Harley has been completing a series of trials for the Lords of Chaos and Order to become their Angel of Retribution. After completing the third trial, she decides to go to Gotham with her buddy Tina to visit Catwoman. The story opens with the three of them hanging out in Catwoman’s apartment, playing a tabletop role-playing game that resembles Dungeons & Dragons. Since the start of the Trials of Harley Quinn arc I have been looking for a reason why the Lords of Chaos and Order have chosen Harley to run their trials, and there’s no answer in this issue either. While this remains problematic for me, because the premise of this entire arc is now vague and unclear, I’ve decided to focus on other elements in this comic instead. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at Harley Quinn #61!

With this issue, artist Otto Schmidt joins Sam Humphries to tell a weird story. I’ve enjoyed Schmidt’s work on Green Arrow and other titles, and I certainly enjoy it here, although I feel like sometimes characters’ faces look slightly off. For example, there are panels where Selina or Harley’s mouth looks too big, and then there are panels where their noses seem a tad too small. But all things considered, these are just minor complaints that I have about the artwork. In fact, I really dig Schmidt’s playful and colorful fantasy visuals, from the swirly psychedelic mishmash that transports Harley from Selina’s apartment to the fantasy realm, to the dark dungeons, the foreboding castles and the creative medieval renditions of familiar faces such as Knightwing, Harvey the Bullock and, of course, Queen Selina herself.

Schmidt’s art is also very dynamic. His layouts and panels are set up in such a way that he’s able to convey a lot of information clearly and efficiently, and he keeps me entertained throughout with his diverse aesthetics and illustrations. The way his characters move makes them seem lifelike and his colors pop, and it looks like Schmidt had fun drawing this issue because it’s so full of energy.

The writing, however, is hit or miss. Harley being transported to this fantasy realm certainly intrigues me, especially because the real Tina and Selina, in Selina’s Gotham apartment, don’t seem to experience the same as Harley and even call for Harley to stop being so dramatic when she gets transported. It makes me wonder if this is all just in Harley’s head and she’s in reality just lying passed out on Selina’s floor, or if she’s actually physically transported to another place. Especially because other characters, in particular the main villain, in the fantasy part of the story make it sound like the real world has been transformed into this fantasy version. Either way, Harley ending up in a strait-jacket in the dungeons of Arkham Tower and screaming at a medieval version of Hugo Strange that she’s not crazy brings that question to the forefront, and thus frames the rest of the story. What follows is a wild adventure through the Kingdom of Gotham, and Harley gets tangled up in a quest to save Queen Selina from the evil Sorceress. Speaking of whom, I like how Humphries writes her as this truly evil antagonist who wants to stop Harley at all costs because Harley—for some reason—is the only one that’s immune to her world-altering magic. I also like that Humphries pretty much immediately reveals who Sorceress really is rather than awkwardly beating around the bush, because I’m sure that most of us are able to guess from the colors of her outfit, the way she speaks and even the colors/font of her speech balloons. A complaint that I have about Sorceress, though, is that right now she comes off as one-dimensional: she is the typical villain that wants to rule the world. This in and of itself is nothing new, and therefore also not terribly exciting.

Moreover, where the writing really misses for me, is that none of the medieval versions of familiar characters actually sound or behave like the real characters. While Humphries certainly writes fun dialogue throughout, the only reason we recognize Knightwing as Nightwing, for example, is because his armor resembles Dick’s costume and his medieval name is similar to Dick’s codename. And though the medieval-esque speech patterns match the overall aesthetic of the comic, the downside of this is that we could replace Knightwing for any other character, have him say the same things, and it wouldn’t make a difference for the story. What I’m trying to say is that I would’ve liked to see these characters speak more like their real selves so that, aside from their armors, we could recognize their real selves in them, rather than these lookalikes. Because what’s the point in including characters like Knightwing, Harvey the Bullock and Lord Evard, Maester of Riddles, if they seem like entirely different characters? By that point we might as well just create original characters for this story.

Recommended if…

  • You are into Dungeons & Dragons!
  • You love fantasy comics!
  • You want to see a fantasy version of Gotham City!

Overall: I had fun reading this comic for the most part, but not only does this issue not connect to the overarching Trials of Harley Quinn arc, most of the characters here also appear somewhat artificial in the sense that they don’t sound nor act like themselves, which makes me wonder why the creative team didn’t just create original characters instead. (Of course I understand DC probably wants them to use established characters, but if they don’t act like said characters at all, you have got to wonder what’s the point?) That said, the art is energetic, colorful and imaginative and I like the departure from the usual Harley Quinn fare. This comic won’t change anyone’s life, but I recommend it if you’re looking for a few minutes of entertainment after a busy day.

Score: 6.5/10