Ah, Harley Quinn. A character for whom I’ve never really had much genuine disdain, but who has nonetheless exhausted my patience these past 7 years or so. Since I began reading comics in 2013, I’ve seen her everywhere. You can’t throw a knife at a con without piercing at least 12 cosplaying Quinns, and DC has tried its hardest to put her in the middle of everything, whether she fits or not.
So, naturally, when I decided to come back to reviewing comics at Batman News, I asked for Harley Quinn.
Time for puddin’
Here’s the thing: I may have grown weary of Harley’s overuse, but at her heart, she’s a fun, damaged woman whose distinct speech patterns, zany antics, and Joker-overcoming character arc have made her—dare I say it—worthy of being the headliner she is. It doesn’t hurt that her title will be drawn by the delightfully weird Riley Rossmo in March, either.
But first, Future State! The multiverse has been spared, blah blah, brink of disaster, yada yada, possibilities and what-not, you get the picture. So what does this mean for Harl?
In case you haven’t read any of the other Gotham books yet, Batman’s city has been taken over by The Magistrate, some paramilitary organization that hunts down and eradicates mask-wearing personalities, be they good or evil. These colorful characters are occasionally spared, however, if they might be useful in helping the Magistrate weed out the rest of their kind. Enter Jonathan Crane, former Scarecrow, and Harley Quinn, his latest project.
Crane’s current aim is to use Harley’s knowledge of Gotham’s kooks—and perhaps a bit of her training as a psychologist—to hunt down some of the last remaining holdouts. She works her way through a few appetizers before the issue closes on her big target, who I will not spoil here.
So, that’s pretty much the what of this issue, and the what actually works well for me. Like Joker, Harley has rubbed elbows with much of the slime in Gotham (eww, slimy elbows), so she’s a good resource in that regard. The psychologist angle is not quite as strong, as it’s been a long time since she’s practiced or—presumably—studied, but I’ll roll with it. I’m no mental health professional, but the logic of her traps for catching the two appetizers seems pretty good to me.
The how isn’t too bad here, either—at least the writing. I think Phillips does a good job of making Harley feel like Harley, and there are some genuinely funny moments. I can’t help but feel like Harl is hiding her own agenda under all of that compliance, and that means Phillips is doing her job well.
There are some minor blemishes in the writing along the way, such as when Crane is apologetic for “casting aspersions” when he wasn’t casting aspersions, or when Harley says “have a nice trip, see you in the fall” (I’ve only ever heard “see you next fall”), but these aren’t deal breakers. Overall, the writing is solid, and I’m encouraged.
What is that?
What is nearly a deal-breaker, however, is Di Meo’s artwork. Aesthetically, I think what he and Bonvillain have delivered here is fine. But from a storytelling perspective, half the book is very hard to parse. There are far, far too many thin, murky panels where I’m asking myself what it is that I’m looking at. Sometimes, I can concentrate and figure it out, but there are a few where I’m still not 100% sure. My prior affection for his work aside, I’m very glad that Rossmo is the main artist come March.
One final note on the lettering (because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about the lettering): I never warmed to Peteri’s work when he took over for Taylor Esposito on Red Hood and the Outlaws, but he feels like a much better fit here. I’d still love to see him go more bombastic with the SFX, but his aesthetic meshes well with the artwork here, so I don’t have much else to complain about.
- You’re on board with Harley being (somewhat) redeemed
- You like funny, snarky Harley more than lewd, crude Harley
The lack of clarity in the artwork is a real disappointment here, because the rest of the work is much better than I was expecting. Phillips’ Harley is the wisegal I know and love, without the Judd Apatow-esque crudity that seemed to show up in every odd issue of her title I’ve read in the past five years. I think that’s a win, and while Future State is, unfortunately, marred by visual confusion, I’m excited to see what Phillips will bring in the coming months—especially with Rossmo onboard.