Harley Quinn #65 takes on a more somber tone than many of the other issues in this run. It’s still got that Quinn-tessential charm that Harley’s stories have, but Humphries tones down the wackiness just enough to make things respectful to the issue at large as Harley is forced to come to terms with the loss of her mother.
I’ve been reading a lot of Harley Quinn lately. And by a lot, I mean Rebirth starting with Humphries’ run on the character, as well as a few other issues here and there. I’ve done this because up until I joined Batman-News I wasn’t a Harley fan. I didn’t see much in the character, and didn’t see a reason to learn anything about her. Then I sat down and started reading her comics and I found that I really like her. She’s a character working towards her own recovery and redemption, in her own way. While the whole run isn’t perfect, I’ve found it a lot of fun to read.
Something I’ve struggled with, especially during the Trials of Harley Quinn, is that the book tackles some serious subjects, and often misses the opportunity to really let those subjects hit home because it is so wacky and wild. Things like Harley coming to grips with how the world sees her, or how she’s been treating Tina (back in issue #59) could have been great moments of both self reflection and relatability to the audience. Instead these moments were overshadowed by goofs and laughs. Generally, I’ve felt the serious to silly balance of the book has weighed far more into the silly category, and I think it’s suffered because of that. So, where does this issue stand on silly to serious? In my opinion, Humphries takes Harley’s over-the-top nature and blends it with moments of grief really well. Instead of always jumping to goofs, we linger on Harley’s grief for maximum emotional impact.
This issue opens with a heart wrenching scene where Harley struggles to deal with the loss of her mother. Things have come full circle, but not the way Harley hoped. This scene really encapsulates that wave of grief that hits you in the quiet moments after everything has been taken care of, and the reality of the situation sinks into your soul. It’s incredibly emotional.
But Humphries isn’t the only one who deserves praise here. Basri’s art is gorgeous. I’ve loved his take on Harley since the first time I laid eyes on her, and this issue is no exception. The scene where Harley is in mourning is stunning work. Basri captures the raw emotion in three beautiful panels. Just look at Harley when she starts to really break down. The progression is marked by the third panel where her makeup, painted to show tear streaks, is hidden by hair, to reveal real tears starting. It’s sequential art executed superbly, and really sells the scene.
Harley then does something I feel like a lot of people want to do when they’re struck by loss, she runs away from it all. She goes all out with her decision to live on the volcano outside of Coney Island. A “change of scenery” she calls it. She’s set herself up with a beach hut, is dressed in a coconut shell bikini, and is hunting down some mysterious enemy. It all has a very Lord of the Flies feel, with her ‘stranded’ on the island and making a home for herself there, only this time it’s Harley who choose to stay there. Here’s where I feel that balance of goofy and serious comes into play. This is the wacky Harley we know, and she keeps up the facade for days, living in this fantasy, even after Mirand’r arrives to serve a reality check.
Mirand’r is, as she’s been over the course of this arc, the voice of reason. She reminds Harley that she can’t just fast forward past her grief, and calls her out on trying to hide from her emotions. She reminds Harley that running away to an island isn’t what she should be doing with her life. I like that Humphries used Mirand’r’s backstory to highlight this. While her history doesn’t exactly match Harley’s current struggle, it’s a good fit to help inspire and remind her of what her mother would have wanted, without actually saying the words “Your mom would want…”. I also liked the fact that Mirand’r didn’t try to convince Harley to keep going with the trials just so she could attempt to bring her mom back to life with the power of the Lords of Order and Chaos. I was worried the story might take that turn, and I’m glad it didn’t. Instead she works to help Harley move forward.
While I love seeing Mirand’r use her own story to help Halrey, there’s something in the reveal of her history that really bothers me.
It might be because I just read this whole arc in a sitting, but I’m bugged by the fact that Mirand’r suddenly is intangible. Since she’s been introduced she’s crashed into things, destroyed roofs, opened a trashcan lid, and physically touched Harley before. It’s a continuity error I can’t really get over, because it feels shoehorned in to give her a reason to tell her backstory and prove that she’s dead. It also takes away from how Mirand’r is looking forward to things like the breeze again because we’ve seen her interacting with physical objects before. The emotional punch of her missing out on these things is lost in the fact that before this issue, she seemed to be enjoying life and totally normal.
I want to touch on the use of a comic in this issue. I’ve loved the inclusion of comics into Harley’s adventures. Fourth wall breaking is my kind of humor, and while I feel like the comics have been used primarily for comedy, the past two issues have used them for more. In Harley Quinn #64 they were a way to add levity and escapism to the situation Harley faced, this time we see Harley actually tossing the comic away. In a sense, she’s already escaped the reality of her grief, and doesn’t need a story where she still has the option to save her mom. On the flip side, it’s a reminder to Harley of who her mom is and how she’d view the situation, this helps force Harley to begin to consider the fact that maybe she shouldn’t be running from reality. While she doesn’t confront this thought immediately, I feel like this is an important moment where she opens up to the idea of accepting the fact that her mom is gone, and that she can’t spend the rest of her life on an island.
I felt like the time spent rehashing the trials of Harley, and the explanation of who the Lords of Order and Chaos were took away from the story a little. They and their goals have been described in a number of issues, along with how Harley fits in to it all. We’ve also seen Harley complain about how many people died doing these trials before. While it’s a nice bit of catch up for new readers, I’m not sure we needed pages dedicated to reiterating those things, especially all the way in the latter half of the comic. The recap could have been done in a few lines. Instead, it interrupted the heartfelt conversation Harley and Mirand’r were having, and took away from how serious things were.
I discussed Basri’s art a little bit earlier, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the rest of his work on the issue. He does a great job transitioning readers from the gloom and heartbreak that is the first opening pages, to the bright idyllic world Harley’s chosen to live in. He and Hi-Fi work hand in hand to make both the colors of the island and the setting feel bright, vibrant, and almost dream like. It’s a stark contrast to the darkness earlier, and by way of that contrast it acts as another representation of the fantasy Harley is trying to escape to.
He transitions readers again towards the end of the story, no longer are things overly bright, but instead he’s moved into an open, softer scene. It’s here he gives us beautiful pages of Harley’s decision to keep moving forward. The art is what makes these moments have the emotional impact they do. Harley’s expressions, body language, and the close up panel of her looking into the distance tell as much of a story as the text does, and I feel like Basri really nailed these moments.
- You want to see Harley handle grief
- You’re interested in the Trials of Harley arc
- You want to learn Mirand’r’s backstory
This issue balances the serious and funny aspects of a Harley Quinn story really well. It took Harley through her grief in a relatable, and believable way that still fit the character and tone of the book, while also delivering the contagious insanity we’ve come to love and expect from this title. I liked reading this issue, and I feel like readers who’ve been on the fence about the serious/silly nature of the book might enjoy it as much as I did.