The Trials of Harley Quinn continues in this month’s installment. It’s Harley’s third trial, and it involves creepy monsters, laser weaponry, hallucinations, a trippy encounter with something from outer space, and really good sequential art. If you ask me, all of this sounds awesome and it should make for a fun issue. But it’s not a secret that, in my opinion, this series has been suffering from some problems along the way—for example, I’m still not entirely sure why the Lords of Chaos and Order have chosen Harley as the one to attempt the trials. So, what about this issue in particular? Is it good? Is it bad? Or anywhere in between? Let’s have a look.
I’m going to start with the thing in this comic that I enjoy the most, and that is the artwork. As I’ve said before, Sami Basri’s art isn’t entirely my cup of tea because it’s a little bit too polished for me. Sinclair’s colors on top of it make it all look very glossy, too, which I suppose works for a book like Harley Quinn, but it’s not what I typically look for when I’m checking out comics in my LCS. However, I must say that the art style is definitely growing on me. I’ve been praising Basri’s sequential art for a while now, and, honestly, the art in this issue is very solid if you look at it from a technical viewpoint. Here’s why.
First of all, the comic opens with a close-up on Harley’s face. Her eyes are wide open and focused, sweat’s dripping from her forehead, her hair is messy, and there are some scratches on her face as well. This one panel instantly sets the tone for the entire issue by capturing Harley’s emotional state in the moment: she’s terrified of something, but we cannot see of what just yet. The close-up also invokes claustrophobia, which is further enhanced by the pitch-black background. The art matches the narration in the panel: “I was trapped. And alone.” In prose fiction we often look for an opening sentence that in some way foreshadows the entire story, and I think that this panel is the equivalent of such a sentence. It’s a great way to open a comic.
Then there are the fight scenes, which are nicely sequential. Basri clearly has put a lot of thought into the compositions. For example, let’s look at pages 5-7. On page 5, Basri has put Harley in the center of the panel and monsters are coming at her from both sides. Harley has raised her guns and has started firing at them. In the next panel, we still see Harley in the center, but she has moved her arms to shoot at monsters that are coming from different angles. Then in the third panel of page 5, one of the monsters she has shot explodes, and Harley has started running, firing her other gun at monsters that are currently off-panel.
Turning to page 6, we see Harley running, for lack of a better word, at the camera, while shooting behind her. And the next panels show her turning a full 360 degrees to shoot at her enemies, which is carried on through to page 7. During this sequence, we see Harley’s face turning from focused to full-blown panic and, simultaneously, the panels get filled up by more and more monsters that are chasing after her. The angle in page 7 doesn’t really change, but over the course of the sequence we see her breaking into a sprint, then moving through a door, and finally slamming the door behind her to escape from the monsters. By following along, we see that every panel on these pages effectively sets up the next panel, and so on, to a point that it’s almost like we’re looking at an animation rather than unmoving images on a page. This, fellow comics fans, is how you create sequential art. This is why I love comics so much, because it’s the only genre that’s capable of this kind of story-telling.
Besides that, there are also psychedelic images where Sinclair’s colors truly shine. The colors give these pages cosmic qualities. The outlines of Harley’s face are white and a vision of the universe fills the background as well as her face, which shows to us not only how Harley’s consciousness is expanded, but it also directly shows to us what happens when a human comes into contact with an interdimensional entity. Now, I’m not going to lie, this is the best art I’ve seen from the team of Basri and Sinclair so far, and it makes me curious about their other work. Hopefully the team returns to Harley Quinn again, because all of this just works, all right.
Moving on, I quite enjoyed the writing this month as well; however, there certainly still are moments that I dislike. First of all, if you’re hoping to find out in this issue why the Lords of Chaos and Order have chosen Harley, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. No answers to that question are provided here, and so this arc’s premise continues to be somewhat problematic. As I’ve explained before, I can see Harley as an agent of chaos because everything around her always falls into chaos. What I don’t see, though, is how she could be an agent of order. She’s always getting into mischief, breaking rules and laws, turning the world upside-down. I mean, for the most part this arc has been fun, but logic is still lacking here. I hope that Humphries has an answer to this, and that he will reveal it soon, because in my opinion this arc needs it to be a success.
I also dislike some of the jokes. Maybe there are readers out there who do enjoy these types of jokes, but they aren’t for me. For example, the creative team decides to have a flashback inside a flashback. While this is all well and good and I’m not against this, I dislike that the caption says: “Yes, a flashback in a flashback! Very artsy, we know!” Of course, in isolation, this is just a minor thing that’s easy to overlook. But I find that there are more jokes like this throughout Humphries’ run. To me these jokes feel forced, because it’s obvious to me that they are supposed to make me laugh, except I just don’t think they are funny, and therefore it doesn’t add anything to the comic for me. As such, it only serves to clutter up the narrative.
That said, there are also hilarious moments that have me laughing out loud. For example, there’s a panel where we see Harley standing on top of a mountain of dead monsters, and she’s firing her guns at still living monsters that are attacking her, and she ends up screaming: “I’m an American death machine! RAAAAAGH!” This sentence on its own might seem very random, but the dialogue sets up this punchline well as each new line is more and more intense, adding fuel to the fire, until the punchline drops and captures the situation really well. It also reflects Basri’s illustration, or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any case, it’s a good example of how text and art work together to, in this case, create a witty visual as well as verbal joke.
Furthermore, I like how Harley is written here. She is greatly outnumbered but she keeps going. Before her American death machine moment, we see her terrified and freaking out, almost ready to give up, and yet she pushes on. This gives us reason to root for her and to keep following her to the final page. The mix of fear, anger, determination and madness fuels a good reading experience.
As a final comment on the writing, I think that the ending is too deus ex machina. Harley has to operate a console but she’s not sure what buttons to push, but the console itself basically tells her what to do, and when Harley presses a single button all the problems in this issue are resolved just like that. In my opinion this is just too easy. After so much conflict, hazardous situations, scary monsters and a psychedelic/cosmic encounter, Harley is told what to do rather than figuring it out herself, and that’s that. While this is not a complete deal-breaker for me, because I certainly had fun with this issue, I do think that this is a missed opportunity as well as a bit of a lazy way to conclude the story.
- You want some excellent sequential art in your collection.
- You like cosmic/psychedelic visuals.
- You’re into action-packed, fast-paced comics with a touch of science fiction.
Overall: There’s great artwork in this issue and, even though not all of the jokes work for me, the ones that do are witty and on point. This issue is also filled with action scenes, monsters, aliens, laser guns and hallucinations, all of which makes for an entertaining issue. While it certainly helps to know what happened previously in the Trials of Harley Quinn arc, I think that there’s enough here to enjoy even for those who came in late.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.