Will Harley be able to help former Scarecrow Jonathan Crane take down Black Mask? Will she get released for good behavior? Will any of this matter the second you put the issue down? SPOILERS AHEAD
A bland future
For all of the aesthetic changes brought to Gotham by Future State, there hasn’t been much new or interesting put on the table. The Next Batman is wanted by the law, the previous Batman is also wanted by the law, and said law is tainted—granted, not by the sort of corruption that reigned under Gillian Loeb, but nevertheless one that serves its own interest (whatever that may ultimately be) at the expense of safety and freedom for Gotham’s citizens. What’s worse, the Magistrate is just boring. Maybe I’ll change my tune once The Next Batman and Dark Detective wrap up, but so far, it’s just a bunch of generic, private military tough-guys—not a very compelling antagonistic force.
Future State: Harley Quinn attempts to circumvent this boring villain problem in two ways: making a familiar face—Crane the “local” face of the Magistrate; and, focusing on a few other Batman rogues as antagonists, rather than the Magistrate itself. What’s more, the first issue got decent mileage out of Harley herself—her quirkiness, and its ability to get under Crane’s skin.
Why so serious?
So how about #2? Honestly, it’s pretty disappointing. The first issue felt like Harley refusing to take her situation too seriously, but this one seems more about attitude, and I think that’s a liability. That Ms. Quinn had her own agenda is completely unsurprising, but it feels like the story revels in her success at the end, when that success seems contrived.
It makes perfect sense that Crane would want to manipulate Harley, but it would have made even more sense if he had attempted to do so through his usual means: fear. Sure, he couldn’t have done it with the mask and the gas, but show me Crane still being Crane, even with the new rules, and you’ve already got a more interesting story. And it also would have given you an avenue to make the rest of the story believable, which it is, unfortunately, not.
If Crane using Harley makes sense, Crane letting her out to work in the field makes none whatsoever, and it makes even less sense that he would go with her—and no Magistrate backup—to try to trap Black Mask. Trusting her is just foolish. Maybe if she’d done a good job of pretending to be broken, I might buy it, but that’s not the book I’m looking at.
Black Mask is a character who—in my experience, at least—has a number of varying interpretations. That said, there’s always a bit of blue-collar-made-white, quick-to-fly-off-the-handle in him. I feel like those core characteristics are missing here, and his voice feels pretty generic. There’s a brighter spot when he and Harley first come face-to-face, but it’s fleeting. It’s a shame, too, because Mask’s authentic temperament is the perfect sort to be disturbed by Harley’s antics, but he’s just not that guy here, and Harley doesn’t get a chance to push any buttons before Scarecrow intrudes.
So, surprise surprise, Harley double-crosses Crane, and when Black Mask thinks this bodes well for him, she quickly disabuses him of that notion. I saw the double-cross coming a mile away, but instead of her going full-bonkers, she leaves us with the more-fresh-than-funny “I never did like masks.” Done, end Future State, nothing matters, where is March?
Hold Di Meo
I don’t really have much to say about Di Meo’s work that I didn’t already say in last month’s review, so I’ll just summarize: lots of flash, could use a bit more function. This issue has some pinch-hitting from Toni Infante, but those pages stick out like a sore thumb—Infante’s line is a lot heavier, and though Bonvillain attempts to meld things together with the color, it’s not working. Probably the biggest aesthetic difference on these pages is the absence of the simulated (relatively) shallow depth-of-field that Di Meo seems so fond of—small thing in the abstract, but your eye will really feel it missing once it’s gone.
- You’re buying it anyway
I feel like I didn’t have much good to say above, and I think that’s fair, but I didn’t hate reading this. I wanted it to be better, but I still think Phillips has shown a lot of promise overall, and I’m anxious to see what she and Rossmo do once they’re outside of this Future State box.