Those who’ve been reading my Harley Quinn reviews know that I’ve been rather critical of the book. It’s not a secret that I dislike various elements of the book. The main elements that I’ve disliked are the, in my eyes, unnecessary fourth wall breaking and the character’s jarring, sudden shift from villain to hero. However, while I wasn’t exactly positive about the previous issue, I did point out some things from that issue that I thought were actually really good. Particularly the scenes where Harley is visiting her mother, who is suffering from severe cancer, in hospital. Those scenes presented some honest, human moments. This issue, #64, picks up where we left off last time, with Harley sitting beside her mother’s death bed in hospital, and she’s reading a comic to her mother. Yes, I was very skeptical about her reading a comic last time, because it seemed like her reading the comic was an excuse for the creative team to cram in another one of those arbitrary “offer” pages that don’t seem to go anywhere. So what’s going on in this issue? Is it better than the last, or is it much of the same? Let’s have a look.
You know, this issue isn’t bad. It’s far from perfect, and especially the first half of the book had me wondering where this was going. However, when I got an idea of what the creative team might have intended, things started making a lot more sense to me. But, before I get to the good stuff, I’d like to get some criticism out of the way first.
My biggest gripe is that there’s a level of absurdity in this book that seems really out of place. Now, for some it might seem like I’m stating the obvious because I’m talking about Harley Quinn, but I’m talking about something very specific here. Essentially the entire issue takes place inside the hospital room, and soon Harley’s father and two brothers show up, and later on some of Harley’s friends appear, like Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Petite Tina. While I think it’s a nice touch that her friends and family come in to support Harley, nobody besides Harley and her dad seem to actually care about what’s going on. For example, her two brothers are just goofing around all the time as if they don’t even see their own mom on her death bed, and some of the other characters are more focused on quipping random lines that have no bearing on the story or the situation than actually supporting Harley in her time of need. Of course I understand that the creative team wants to inject some comedy and light-heartedness in a comic that talks about terminal disease, but I don’t think that this is the way to do it, because in my opinion this distracts from the main theme in a way that makes it seem like nobody really cares about what’s happening to Harley’s mother. Besides, there’s already plenty of humor in the comic that Harley is reading to her mother. Moreover, the blasé attitude of Harley’s friends and family also detracts from the beautiful human moments that are in this issue, which talk about grief and suffering and dealing with said grief and suffering.
But, while I really dislike the aforementioned problems, this is also a layered issue that touches on multiple ideas. For example, this issue could be read as a commentary on how comics don’t always have to be about real world disasters or politics or what-have-you, in the sense that Harley attempts to find solace in the comic book that she’s reading, thereby alleviating some of her pain. At the same time this issue also illustrates how comics can be more than escapism and how they can in fact be quite therapeutical, because at a certain point Harley’s comic starts to address her mother’s condition. This is where the lines between Harley’s comic and Harley’s “real life” begin to blur, and I think that this is the first time during Humphries’ run that I actually enjoy the meta component of the book, because now that component is used to express something meaningful instead of just remaining a silly gag.
In addition, the comic also talks about the nature of crossover events and how they can interrupt storylines, and thereby this issue actually criticizes its very publisher to a degree. The comic that Harley is reading is about her, and the version of her in that comic is being chased by Lex Luthor who desperately wants to make her an offer. Over the course of the story, he offers her various things, from a heavy metal cyborg body (as seen on the cover) to several other useless things. Harley keeps rejecting Lex’s offer, and literally tells him, “So go’wan and orchestrate yer complicated crossover scheme. Tie in to eleventy-thousand other stories that were doin’ just fine withou’cha. I mean, did’ja even know I’m in the middle of a story about cancer? With my mom? I’m busy with stuff that’s actually important. So. No thanks!” It’s rare that a creative team gets away with criticizing the practices of its publisher, and in the case of this comic I think they manage to do it in an entertaining fashion and even make it a big part of the issue’s plot. I’d say it’s rather clever how they let their arc get interrupted by a random, mandatory crossover, but simultaneously acknowledge that and even make that interruption relevant to the plot.
Toward the end of the comic, Humphries returns to the more human, emotionally heavy subject matter involving Harley’s mom. To make sure the impact isn’t lost on you when you read the comic, I won’t spoil what happens. But I’ll say that that final scene actually gave me the chills—real goosebumps. The light-hearted tone that runs throughout the book gets turned around, and if you’ve ever dealt with or are dealing with cancer—whether it’s a family member, a pet, a significant other, or yourself—then this might hit you hard as it’s a twist that comes out of nowhere. Humphries easily could’ve ruined the emotional impact had he come up with a weird, goofy comic book explanation as to why Harley’s mother gets cured, but instead he keeps things grounded and serious and respectful, which is quite commendable, especially in a title like Harley Quinn that’s known for its pranks and light-heartedness rather than its capacity to tackle serious, awful topics such as cancer.
As for the artwork, Sami Basri returns to illustrate the comic, and I’m glad to see his return. I’ve always enjoyed his contributions to the book, because his art is always incredibly consistent and he’s great at crafting sequential passages. Basri renders Harley Quinn in various outfits, from her classic costume as designed by Bruce Timm, to many other colorful outfits. Furthermore, the overall tone that Basri establishes is light-hearted, sometimes even incorporating elements of slapstick, but simultaneously he maintains an emotional edge because he’s doing a fantastic job at drawing the emotions on characters’ faces. While the overall look is cartoony and even reminds me of Batman: The Animated Series, it’s those emotional expressions that make the characters and the story come to life and make Harley especially relatable. As I’ve said in the past, I hope to see more of Basri’s work on this title, or other titles, because I’ve certainly become a fan of his work.
- You want to know what happens to Harley’s mother.
- You like it when comic books criticize the nature of crossover events.
- You’re a fan of Sami Bari’s incredible artwork.
Overall: Despite having criticized this series for quite a while, I actually really like this issue. It’s still problematic at times—particularly when nobody but Harley and her dad seem to notice or care that Harley’s mom’s on her deathbed, which takes me out of the story—but for the most part Humphries has written a layered story that addresses various aspects of comic books and the nature of shared continuity, and also respectfully and honestly talks about terminal disease. On top of that, the ending of this issue is quite powerful, and Sami Basri’s artwork looks great. Recommended!