Harley Quinn #53 review

Here we are with the latest issue of Harley Quinn. It’s the start of a new arc called “Minor Disasters,” and it looks like this should be fairly new-reader friendly. This issue features a few supporting cast members that were introduced earlier in Sam Humphries’s run, such as Petite Tina, but other than that, the villain is brand new and the conflict is not based on past events. But what do I think of the comic itself? Well, my fellow comic fans, let’s have a look.

This arc is all about social media, vlogging, jealousy and crazy stunts. The basic premise is that Harley has started a daily vlog in which she’s doing all kinds of insane stunts in an attempt to raise enough money to repair the damage she caused with Captain Triumph. To those who came in late, Captain Triumph was one of the main characters in the previous arc (#51-52): a Golden Age superhero who got transported through space and time to the present day DC Universe when Harley accidentally broke DC continuity in #50.

In this issue we see that Harley reaches an incredibly large audience with her vlogs. It’s hard to tell how many people precisely are watching her vlogs, but we see school children, people who are (I think) in their twenties, random citizens in a park, people in a restaurant in Paris and, as if all that isn’t enough, citizens in the streets of a city in Japan. While I think most character interactions, when taken at face value, are fine—Humphries consistently manages to capture the voices of each character pretty much spot-on—I have to admit that I deeply question the story’s premise.

First of all, it’s not clear to me how much time has passed between the events of last issue and this one. Is Harley already such a celebrity that she instantly reaches such a wide audience worldwide? If that is the case then that seems to come out of left field for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Harley enjoying so much fame before. Even throughout the various Harley Quinn runs she’s just been this crazy girl on Coney Island doing all these crazy things. But I’ve not seen any stories where she was getting more and more famous. There has been no build-up to her worldwide celebrity as it’s depicted her. This makes me wonder to what extent writers can just add these ideas to characters just like that. Had there been a story where we see Harley starting the vlog and gaining more and more followers, and—perhaps more importantly—had her audience just consisted of Coney Island folks, all of this would have been a lot easier to swallow. But right now I just think it’s too much. Even Batman doesn’t get recognized in all countries where he shows up, plenty of comics have established that. So why should Harley suddenly be this famous? Does that mean she was already this famous even before she had started her vlog? But how can so many people know who she is without first having seen her vlog? What has Harley done that has made her this famous?

This isn’t my main gripe with the story’s premise, though. In my opinion there is a much bigger problem here. If I accept that Harley is so famous and is able to gain so many followers in such a short amount of time, then I’m still wondering why these people would want to watch her. After all, the only explanation for her fame that I personally can come up with is that people know her as the Joker’s companion. But if that is why she’s famous, then that means that she acquired her celebrity through super-villainy. That, by extension, means that people know that this girl is a psychopath and a murderer (to me there is no such thing as a “former” murderer; once you’ve killed someone you will be a murderer forever, and Harley has killed a lot of people in the past). Taking this into account, it seems really messed up that school children would be watching her videos. Even if she doesn’t commit any crimes in these videos, her origin and her past will always stay with her. Ignoring that origin and her past means that the character is undergoing some fundamental changes. See, if DC wants to give Harley some sort of redemption arc to turn her into more of a hero, then there needs to be an actual arc that shows her transition. Without such an arc, all of this just seems very forced and disingenuous. Harley Quinn is a great character that deserves great character development. This, in my opinion, is not great character development.

Speaking of which, I’m also not too fond of Major Disaster, the villain in this arc. She’s a young woman who is trying to get the attention of her dad, but for some reason is being neglected. She has a device called the disaster dial that can cause accidents to happen to people. When Major Disaster finds out how many views Harley is getting, she figures that if she can humiliate Harley in front of her enormous audience, she will likely get a ton of views herself, and her dad has to notice that. What I dislike about this character is that she just seems like a whiny brat to me. Of course, being neglected by a parent is truly awful. But Major Disaster is written in such a way that she seems incredibly obsessed with getting her father’s attention to a point that it’s not even creepy, but just straight-up annoying. Add to this the fact that the threat that she poses to Harley is shaming her on the internet, and all I can do is sigh. If anything, at least this type of story might teach a younger audience about the dangers of the internet, and how it’s really easy to destroy someone’s life by humiliating them online. But at the same time, and this goes back to my earlier point, I just find it highly questionable that Harley even finds herself in this position to begin with. In any case, Major Disaster just isn’t getting enough character development and therefore I don’t find the villain intimidating in any way; I find it hard to sympathize with her; and I don’t see her ruining Harley’s life either because I already know that Harley will win because Harley always wins in her own book. All these reasons together just make the conflict seem entirely pointless to me.

As for the artwork, brought to us by Lucas Werneck (pencils/inks) and Alex Sinclair (colors), it fits the story’s tone nicely. It’s light-hearted, dynamic and shows a lot of crazy, over-the-top, typical Harley Quinn stunts. I think that the artists do a good job of translating how much fun Harley is having doing all these stunts. She’s smiling and laughing as she’s flying through the sky and blowing things up, and everything about her body language and facial expressions is just so typically Harley. However, to me the inks seem rather thick every now and then, which muddies up some of the panels. At no point does it make it hard to see what’s going on in said panels, but the thick lines do stand out, and as a result I think that the colors don’t blend as well with the inks. This makes the visuals look somewhat flat, as there is no real sense of depth, even though Sinclair obviously has created several layers in his coloring where different hues bleed into each other. All in all, the artwork isn’t the best I’ve seen on the title so far, but it still gets the job done.

Recommended if…

  • You don’t care about Harley’s origin and her past, you just want to see her do crazy stuff
  • You like stories that heavily deal with the dangers of social media

Overall: I hate to say it, but this might just be the weakest issue in Humphries’s run so far. Harley Quinn herself is placed in a position where I don’t really see her end up when I take into account her past with the Joker, and as such the entire arc’s premise falls flat for me. It’s one thing to tell new stories with old characters, but I think such stories shouldn’t contradict those characters’ pasts. Instead, these new stories should build on those pasts. Additionally, Major Disaster, the villain, isn’t scary or intimidating or sympathetic: I just find her annoying. Now, I really wish I could have written a more positive review, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to recommend skipping this one, and I have a bad feeling about the rest of this arc. What happened to Hammer Harleen? What happened to Apokolips? At least that was a scenario that I was really enjoying and a direction for the character that I could get behind because it was fresh and new. But this, in my humble opinion, just isn’t it.

Score: 3/10