strikes me more “angry Ninja turtle” than anything else. Though I will say there’s a great moment between the turtle and another guest villain in a green suit that amused me greatly.

And you know I’m pretty easy in the end: throw in some giant roided penguins tearing people to pieces and I can forgive a lot of other sins. So, +.5 for that at least. Hey, penguins have to eat too!

Recommended If…

  • Giant penguins!
  • You love Oswald Cobblepot as a villain but don’t want to pick up Batgirl?
  • Harley untethered to the Coney Island gang is your jam.

Overall

Will she or won’t she? Harley seems to still be hanging between worlds in Frank Tieri’s just-hatched run on the title with his second story about some very angry birds. Our titular heroine is both carrying on in a business-as-usual sense, putting herself out as muscle-for-hire, but also continuing to reject her old life in Coney Island, though we can see in one poignant moment that the disconnect is a heavy mantle for her to shoulder. Meanwhile the city is beleaguered by a new threat–and not just one that waddles. Come for the penguins, stay for the mayhem that is sure to follow as Cobblepot plots a mighty migration that’s sure to get Harley’s full attention.

SCORE: 7/10