Harley Quinn #56 review

All right fellow comic book fans, it’s Harley Quinn time again. This issue is a one-shot that is very new-reader friendly in that it doesn’t go out of its way to reference past events. The issue features some characters that appeared previously, but new readers don’t necessarily need to know anything about them to understand what’s going on. Furthermore, this issue is brought to us by the guest creative team of Mark Russell and Mirka Andolfo, and the story is very different in style and tone from Sam Humphries’s issues. So how is this issue in terms of quality? Good, bad or somewhere in between? Well, everyone, let’s get this intro over with and have a look.

This issue is weird. And I know that sounds like something that should be obvious, because Harley is arguably one of the wackiest characters in the DC Universe. But still. This issue is weird. That’s not to say that it’s bad or anything, but when all was said and done I did find myself asking: What exactly did I just read? You see, the issue opens with a strange scenario and as the story goes on it escalates pretty quickly.

The premise is that there’s an elderly man called Ferrell Katz who has an entire legion of cats running around his apartment. As far as I can tell, this guy actually rents a room in Harley’s Coney Island building (although I may have read that wrong—it seems a little bit vague to me), and since Harley is allergic to cats she wants Katz to get rid of his pets (sorry for all the ridiculous and unnecessary rhyme, by the way). Anyhow, Katz begins to tell Harley how he got all those cats and ultimately Harley convinces him to just keep one and she decides to try and find new homes for the others.

Now, I don’t really see Harley doing these things, because I still see her as a murderous villain. However, if I just accept the story for what it is, a narrative emerges that at times makes me laugh. It has to be noted, though, that I didn’t find every aspect of this story as enjoyable, because in my opinion the entire narrative hinges on political jokes. I simply don’t find all these jokes funny, although, like I said, there are a few entertaining ones in here.

As far as character development goes, this issue is lacking it. The characters read rather flat to me. Yes, they say things that these characters would say, so you can consider them all to be in-character within the established context of the Harley Quinn ongoing, and their voices are consistent enough to tell them apart. But we don’t really see Harley learning invaluable lessons that change her as a person. We don’t really see other characters going through character development either. This, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But reading this issue, I do miss it, and suddenly I realize that Humphries has actually been doing a pretty good job at that (something I’ll try to pay more attention to when he returns to scripting duties). Anyway, without such character work, all that we’re left with are jokes and action scenes and it just makes for a somewhat simple and possibly forgettable story. I honestly don’t think you would miss much if you decided to skip this one.

But there are definitely things in this issue that amused me. For example, there is a scene where three guys in masks surround Harley as she’s trying to give away those cats for free. These guys apparently are associated with a pet store that exclusively sells ferrets. One of the guys tells her, “You’re in ferret-town, honey!” as if he is a gangster and Harley has stepped on their turf. But Harley, someone who actually ran with the Joker for a while and did a lot of villainous things, isn’t at all impressed by these goons. She even recognizes them through their masks and in the end they just run away in fear like little boys. What I think is so funny about this scene is that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense if Russell had written these goons as tough gangsters that are able to fight and kill and maim. They work for a pet store, and they are just ordinary dudes, except they wear masks. The scene works precisely because these guys aren’t fighters, and the way that Russell and Andolfo execute the idea makes for a hilarious passage.

That said, as the story continues to escalate and we start seeing entire mobs that literally come out of nowhere to protest ethics in the pet industry, I think the story begins to crumble under its own weight. It never completely collapses, but in my opinion the story becomes so nonsensical that any sense of plot or character is washed away by a tsunami of visual and verbal jokes. I even think that it reaches a point where Harley could be swapped out for any other original character or perhaps even established DC characters suitable to this type of narrative, and as such I can’t say that this is a typically Harley Quinn story. But in the end it’s also a matter of personal taste. If you like this kind of weird storytelling that hinges on over-the-top jokes—and, more importantly, if this matches your sense of humor—then you might have a good time reading this. To me, on the other hand, many of the events in this story seem random and sometimes pointless. I mean, I see the political satire, of course, but if it turns out to be all about the satire and not really about the character or the story I personally just get bored easily.

Moving on to the artwork, Mirka Andolfo is a good artist. While her art isn’t typically the kind of stuff that I’m into, I still really appreciate her storytelling capabilities and the consistency in her character designs. Andolfo crafts a sequential comic strip and I feel that her art matches the tone of Russell’s writing very well. Her art style is light-hearted, upbeat and full of energy: from Harley’s quizzical and enthusiastic facial expressions to the angry looks of the protesters, and from wild action scenes to a more down-to-earth epilogue on the final page. I also appreciate how she builds up the action visually. As the story continues, she keeps amplifying the wildness in her visuals so that, for better or worse, I’m truly left with a feeling of: Wow, that escalated quickly.

Recommended if…

  • You like political satire
  • You love crazy, over-the-top action
  • You don’t mind if the entire story hinges on jokes as long as they make you laugh
  • You are a cat-person

Overall: This story is not for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Both Russell and Andolfo are good at what they do, and so this comic is up to professional standards for sure. That said, I am missing character development and in the end this didn’t really feel like a story to me, but just a sequence of weird jokes that don’t always land with me because it’s not always my kind of humor. Still, if you are into this stuff, you might actually enjoy it. Do I recommend this, though? To be honest, if I wasn’t reviewing it, I probably wouldn’t be reading it, so if it was up to me I’d look for other comics on stands this week that have more to offer on a story and character level.

Score: 6/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.