Harley Quinn #50 review

All right, here we are, Harley Quinn #50! As it says on the cover, it’s an “extra-sized anniversary issue.” Joining Sam Humphries and John Timms, we have 14 artists and 6 colorists. I have to say that I’m always on the fence when it comes to these kinds of issues where a lot of people provide their artwork. On the one hand I love the idea of this big jam session where everyone’s just having fun contributing their own unique piece to a story. On the other hand, having many different art styles in the same book can cause a lot of inconsistency that’s sometimes detrimental to the book’s overall quality. I think this is where Harley Quinn #50’s greatest challenge lies; do these different sequences, illustrated by different talent, connect and line up well? Or do we have a hot mess on our hands? Let’s have a look.

Before I’ll get into the art, I just want to spend a moment talking about the writing. The reason why my commentary on the writing will be somewhat less in-depth than usual is because I really don’t have that much to say about it. While there are a lot of crazy, over-the-top ideas in here, the story still plays out very straight-forward.

The basic premise is that Harley and her mom are enjoying a day at the beach and start reading a comic book that Harley has with her. This comic is created by the fictional artist M. Clatterbuck. And this is where a really cool idea comes into play that propels Harley into a wild, cosmic journey for the rest of the issue: Harley and her mom flip through the comic and reach a point where they actually read about themselves reading that very same comic, in real time. I, for one, love this. Not because it’s super deep or totally meta and therefore awesome, because I don’t think it’s either. I love it simply because I think it’s a good joke and I enjoy reading it, and the art has psychedelic qualities that just look really cool. So, having the adventure start with something that I think is so much fun is a good sign. Except that the writing, beyond this point, doesn’t have much to offer to me. You see, the basic structure of the story is this: because Harley read that comic, DC continuity is in jeopardy and her mom is “retconned.” In order to set things right, the continuity cop known as Jonni DC comes to Harley’s aid. What follows is that the two of them jump from DC world to DC world, witnessing how messed up continuity has become across the multiverse over and over again, as they continue to search for a way to bring back Harley’s mom. Unfortunately, there is not much logical as to why they are going where they are going; it really seems like they are running around in random directions.

So here’s the thing, the writing from here on out almost exclusively consists of jokes until we get to the final pages. I personally don’t care for most of the jokes, sometimes because it’s just not my type of humor and sometimes because I genuinely think it’s a bad joke. Seeing as humor is very subjective, I’m not going to hold the fact that there are jokes that I dislike against the book. What I do hold against the book, however, is that the writing almost solely consists of these jokes and doesn’t give me much else to read. Certainly there are also moments where Jonni DC reminds Harley that continuity is at stake, but at no point do I feel that that’s indeed the case. To me, this story lacks suspense, and the heart-warming scene at the end is lost on me because I just find it hard to relate to Harley’s relationship with her mother. That’s because I fail to understand how her mother could be so sweet to her even though Harley has killed her fair share of people. These things just don’t add up for me, not to mention the fact that there’s never any conflict between Harley and the supporting cast. They’re always so nice to each other that it becomes almost scary.

As for the artwork, it’s very much a hit or miss kind of deal for me. An artist that has, in my mind, become more or less synonymous with Harley Quinn comics is of course John Timms. While his art isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, I do really appreciate how incredibly consistent this guy’s output is. He clearly has developed a strong, unique style that in large part gives Harley Quinn its identity. The artwork has an animated kind of vibe to it, and works well for light-hearted stories such as this one. It’s full of energy and Timms doesn’t shy away from adding in little details. Especially the two page spread at the beginning of the book is a sight to behold: we see the beach of Coney Island, and Timms has managed to draw countless of unique-looking characters in the background. Especially the scene where Harley and her mom get separated when they read the comic is rendered well. For example, Harley’s skin turns pink and her hair becomes green to show the distortion of reality. The layout of the page also makes for a dizzying feeling, which helps to convey Harley’s own confusion at what’s happening. So, in short, while I’m not personally into Timms’ style, I do think that he’s a perfect match for this book and he delivers strong opening pages that’ll likely draw you into the story.

However, the artists that follow after don’t always mesh well with Timms’ work, which, because it is the first artwork featured, sets the tone for the entire comic. For example, the second artist on the book is Wilce Portacio, and while Portacio is definitely a good artist in his own right, I think his style completely clashes with Timms’, which makes for an awkward transition. His work is certainly dynamic, what with characters leaping across the page and bullets cutting through the air, but it also has a very gritty look to it, as opposed to Timms’ animated illustrations. But before we even have time to get used to the sudden switch in styles, the comic does yet another 180:

Agnes Garbowska draws a Clatterbuck interlude, which is closer to Timms’ work, but which does not at all match Portacio’s. Garbowska’s work is what I would expect to see in a comic aimed at young kids, or at least teenagers, especially because it’s depicting a high school setting. But after two pages of Garbowska’s work, we are plunged into McCrea’s explosive pirate madness.

McCrea is an artist that I’ve always liked very much, and I quite enjoy his work in this comic. He draws mighty ships at sea, and we see cannon balls and flames and pirate versions of Batman and Superman engaging in swordplay. In fact, when I got to these pages, I thought to myself that this would be a comic that I would want to read. But before I could get a better look at it, I was flung across the cosmos to the next artist in the lineup.

