If I had to use one phrase to describe Old Lady Harley #2, it would be: “strange plot twists.” While an unpredictable narrative sometimes works in a book’s favor, the opposite is possible as well, especially when it seems like a book’s narrative almost completely hinges on these twists. In the case of Old Lady Harley I think that the latter is true. So, let’s have a look. (Note: there are spoilers in this review.)
After traveling to Gotham in #1, Harley and Red Tool encountered a robotic army of Azraels, who took our misfit main characters to the Batcave. Issue #1’s cliffhanger teased that #2 would reveal more information about this future version of Batman, and #2 delivers on that front. We find out exactly what happened to Bruce Wayne and in particular what Bruce did to himself and to Gotham in order to keep the city as safe as possible. But in my opinion it is not something that really helps elevate the plot to a new level. I’ll explain (and again: spoilers).
Nightwing’s death was the drop that let the well run over for Bruce: he finally snapped. So as to no longer put any allies in harm’s way, Bruce decided to hook himself up to the Bat computer. He’s now able to control a vast number of Bat- and Azrael robots that patrol Gotham City. There’s a curfew too. The streets seem to be clean. Before I start criticizing this stuff, I want to point out that I think there are some really cool ideas here. For example, there is a strong element of body horror, what with all the wires and machinery that Bruce has attached himself to in order to maximize his efficiency. I think this approach to the character could work nicely for a dark Elseworlds type of story. While I might not particularly be interested in such a story, I can see the potential. However, in this issue it only seems to be here for shock value.
See, what I want to know is why Harley and Red Tool are brought to the Batcave? As it stands, it seems like the only reason they are brought there is so the creative team could reveal Bruce in this horrific state and shock readers. While it makes perfect sense for the Azrael robots to take Harley and Red Tool into custody, I wonder why they weren’t taken to Arkham straight away. One might argue that perhaps Bruce feels the need to bring them to the cave because Harley and Nightwing were married at one point in time, and seeing as Bruce went insane because of Nightwing’s death, I guess that this could be an explanation. However, seeing as Bruce hooked himself up to the computer—and thereby sacrificing his humanity—to be more efficient, I don’t see the logic behind taking Harley and Red Tool to the cave just to reveal himself and tell his story, because what is the point in doing that? Maybe Bruce’s last bit of humanity is driving him to do this, but if that’s the case then this theme needs to be more developed to make that work. Right now all the focus is on the horror elements and the back story itself, but not exactly on character development. In short, it really feels like we gloss over these events before moving on to Arkham—and yet the Batcave scene takes up quite a few pages.
My final point about this scene is that, toward the end, Bruce gives Harley and Red Tool a ride to Arkham so they can ask Catwoman about Joker. It is only here that we get some plot development. But I don’t see the relation between Batman’s story and this plot development. I think what I’m missing is more of an emotional connection, at least from Harley to Bruce. While Harley does state that she was devastated herself when Nightwing died, and she even emphasizes that Nightwing was Batman’s son, I think the scene as a whole goes by so fast that it ends up being rather superficial instead of heart-wrenching or truly shocking.
Furthermore, while I do like some of the ideas in the Batcave scene, I have to admit that the book fell apart for me when Harley and Red Tool arrived in Arkham. The entire Arkham scene just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would Batman be this horrific cybernetic monster and the streets of Gotham be desolate and eerie, and Arkham is this happy old people’s home? Why are literally all of the villains just smiling old folks playing board games, watching television and just chilling all around? This scene completely contradicts Batman’s scene and makes it rather hard to believe that Bruce really had to go through all that trouble to keep Gotham safe. If his villains really were so evil and dangerous, would they really end up like these happy old folks just enjoying their free time in Arkham’s cafeteria? You’d think Bruce would have modified Arkham as well, turning it into an even darker and more twisted version of the Arkham that we see in main continuity. Seriously, I would have appreciated some consistency in tone, but unfortunately that’s just not a thing here.
Artwork is once more crafted by Inaki Miranda (pencils/inks) and Eva de la Cruz (colors). I think the artists are doing a fine job. For example, Bruce really looks scary and unhinged, which helps to show just how insane the man really is. The artists truly are embracing the body horror elements and set a very dark tone for the issue. And while it’s weird that the story takes such a sudden change in tone once we enter Arkham, it does show the range of the art team: they are capable of handling both horror and comedy. I’m also a big fan of the use of color in the flashback scenes about the Joker. The artists render a Joker that looks truly evil and menacing, and I love that while the images are mostly rendered in gray tones, the artists have chosen to preserve purple colors. Joker’s suit and his Joker Gas jump out, which helps to make these panels look more aggressive and apprehensive. With only these purple colors remaining, it’s like the colors of life are fading and all that remains is Joker himself—a true psychopath and villain that appears to be unstoppable.
- You are into body horror and cyberpunk
- You liked Old Lady Harley #1
Overall: Unfortunately, I’m not too fond of this issue. There are some great ideas here and the artwork is really solid, but the jokes are still as forced as they were in #1 and I just don’t think they are funny. For example, I’m getting tired of Red Tool constantly repeating how many spouses Harley has had. Lastly, the story takes a long time to go anywhere, and right now, it’s still not going anywhere. Maybe this will pick up with #3, but with this only getting 5 issues in total I’m skeptical. As such, I can’t really recommend this issue.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.