Welcome back to the Harley Quinn show everybody. In this month’s episode Harley is still undergoing the trials to become the Angel of Retribution for the Lords of Chaos and Order. In the past I’ve critiqued this book for making a hero out of the super-villain that is Harley Quinn without giving her some kind of redemption arc. I think that suddenly shifting a character’s alignment from bad to good without any kind of transition is just lazy writing. Yet the current arc, The Trials of Harley Quinn, seems to be filling this gap. Last time we saw Harley working with none other than Batman himself to solve a murder and clear her name, and by doing so she passed the first trial. In this issue Harley has to pass the second trial. But what is this second trial and how is she going to manage it? And, more importantly, how good is this comic? Well, fellow comic fans, let’s have a look.
This issue’s premise is taken straight out of Franz Kafka’s brilliantly weird short story “The Metamorphosis,” in which Gregor Samsa, the main character, wakes up and finds himself trapped inside the body of a big, monstrous insect. Not only does Harley share the same fate as Gregor, but this issue also shares the same title as Kafka’s story (which I highly recommend, by the way). However, where Kafka’s work embraces body horror and gets really dark, really fast, Harley Quinn quickly goes off into the opposite direction, and I think that’s where this issue’s true strength lies. The creative team has embedded a positive message at the core of this story, articulated fairly well by supporting cast member Petite Tina. She tells Harley that “every day on earth, there are those who make me feel like a monstrosity. Even if they don’t say it…I can feel it. But you push me to rise above that. If I can do it, then so can you! I’m with you.”
Not only is Petite Tina—and by extension the creative team—saying that if you’re struggling with something you have to face that problem and fight to overcome it, but they are simultaneously emphasizing the importance of friendship and support. Another thing related to this that I appreciate is how Sami Basri renders Harley’s body language while she’s in her insect form. The way she tries to hide her face and is hunched over illustrates how scared she is, and for once I’m feeling sympathetic to Harley rather than annoyed with her (because, in all honesty, she can really work on my nerves sometimes).
However, not all aspects of the story really work for me. For example, I think that Harley resolves her problem rather fast and easily. While the creative team convinces me that she’s truly scared while in her insect form, the way in which she faces her problem in the end happens so fast that it becomes anticlimactic after having spent a significant amount of time building toward the final confrontation.
Furthermore, how does this series of trials work exactly? The problems that Harley has run into during the first trial (in issues #57 and #58) were caused by Lord Death Man. Similarly, the problems that Harley runs into in #59 are caused by an opposing force that she has encountered earlier in Humphries’s run. This makes me wonder how these villains are connected to the trials, if at all? Do they work for the Lords of Chaos and Order? Are they part of the trials without even knowing that they are? There is no answer to this question yet and if no answer will be given at all then I’d consider that a plot hole. Of course, to be fair, maybe the answer will be revealed further down the line, so I’m taking that possibility into account. But nevertheless it’s something that I’m watching out for.
Another thing that I’m unsure about is why exactly the Lords of Chaos and Order chose Harley? I’ve had this question since the start of this arc, and so far the only answer that I’ve been able to find is that according to the Lords, Harley embodies both chaos and order. But I have two problems with this explanation. First, surely there are other characters in the DCU that embody chaos and order, so why have the Lords specifically chosen Harley? Merely stating that Harley embodies both chaos and order isn’t a good explanation: it just raises more questions. Second, I totally agree that Harley embodies chaos, because she’s always out to cause mischief, but order? To be honest, if I think about Harley, “order” is the last thing I’ll think of to describe her. So, in other words, I disagree with the Lords of Chaos and Order, and therefore the premise of this arc is somewhat iffy to me. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t work at all. Perhaps the point is that Harley will learn to balance both chaos and order over the course of the arc. But even so, the way that the creative team establishes the premise of this arc just seems incomplete to me, and as a result I’m not entirely sure what the team is going for.
Moving on to the artwork, Sami Basri does a fine job of drawing this story. He’s been featured as artist on Harley Quinn before on the two-part Triumph arc (issues #51 and #52), and seeing as a few characters that previously appeared in those issues show up here in #59 again, it makes perfect sense that Basri returns to do art for this issue. While Basri’s style isn’t particularly the style that I look for when I pick up new comics, I do appreciate the quality of his work. Basri’s characters always look animated and alive. The facial expressions are always on point and match Humphries’s script well; the characters’ anatomy is always in proportions; and the artwork overall just looks really polished and shiny. What’s more, his layouts always look dynamic and clearly Basri has an eye for sequential story-telling. The panels follow one another logically, no characters are misplaced, and he sets up his panels in such a way that there’s a smooth build-up to a full splash page. His art is light-hearted, consistent and energetic. And this is why I think that Basri is a great fit for Harley Quinn and I wouldn’t mind seeing him back on art duties more regularly.
- You like Petite Tina, who plays an important part in this issue
- You want to see how Harley deals with her current predicament: having transformed into a giant bug
- You are a fan of Sami Basri’s work
Overall: I’ve enjoyed this issue quite a bit. Of course there are things here that I critique, but on the whole I appreciate that this issue spreads a positive message and that the artwork is of good quality. I just wish that more information about the Lords of Chaos and Order was revealed and that we’re given a better reason as to why Harley has been chosen by the Lords instead of someone else. Because we’re missing this information, the entire premise of this arc can be questioned, and that’s never a good sign. That said, we’ll just have to wait and see how the creative team is going to further develop this story, because these answers might still be revealed in the future. I just hope that by then it’s not too late.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.