We last left Harley in a bind. She was way behind. Will Quimby be willing to make a deal? Will one of these cliffhangers actually lead to meaningful or interesting consequences? Will we get yet another thud of a flashback? Am I too cynical? Keep reading to find out.
I was — to borrow a turn-of-phrase from the Young Justice cartoon’s Dick Grayson — pretty “whelmed” with last issue’s cliffhanger. I’ve said my piece about the Starlet’s lack of… anything compelling. That said, even though she ends the latest mini-climax by slinking away with her tail between her legs, at least overall she’s marginally less pitiful this issue. She doesn’t get beat on or insulted by the Producer and she even gets to make something explode.
After an equally whelming wrap-up to last issue’s cliffhanger in which the stakes aren’t changed at all, we get yet another Joker-centered flashback. It doesn’t really relate to the main plot, tie into the series’ theme, or add any more depth to Harley’s character. Harley joins the Joker at the hospital post-acid-bath, they talk a bit, Joker tells her he loves her as much as Jack does, etc… I get that the flashbacks are telling a chronologically linear story, but why? Even though they try and tie them into the main plot — at least tangentially — with some word, phrase, or situation that’s happening in the present, they feel obligatory. Like they’re just going through the motions, dutifully marching on through a PowerPoint presentation of events Katana Collins and Sea Murphy decided should be the origin of these characters in the White Knight Universe. Compared to how the characters were handled in previous White Knight books, it comes across as more dutiful reference, less interesting subversion or deconstruction.
The referential shenanigans don’t stop there though. We get pop-ins this issue from Poison Ivy — who I guess now has a relationship with Harley, even though it seemed like Neo-Joker (I will never ever not hate that name) got that aspect in the character split. Makes you wonder if Katana realized she’d done goofed and decided to walk that decision back a bit. She only pops in for a few pages to tell Harley to pull herself up by her bootstraps or some other bull. That and make some weird commentary on mental illness. If only every person suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder had a Poison Ivy around to tell them that keeping their personalities split would ultimately be their demise… Oh, Jason Todd shows up too — now with hair — to yell at Bruce and then immediately get tricked by Bruce. Don’t worry, this tiny subplot goes absolutely nowhere. It feels like they want Bruce to show up every once in a while so they keep giving him busywork that doesn’t factor into the larger plot at all. At least #5’s climax manages to pull off a fairly tense and/or exciting (if a little melodramatic) scene. Spoilers below:
The art in #5 continues the trend of not being as interesting or gorgeous as the first couple of issues. Scalera seems to be compensating a bit for his increasingly monotonous “big establishing panel followed by several small action panels” formula by sporadically layering said action panels onto their establishing panel, at least. He’s also mixing the general panel flow and layout up more this go around.
The art above was a standout of this issue for all the wrong reasons. We see Harley’s reflection layered on top of her classic red & blacks. This brought to mind a panel last issue with Harley’s shadow casting a silhouette of the two-balled court-jester hat she wore back in the bad ol’ days plus a smattering of several other visual nods and references that have been strewn throughout the series. Problem is, it feels like there’s supposed to be a reverence here, the sort designed to give you nostalgic goosebumps. Remember a few reviews back when I said that well-placed splashes of longing nostalgia kept things just shy of falling off the razor’s edge into insulting referential triteness? Well, we fell off the razor’s edge. Long live referential nonsense, I guess.
The page below was a standout for all the right reasons. I really enjoyed the contrasting/dueling panels between Starlet’s isolation and Harley’s loving time with her family. The muted grays and sepias contrasting with the colorful pastels really cemented the dueling moods. Though Starlet’s isolation could have been further emphasized if the perspective had pulled back allowing for lots of empty space around her. Regardless, the page had an emotional weight that most if not all the bits involving Starlet have lacked so far.
- Melodrama is the spice to your life.
- You’re ride or die for any and all Harley/Joker “love” stories.
- Your kink is Bruce Wayne in Red Hood cosplay.
Issue #5 of White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn isn’t as frustrating or tedious as the past couple of issues in the series. And the art has started to mix things up a bit — even if it doesn’t reach the beautimous heights of the first issues. The Starlet is still a wet plop of a villain, but at least this time around she catalyzes some melodramatic action. Still, unless there’s some brilliant twist I’m not foreseeing, the series has squandered its intriguing mystery/whodunnit potential. And, sadly, there isn’t much left to enjoy now that the intrigue is gone.