Kelley Jones is the first artist whose pages I really wasn’t feeling. Not necessarily because the work was bad—it has some nice horror qualities to it that I appreciate, such as heavy blacks for shadows and some grotesque monsters lurking in the background. But the dialogue and the illustrations together create a scene that, in my opinion, completely interrupts the flow of the story. We were speeding through the pages, and suddenly we are slowed down by a scene that feels like it’s trying to introduce a subplot, but which never truly gets off the ground due to the fact that each artist only has two pages at their disposal. For these reasons, this section of the book felt more pointless than the previous ones.

Next up is Jon Davis-Hunt, who draws a super fast, super violent Adam Strange sequence in which Adam gets transported across the multiverse to fight in a bloody war for a second before getting blasted back home. I have no idea what the point of this scene is, but the art looks great. It’s very dynamic, and the way that Davis-Hunt rendered Adam Strange’s super fast transportation across the multiverse is nicely done. Essentially, we see a lightning bolt shooting out from Earth in a panel on the left page. Then a panel in the middle depicts Adam Strange’s fight against random aliens. The panel on the right page shows a bolt zapping back to Earth. To be honest, I think these two pages would’ve worked as a very short gag strip, and I was genuinely entertained by them. Except, again, I’m not sure what they contribute to the overall plot other than, like all other pages, showing that the multiverse is broken.

Likewise, Brett Booth’s sequence seems just as pointless. But it looks like he had fun drawing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as dinosaurs that are fighting each other. Booth has always been an artist who excels at dynamic story telling, and if I’m perfectly honest, I am missing those qualities here a little bit. Yes, the dinosaurs go toe to toe here, but most of the fighting happens in smaller panels at the bottom of the pages in the background, and so we only see snapshots of the fight instead of an all-out monster brawl. I think this is a missed opportunity and wish Booth would have had some more room to further develop the scene.

Scott Kolins draws a game show called Flash Facts, hosted by Creeper. I think that Creeper looks good; he spits while he speaks into the mic, his eyes have a maniacal glitter in them and his body language is intimidating and unpleasant. However, with one huge panel across both pages that Kolins has at his disposal, and only four panels beneath this larger one, there really isn’t much to see here. There are various characters, including Black Adam and Orion, sitting there as participants in the Flash Facts show, and aside from two alien ships, that’s really all that we see.

Then Dan Jurgens joins the crew and draws a Death and Return of Superman version of Harley Quinn. In these two pages we see a theme park version of Metropolis, which goes along well with the jester entity that’s a part of Harley’s character. It also looks like Jurgens is trying to emulate that 90s Superman art style, which is a fun change of pace in a book of so many artists. However, at the same time I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. We know there’s a battle going on in this realm, but that’s only depicted in a single panel, and with such a tiny glimpse of what’s going on here I think these pages fail to leave a strong impression on me.

My favorite pages in the entire comic are the ones drawn by Guillem March. Not only is the color work and inking smoothly integrated with the pencils, making this look like a solid piece of art, I also like that March’s pages embrace the sequential nature of comics the most out of every artist in this book (besides Timms). I also think that this scene matches the rest of the comic a little bit better in tone, because the main character here is Lobo, who matches Harley’s insanity. This is also a section where the jokes really landed with me, so I consider this one a success.

Mirka Andolfo’s pages, on the other hand, are not up to par in my opinion. Sure, Andolfo is consistent and appears to have a good idea of what Harley should look like, but after such gorgeous work by March it’s hard to adjust to Andolfo’s completely different style. Where March is more realistic, Andolfo’s work is more cartoony. The odd thing to notice here, however, is that I do think Andolfo’s work is slightly better suited to a book like Harley Quinn, and it does go along well with Timms’ work. I think if Andolfo’s pages had been closer to Timms’ pages, the transition would’ve worked out a lot better.

At least the transition to Babs Tarr is fine, because her style is relatively close to Andolfo’s in the sense that it’s also more light-hearted and animated. Tarr’s work is also very expressive, with characters whose faces clearly depict the emotions that they are feeling. However, Tarr’s second page has left me disappointed. I just think it’s a bit of a shame to have a guest artist, who’s limited to only two pages, draw a page that’s almost entirely a fade-out, meant as a transition to the next artist. Because of this, I find it hard to judge Tarr’s work here; I just am not seeing enough of it to really form a strong opinion about it.

Next, we have Tom Grummett, who’s going for a more traditional, cosmic sequence where many multiversal characters unite as the Justice League Multiverse. While there are many characters flying around, fighting a giant enemy, I’m not too impressed. The background is just space, so it’s empty, and all the characters have typical superhero poses that I’ve seen over and over again. I get what Grummett is going for: drawing an epic battle of the ages. But since this, again, lasts for only two pages, the idea of an enormous epic fight just doesn’t work out for me.

Finally, the book comes full circle with John Timms drawing the closing pages, which is a nice touch because at least it maintains a little bit of consistency that would have been lost if Timms had only drawn the beginning.

Recommended if…

  • You like seeing many different artists in the same book
  • You don’t mind if there’s almost no story, you enjoy a series of odd sketches just as well
  • You have been enjoying Humphries’ writing style on this title

Overall: This is a weird comic. I don’t think it works because all it is, really, is Harley jumping from world to world in search of her mom. Each time we see two pages drawn by a guest artist, and we see some weirdness going on in the background, and we see Harley and Jonni DC either reiterating that the universe is in danger, or they are just cracking jokes that you may or may not enjoy. Ultimately, I don’t think this really is a story. It’s just a series of strange scenes that play out like a self-repeating formula, and that’s really it. Artwise, some of it is fantastic, some of it is good, and some of it is bad. In the end, it’s a mixed bag.

Score: 5/10