Harley has been successfully completing trials for the Lords of Order and Chaos, but that storyline gets interrupted this month because of the “Year of the Villain” event, but more on that later. This issue isn’t particularly great, but there are moments here that are really well-written and well-drawn. And though I had trouble keeping up with the sensory overload last issue, I think that Schmidt is doing a fantastic job this time around. So, let’s jump in and have a look.
I think the main problem with this issue is that it’s all over the place, like the book doesn’t know what it wants to be. For example, the opening scene introduces us to a character called Coney Champion, and he wants to fight Harley, or something. But before we get to know Coney Champion, learn about his motivations and his backstory, Death shows up and brutally kills Coney Champion, just like that. What’s the point? It kind of reads like the comic has a false start, and that’s almost never a good sign. Maybe Coney Champion will make another appearance later, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for now, so it amounts to no more than a waste of panels.
After that weird opening scene, we find Harley and her mother in hospital, and the nurse tells them that the cancer has spread through Harley’s mom’s bones. The shift from Coney Champion’s pointless scene to this one is rather jarring, because the book is extremely campy for a couple pages and then gets very serious right after. However, the hospital scene itself is actually beautifully written and drawn. Harley’s response to learning her mom is nearly dying is a very human and believable response, and the way that her mom comforts her is equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. In fact, almost all the scenes about Harley and her mom are really good (and that’s coming from someone who used to constantly criticize their relationship for not being believable enough). Humphries and Schmidt both capture the emotions and the inevitability of death well in their writing and artwork respectively.
But, as I’m reading the book, it’s never clear to me where this story is going. The one moment Harley is with her mom, the next moment she breaks into a video store after closing hours to distract herself, then she’s sort of kidnapped by cartoon characters and led into a weird psychedelic dimension, and more weird stuff happens, and my head explodes. There’s no clear plot or character arc here. It reads like the one random moment after the other.
That’s not to say that Schmidt is not doing a great job, though. In fact, I really dig his work this month. It mostly has nice lighthearted qualities which help offset the sad themes a little bit, but Schmidt knows how to emphasize sadness, too. For example, the scenes where we see Harley wandering Coney Island by herself, where she’s colored gray while the rest of the world around her is colorful and lively, and the scene where she sits down on the sidewalk and breaks down because her mother is dying, are perhaps the strongest visuals in the issue.
Schmidt also uses various styles, from his standard comic book style to manga-inspired characters and various strange designs of cartoon characters that Harley used to watch as a kid. Whether you think the shifts from grounded, human moments to over-the-top psychedelia are jarring or fun, something could be said for Schmidt’s range, and his ability to craft a book with a lot of aesthetic variety.
Lastly, the “Year of the Villain” tie-in is plain annoying as it comes completely out of nowhere. Toward the end of the comic we see Harley in her mother’s room in the hospital. Her mom’s in a coma. And at this point the creative team drops the ball (although I don’t think we can blame this entirely on the talent; I’m sure editors have something to do with this as well). While their previous hospital scenes were excellent because they were so human and realistic, for some reason they have Harley grab a comic book called Year of the Villain and she starts reading it to her comatose mother. What follows are a few pages of forced jokes that are designed to poke fun at the “Year of the Villain” event. But, if anything, it just makes the event look silly, and it’s obvious to me how this tie-in is shoehorned into this issue. It doesn’t add anything at all to the story nor Harley’s relationship with her mother, and it ruins the emotional tension that the creative team so effectively set up earlier in the issue.
- You are a fan of Otto Schmidt!
- You want to see a more human side to Harley Quinn.
- You are hellbent on collecting every single “Year of the Villain” tie-in.
Overall: I don’t recommend this comic. It’s a narrative mess. It’s all over the place. Yes, the art is really good and the scenes between Harley and her mom are heartfelt, but everything else just doesn’t work for me. And the “Year of the Villain” tie-in is so bad that it kind of ruins the entire reading experience for me. So no. Unless you’re Otto Schmidt’s biggest fan and you cannot stop yourself, please don’t waste your hard-earned money on this book.