All right, first of all, if you’ve been looking to jump into the insane hurricane that is the Harley Quinn series, then you can be sure that this is a good jumping-on point. References to past episodes of the series are kept to a minimum, and so you don’t need to have a deep understanding of Harley’s little corner in the DC Universe. But while that’s all well and good, does that mean that the issue is actually worth picking up? Let’s have a look.
While it’s not necessary to be well-versed in Harley’s world, there are a couple things you should know about the character and how she’s been expressing herself. Way back when in 2013 the Harley Quinn series launched with a #0. That issue was all about breaking the 4th wall as it literally told the story of Harley looking for the right artist to draw her book. Harley has continued to break the 4th wall every once in a while as the series continued, and she does this in #45 as well (as is announced on the cover). However, while previous instances of 4th wall-breaking seemed to amount to no more than silly gags, it appears that Humphries is actually making it part of the narrative. For one thing, this means that the 4th wall-breaking finally has an actual purpose beyond being a gimmick, and so Humphries puts a refreshing spin on it that actually makes me curious to see where he’s going to take this. That said, while I think this metafictional element is important for the story, it should be clear that it’s not all that this comic is about. In fact, it’s mostly here to inform Harley’s decision to venture into Apokolips.
At some point during the issue Harley says:
Keeping in mind how she’s been breaking the 4th wall, the way that I read this is that Harley is actually talking about how she’s all over the place in DC’s marketing campaigns. She’s in her own title, she’s a major character over in Suicide Squad, has a big role in Injustice, etc. While one could argue that the Harleys across all these different series are in fact different versions of the character and therefore not the same character, Humphries has actually included a dream sequence that seems to illustrate precisely my point. I hope that Humphries will continue to expand on this theme, because it could lead to some entertaining commentary on the current state of affairs in comic book land, especially with regards to Harley.
Moving on, Harley’s motivation for rampaging across Apokolips is clear. Because of all the pressure that people are putting on her—inside or outside the comic book pages—she feels like she’s done with being Harley Quinn. What this implies is that she’s running away from her problems rather than refusing to deal with them. This is where Granny Goodness comes in. Essentially Granny Goodness promises Harley that she can help her, but in return Harley must help Granny. Now, to find out how this unfolds exactly you will have to buy the book, but I do want to comment a little bit about the characterization of Granny Goodness, as well as her motivation for getting Harley to work for her.
First of, Humphries does an adequate job at making Granny Goodness really creepy. She talks to Harley as if Harley is her little granddaughter, as if she’s talking to a kid. For the most part Granny Goodness sugarcoats what she has to say, along with baking Harley fresh cookies, and uses this strategy to get Harley to do her bidding. However, at times, Granny’s dark side shines through and we see her psychopathic nature surfacing. Through this, Humphries manages to add some layers to the character and hints at a hidden motive. Yet, the fact that this motive is hidden from us also means that we have no idea what’s going on. This, on the one hand, creates suspense because it has readers wondering what Granny’s endgame is and what this will mean for Harley. On the other hand, Granny’s motivation being unclear can also work against the book. In order to have a convincing villain, one that readers equally respect and fear (or at least feel like they are a real threat to the main character and therefore create a reason for us to keep reading), their motivations have to understood. We can only understand such motivations if we know what these are. Now, I’m sure that Humphries will reveal this to us in due time, but as it stands, I’m not convinced yet that Granny Goodness—within the context of this story—is a terrible villain that we all should watch out for, which leads me to my next point.
This comic reads like pure setup. While that doesn’t have to be a bad thing in and of itself, it does mean that this very much reads like a random chain of events. I don’t feel a sense of urgency and I don’t feel like I have to follow Harley through Apokolips because the book lacks focus. Besides Granny Goodness, Harley doesn’t have a specific, main opponent to battle (the final page of the book notwithstanding); she doesn’t have an actual supporting cast so she can be further developed through the eyes of other characters; and an overall sense of direction in terms of plot is missing. This might just be the first issue of Humphries’ run, and I get the need for setup seeing as Humphries is taking Harley to unchartered territory and he needs to build the world of Apokolips within the context of this story, but I can’t help but feel like more substance could’ve been added to give the narrative just a little more oomph, rather than having a compilation of random Harley antics.
Having said that, this is still a very entertaining read! If you are into campy story-telling, chances are you’re going to enjoy this. Humphries is a clever writer who writes hilarious lines and has Harley’s voice down to a T. His dialogue is over-the-top and unrealistic, and I think that’s exactly the point. This is Harley Quinn, and Harley Quinn is crazy, and so is everyone else in the comic. He also writes bombastic character introductions, such as the Female Furies’ appearance in the early pages of the book, when they arrive through a boom tube. They immediately start issuing death threats, demanding Harley to surrender, wildly swinging their weapons through the air as they try to be intimidating. But Harley just stands there, completely unphased—which makes sense considering she’s faced countless threats as a member of the Suicide Squad and has seen the worst during her time with Joker. Surely these Female Furies aren’t going to intimidate her after all she’s been through. Moreover, the way in which Harley indulges in her violent activities on Apokolips really shows us how she wants to get away from responsibilities and from being the Harley Quinn: she just wants to play. So, despite it lacking focus, it’s still a crazy, wild story and everything about it screams Harley Quinn!
Series regular John Timms returns to draw the book, and although this is not entirely my style, I do think it’s very good. Clearly this guy has been drawing Harley and her wacky world for a few years now. The art looks so consistent in terms of character models, proportions, facial expressions and body language that it looks effortless. Additionally, his depiction of Apokolips looks hellish and exudes an aura of evil but it’s still entirely in keeping with the established aesthetics of the series: it fits the campy, over-the-top tone and makes for a fantastic, flaming playground for our insane, gleeful heroine. Add in Gabe Eltaeb’s colors, and yet another layer of quality is added to the art as a whole. Eltaeb’s fires blaze, his lights are vibrant, his colors during the dream sequence are psychedelic and he really adds a warm, sunny vibe to the tropical beach where we first meet Harley, in the opening pages.
You have been looking for a jumping-on point for Harley Quinn
You want to see how Harley’s going to wreck Apokolips
You can’t get enough of Harley’s campy punk-rock attitude
Overall: This is a good start to Humphries’ run. Yes, the issue lacks focus; Granny Goodness’ motivation isn’t clear to me yet; there’s no actual opposition for Harley to overcome throughout the book; and it’s as of yet unclear where the story is going. But the element of camp is fully embraced, the humor is great, and Harley—both in terms of writing and artwork—is just so perfectly Harley. This book may just be setup so far, but it’s a fun setup, and I highly appreciate that Humphries is putting his own spin on the series. Enjoy!