After a rough Thanksgiving spent with her family, Harley decides to spend her favorite holiday on her own, celebrating it in the biggest and best way she can: taking a trip to Christmas Hamlet, the premier Christmas getaway spot! But as she saw last month, the holidays are different when you’ve lost someone. With grief still hanging over her, will she be the jolliest of elves this Christmas, or a grumpy Grinch?
Sam Humphries has done a spectacular job taking Harley through the grief of losing her mother, while still keeping true to the charm and insanity that comes with any Harley story. This issue is no different. It’s littered with hilarious moments, and Christmas puns to make even the most hardened Scrooge laugh. It’s both heartwrenching and heartwarming as Harley experiences her first Christmas without her mom. I haven’t lost someone as close to me as my mother, but I have experienced the way families and holidays shift and change over the years, adding a bittersweet feeling to days that were once golden and perfect (or at least seem that way in memory), and Humphries captures those feelings perfectly this issue.
Harley starts out charging full speed ahead into her happy holiday, full on parachuting from a plane to the front gates of Christmas Hamlet. This place is like stepping into the North Pole itself, filled with Christmas superfans, the biggest Christmas tree you’ve ever seen, and so much holiday spirit visitors are actually required to always be jolly!
Harley’s ready for it all. With her Christmas spirit turned way up, her excitement is almost palpable, and she’son board for everything the hamlet has to offer. What she’s not prepared for is the flood of memories of Christmases spent with her mom. Basri illustrates these scenes simply, highlighting just the important moments, like Harley and her mom putting a star on a tree, or opening a present. There’s no background to these panels and there doesn’t need to be. When you’re hit with a memory like this, you rarely remember anything on the edges of the memory, and these simple panels mirror that feeling perfectly.
The warring feelings of grief slowly overcoming Harley and her need to be jolly spell problems for her quickly. Christmas Hamlet has literal rules against being anything but totally jolly all the time (an utterly ridiculous rule to be sure, but one they’re serious about nonetheless) and eventually Harley snaps. She’s trying so hard to have a good time, and her guide isn’t giving her a moment to collect herself, that there’s little she can do but lash out. You can feel the build up of her emotions in your chest reading through these scenes, from Harley’s stumbling words and quick answers to her expressions, going from wide eyed to the slow trickle of tears. The real emotional punch comes after she’s escaped the Nutcracker Squad and breaks down over the fact that she can’t seem to have a merry Christmas.
She’s rescued from the Nutcracker Squad by The Christmas Ghost, who is in reality a young woman named Kira the Un-Jolliest. Kira grew up in Christmas Hamlet, and her story makes the place sound very cult like (if it didn’t already). Harley’s explanation of where her family is wonderfully honest as she struggles to explain that she’s lost her mom. The two bond quickly over lost parents and being kicked out of the Hamlet, and neither feel its fair they’ve been punished for not being perfectly jolly in the face of their loss. What surprised me here, is that Harley doesn’t immediately suggest revenge like she might have early on in this series. Instead they decide to have a merry Christmas somewhere outside the hamlet. This is just another moment where we see how much Harley is changing as a character in this run.
In their mad dash through the snow to escape Christmas Hamlet the girls hijack a Gingerbread Van and are chased down by the Nutcracker Squad, send a missile-toe after them. Just that sentence alone illustrates how many Christmas references and jokes are packed into this issue. Humphries takes every single chance he can get to make holiday related jokes and they all made me crack up. Back when I started reviewing this book I said it was my kind of humor, and so far it hasn’t lost its charm. I feel like Humphries has really found the perfect balance between ridiculous with heartfelt while tackling such difficult themes.
Something to note, is that this is the first time in a number of issues we haven’t had Harley (or someone else) reading a Harley comic, and I think it’s a good break. I’ve both enjoyed the internal comics and had some problems with them, so it’s nice to see an issue stand on its own without the inclusion of one. I think it works well without it, and I’d enjoy seeing their inclusion become more sparse if issues are as strong as this one without them.
With the van taken out by the missile, the girls dart into the forest and run until Harley gives up. She then flops down into the snow to create a snow angel while bemoaning the fact that she might not ever have a merry Christmas again. In a nice call back to issue #65, Harley has another phantom conversation with her mom. Her voice washes over Harley as she lays in the snow, looking up into the sky, giving her some much needed advice. Harley’s spent the last two issues trying to force herself to be happy during a time that’s still very emotional for her, and her mom gives her permission to be both sad and hopeful during the holidays. Personally, I think this is a great message for anyone. The holidays often make people feel like they have to be happy or cheerful through it all, but that mood doesn’t account for the ups and downs of life. It’s okay to take hope, joy, or peace from the season while still allowing yourself to feel other things.
It’s an inspirational message and an emotional moment that’s topped off by Kira’s singing a few lines from O Holy Night. The song was the perfect way to bring home the message of hope in the light of exhaustion and loss, and it inspired some tears of my own as I read it.
Humphries could have ended things here and I would have been happy, but he continues the story with both girls finding joy in the night by way of snowball fight and conversation by a huge tree. In a really nice extension from the start of this issue, we see Harley able to tell a story about her and her mother, and even laughing about the adventure.
Things wrap up with some chaos, inspired by both girls, before the story moves into the only moment I wasn’t the biggest fan of. A time skip precedes the last couple pages. It points to Harley off on a number of adventures that seem to continue her quest to get away from everything and also sets things up for the next arc. It’ll probably help transition readers well into the next arc when this goes to trade, but honestly this issue could have ended perfectly just before the skip.
- You love a good Christmas story
- You’re ready for some holly jolly shenanigans
- Humphries handling of grief is worth the price of admission
I can’t say enough about this book. Humphries has really found his stride with Harley, balancing the wacky side of the character with some really serious themes of grief and how you move on when you’ve lost someone dear to you. He’s taking her through the kind of character growth I’d love to see in most DC books these days, while still keeping the book fun to read. Even if you’re not a Christmas or Harley fan, this issue is fun, funny, and heartfelt. It’s a fantastic Christmas story, and provides a much needed lesson during this season. Really, just go pick it up, you won’t regret it.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.