We left off the last issue with a sort-of-tense, sort-of-cliff-hanger: the Starlet hiding in Quimby’s childhood room closet like a creeper. Would she attack Harley? Would Quimby’s actual mother have to knife fight her youthful doppelganger? No? No? Oh…
Mostly, White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn #4 retells the Joker’s origin, yet again… Speaking of villains, let’s talk about The Starlet — and how the story and dialogue go out of their way to make her less threatening. Sure, she’s killed a couple of elderly people, but the Gray Ghost whooped her and her boss, the Producer, continually belittles her. Am I supposed to take her seriously? If not, then why is she the antagonist?
I’m becoming aware of a pattern in this series. A decided lack of tension. If you’re not going to make our brain-pans tingle with an intriguing mystery, you have to ratchet up the tension — at least if you want anyone to care. This is partially because the series can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it a whodunnit? Is it a thriller? A police procedural with a twist? A slice of life story about a new mother with a dark past trying to get by? By spreading itself in so many directions, it’s thinning itself out. If this series isn’t careful, it’ll snap entirely.
Even if the series was quickly spiraling into an identity crisis, the character work kept hope alive in the first couple of issues. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case. Harley is… fine. She’s become a little less sad, and a little more focused on the case, and that’s about it. My fears about her character split continue to haunt me. That is, once again divvying up aspects of a character seem to be leeching some depth and nuance from this half of Harley. I’m really enjoying this Bruce Wayne as friend/confidant/life-coach angle — not only is it fresh, but seeing a new side of Bruce. How friendly and supportive he is of Harley is refreshing, even if it doesn’t feel earned.
I haven’t even mentioned Duke yet in any of these reviews. That’s because so far he’s been given little to do other than offer plot forwarding dialogue, complain, and spout cliched one-liners. His slight down-tic in wallpaper-ness (twenty-two word balloons per issue versus around eleven in previous issues) the past couple issues has made them just a tad better. If only the dialogue gave him something to work with outside of the infrequent “Damn, that’s cold.”
The art of the first page is a stand-out of the issue. Though I do wish that “Huh?” word balloon in the example above hadn’t been placed there. It’s a small detail, but keeping the panels wordless until the last would have made the humor hit a lot harder for me. Scalera’s ink washes and Stewart’s colors continue to be a pleasure to behold. Although… I know I’ve been praising the establishing panels at each and every opportunity thus far, but it just sort of clicked into place this issue that if he’s not careful, Scalera’s “establishing panel followed by a series of small action panels” formula may grow stale a bit if he doesn’t mix it up, even if just a little, in the future. In this issue alone, he uses the formula at least four times, or more, if you want to push it. We may not have needed or wanted yet another (straight forward) Joker origin, but at least Scelera’s art and Stewart’s colors were a small joy to look at. Clear, dynamic action, good page flow, and splashes of vivid color here and there kept it from being the dreary drudgery it could have been with crappier art.
- You like your villain not-so-serious and your mysteries lacking.
- Your idea of a good time is a couple of pages of Orange is the New Bruce.
- You desperately need to see another Joker origin.
Overall, White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn #4 doesn’t feel as bloated or crammed with unnecessary/immediately-resolved plot beats as #3. Though the flashbacks still fail to pack the same emotional wallop as they did when the series began. The villain is… exactly who it was telegraphed to be. Harley is less sad. The Joker had yet another origin, but at least the art was good. Duke exists. Sigh. This series better start blowing things up.