So, recently I took over review duties for this title from Elena, and the first issue I reviewed was #45. While I certainly don’t think that #45 was a home run—it had quite a few problems—I did actually end up enjoying the book for what it was. What made it especially enjoyable for me was the meta commentary that Humphries put in the story. To me, it seemed like that commentary was going to be a part of the actual story as opposed to being just a silly gag that would go nowhere. However, as much as I enjoyed reading #45, I’m afraid that #46 doesn’t continue to provide the same kind of meta commentary. In fact, this time around it does amount to nothing more than a silly gag, and that’s a real shame.
The comic opens with a close-up on Harley, who is recounting the events of last issue, speaking directly to the reader, using the term “issue.” The character that is attacking her in the background even asks her who she’s talking to. While I would’ve been fine with having just this joke as a one-off (even though I don’t actually think it’s all that funny), I’m disappointed that it’s never developed into actual commentary. At a later point Harley apologizes for making “three butt jokes in one issue.” And that is about as far as Humphries is taking the meta component of the book. Now, I’m not arguing that this book needs to have deep meta commentary, but I will argue that if it’s having such a component, it should at least have some function other than being a silly joke. All it amounts to, as it stands, is that Harley is aware that she’s in a comic book, and that in turn merely serves to remind me, as a reader, that this is just a story. Rather than transporting me to another world, making me believe in that world, making me care and worry about the characters as if they’re living creatures, I find myself sitting here wondering what’s the point of it all. If the narrator constantly reminds me it’s just a story, then I won’t feel any sense of urgency and nothing really seems to matter. Because, after all, it’s just fiction, not reality, so there are no actual consequences. In my opinion, a story is much more powerful when I forget it’s a story, and I get completely absorbed into the experience. Then, and only then, the characters come alive for me. That, sadly, isn’t the case here. As such, I think this book would be better off without the meta jokes (because they really have no function in this particular issue other than distraction), or actually expand on it and turn it into meaningful commentary that adds another layer to the reading experience. For now, this is, as far as I’m concerned, a missed opportunity.
Beyond the meta problem, so far I don’t see why I should care about the characters just yet. For example, I know next to nothing about the character named Petite Tina, and yet the character is put into life threatening situations, as if I’m expected to react to that. But not knowing who she is makes me rather indifferent toward her fate, because I haven’t been given any reason to care about her. The same goes for practically every other character in the book, except Harley. In the case of Harley, I do think that her completely careless attitude toward Granny Goodness and the denizens of Apokolips is quite funny. She acts like a jester, a being whose purpose it is to point at the ridiculousness of kings, queens, rulers, etc. Harley is constantly pointing out how silly Granny Goodness’s plans are, embracing the role of the jester entity. And yet, despite Harley being the only rounded character (I’m taking into account all the previous issues of the series that helped build her up as a character), I think her gags and attitude only go so far to make this book truly enjoyable, especially since this book, currently, lacks either a strong supporting cast or a convincing villain.
As for the villain, Granny Goodness, the reason I am not yet convinced is because so far I still don’t know why she made Harley a Female Fury. Frankly, I’m not even sure why she brought Harley to Apokolips at all. Where it seemed mysterious, creepy and a little bit funny in #45, mostly because no reasons were given then, this time there really isn’t anything that makes me truly question the character’s actions. I am not seeing any hints as to why Harley is being dragged into this, nor am I seeing why Granny needs her at all, especially because Granny actually strips Harley from her powers. Harley just seems to be there because apparently it makes perfect sense for her to be there. Oddly enough, this seemingly pointless chain of events does have a saving grace: if there’s anything this book succeeds in, it’s that it shows that Harley is certainly not above the powers of the deities of Apokolips. After all, it’s these deities that gave her her powers and special hammer, and they’re able to just as easily take that away. While I certainly wish there was more substance to this book, I’m glad at least that Harley isn’t made to look more powerful than the New Gods just because she’s Harley Quinn. However, whereas Granny’s divine power is affirmed, what I need in order to be convinced of her fierceness as a villain is a strong motivation, because otherwise the character is at risk of being nothing more than a one-dimensional enemy that has nothing to bring to the table other than making the protagonist’s life a living hell for the sake of it.
Artwork is once more brought to us by John Timms (pencils) and Gabe Eltaeb (colors). Where I felt like they provided strong art in #45, I think there’s a slight dip in quality here. Usually, Timms is consistent in the way that he draws characters, but in #46 I see faces morphing ever-so-slightly from panel to panel, which is rather distracting. And while the characters’ body language is great, especially Harley’s, what with her exaggerated movements and playful attitude, I do think that at times the sequence of panels is a bit off. To give an example, on page 2 we see Harley crashing to the ground because she got hit by her opponent. In the next panel, still page 2, we see the opponent towering over Harley, raising a giant hammer. In the third panel Harley can only just raise her hammer to block her opponent’s. So far so good. But in the fourth panel, Harley is suddenly standing, and slamming her own hammer to her opponent’s jaw, and at no point do we see how she managed to get up and break away from her opponent. After she gives her hammer a quick little kiss in panel 5, Harley and her opponent are face to face again in panel 6. This series of panels looks rather jumbled to me, even though it started out fine. While in my opinion it’s okay to move around characters a little bit when it’s just a quiet moment, I do think it’s crucial that sequence is maintained in fight scenes. If a fight scene isn’t sequential, it’s easy for it to turn into a montage, where we just see static drawings of superheroes punching each other rather than watching a flowing sequence of choreographed combat.
What’s more, I think Eltaeb does a fine job of coloring the book. He maintains a level of consistency that this book really needs, always applying the appropriate colors to characters, outfits and environments. For example, when Harley’s outfit is established with a certain color scheme, Eltaeb faithfully sticks to this color scheme and doesn’t make any mistakes along the way. Lastly, together the art team is very effective in finding a middle ground between the slapstick, animated vibe of the Harley Quinn series, and the dreadful aesthetics of Apokolips. I feel like this mash-up shouldn’t work, but it does work for this series specifically. If anything, Harley Quinn should probably maintain its wacky, light-hearted, upbeat looks, even when Harley ventures into Darkseid’s domain. This is what gives the book its identity, and although I disagree with a number of creative choices, I do appreciate that this book has, up until this point at least, always kept its identity intact; and, of course, Humphries, as the writer, contributes to this by getting Harley’s established voice exactly right.
You want to see how Harley undermines Granny’s plans
You like silly meta jokes, even when they seem to serve no purpose
Overall: It’s not strictly a bad comic, but it certainly leaves much to be desired in terms of strong characters and a convincing villain. I’m also rather disappointed that the meta component isn’t further expanded on in this issue, especially since I enjoyed it so much last time around. But all things considered, I’m impressed that the creative team keeps the book’s upbeat, crazy identity intact even when going to the darkest, most terrifying place in the DC Universe. As for a recommendation, seeing as this book could still go either way with regards to quality, I suppose you can pick this up if you’re already reading the series. If you’re not already reading it, I advice to wait for the next review before you buy.