With Christmas coming up, a festive story unfolds in the pages of Harley Quinn #55. References to past events are kept to a minimum, so those looking to hop on board the crazy train should be able to enjoy this issue as a one-shot—albeit a one-shot that teases a new arc that’ll kick off in the next issue. But is this comic worth your time and money? Well, my fellow comic fans, let’s have a look.
While I haven’t written the most glowing reviews on previous Harley Quinn comics, I’d like to start by saying that I was entertained by #55. However, this statement should not be taken as me suddenly being on board with what DC Comics is trying to do with Harley—both the character and the series. In fact, many of my complaints still stand. For example, I still find it hard to buy into the notion that Harley and her family are on such good terms, knowing that Harley has murdered people—it’s like there are no consequences to Harley’s past transgressions. And yes, granted, her father and brothers are shown to be pretty crazy themselves, but nowhere near the level of insanity that I’ve seen from Harley. Moreover, their craziness also doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t have a moral compass and are okay with Harley being a murderer. In the case of Harley’s mother, this is even more problematic because she seems to be the most rational out of everyone, constantly acting as a voice of reason for Harley, and talking to Harley as if she is the innocent daughter that didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t like this when I first pointed it out a while ago, and I don’t like it now, and I doubt that I will ever like it (unless someone writes an arc that explains all of this in a convincing way, but don’t ask me how). Yet, despite these complaints, there are things in Harley Quinn #55 that make me laugh, so I just want to talk about those for a moment before I get into criticism that is more specific to this issue.
This is a Christmas special and, at its core, it works as a Christmas story. Let me briefly break it down for you. We see Harley’s family showing up uninvited to Harley’s doorstep. Harley has a reason why she doesn’t want her family around during the holiday and her family has a specific reason why they are visiting her. Both reasons are explained in the comic. The former mostly through visuals—we see her family trying to help Harley with preparations for the Christmas party, but instead they just end up breaking her furniture and setting the Christmas tree on fire, among other things. I enjoy this because I tend to like it when decors, settings, environments, locations, etc, just get torn to pieces over the course of a story. The way that Humphries and Timms handle it here is very silly and campy, and the creators embrace that, so it’s just good fun to see everything going to hell. Harley, of course, explodes with anger, but by the end of the story, in typical Christmas fashion, we see her and her family reconcile and rejoice during a good old festive get-together. The Christmas spirit is alive in the pages of Harley Quinn #55, and that is what makes the book fun for me.
But—and this is a big but—the issue is not without its share of problems. I mentioned that Harley’s family has a reason for visiting Harley out of the blue, giving her no choice but to invite them in. For the sake of argument, I’ll talk openly about this stuff because it sets up the biggest point of critique that I have about this particular issue, so if you don’t want any spoilers, now is the time to look away and read the issue for yourself first. I repeat, for anyone sensitive to spoilers, I’m going to spoil something in my next sentence. The reason that her family is visiting is because her mother has cancer. For me, this came out of nowhere. I was shocked to read it, but not because it is happening to Harley’s mom per say. I personally find cancer a very scary disease and I know people that are fighting it and I even lost my dog to it, so whenever I see it in a story or when it comes up in a conversation, I find it difficult to handle. Because of this, I was wondering how the creative team would follow-up on such a reveal, and unfortunately I don’t think it really works out. First and foremost because the conversation between Harley and her mom is rather underwhelming. Yes, we see Harley crying and trying to come up with crazy plans to save her mother, but in the end it just feels like they are kind of brushing it off as if it’s nothing serious. Secondly, the scene is randomly interrupted by an M. Clatterbuck scene in which Harley brutally murders a doctor who is diagnosing her mom with cancer (for those who don’t know: Clatterbuck is a fictional comic book artist and a recurring character in Humphries’s Harley Quinn run, and this scene shows a page from one of her comics). This scene is so ridiculous that it completely destroys any sense of urgency and completely takes me out of the moment. I mean, I get that it is probably meant to reflect Harley’s anger and frustration, but without any build-up or any kind of smooth transition it just doesn’t work for me; it just comes off as silly. Which leads me to my final point of critique with regards to the plot.
The comic’s tone is incredibly inconsistent. It starts out as a kind of slapstick, funny, action-driven scene where Harley’s entire living room is destroyed. Then it suddenly switches to dark, serious and moody when we learn that Harley’s mom has cancer. In the middle of the conversation about cancer, we get this weird Clatterbuck scene that really does not fit in the narrative because it is just so over-the-top nonsensical. Then by the end of the comic Harley returns home and immediately starts a food fight with her family and friends, which abruptly ends when everyone is seated around the dinner table with food on their plates and smiles on their faces. This book’s main problem is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. A family drama? A slapstick comedy show? A Christmas story? An almost cartoony, over-the-top, hyper-violent slaughterfest? There is no consistency, nor any coherency. Until this is fixed, I personally will hesitate to call this a “good” series. (And by the way, by no means do I intend to say that a comic cannot tell multiple stories at once; it’s just that, in my opinion, this comic isn’t handling it very well.)
Artwork this time is provided by John Timms (pencils/inks) and Alex Sinclair (colors). What I appreciate about the art are the character designs. Especially Harley looks really funny with her oversized Christmas hat, and Timms’ characters all look unique and can easily be recognized based on their looks. Everyone’s facial expressions and body language also match the words that come out of their mouths and the mood that every scene establishes. These expressions all help to give each character an identity of their own and it’s a good example of how the art is very important when it comes to characterization. Another strong point is that, no matter how chaotic things seem to get (whether that’s furniture flying around, people throwing food, someone setting a Christmas tree on fire, etc), the artists have a way of rendering all of the action without me really having to try to decipher what’s going on in the panels. That said, I do think that I’ve seen stronger work from Timms in the past. For example, some proportions of characters are off and his inks seem a little thick and slightly washed out in places.
- You love Christmas specials!
- You don’t mind when stories have a very inconsistent tone
- You like Harley’s mother
- You want to meet Harley’s family
Overall: This comic entertains me, but, like I said, that does not mean that it wows me. There are still too many problems to really call this a “good” comic. But is it a “bad” comic? Well, it’s not that either. I would say it sits somewhere in between. If you just want to sit back and relax with this comic and have a laugh (despite some of the heavier stuff relating to Harley’s mom’s condition), then I think there is plenty here for you to enjoy. But if you can’t help but look at comics with a critical mindset—and especially if you agree with what I said in this review—then this might not really be the comic for you.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.