Harley Quinn #1 was much better than I expected it to be. While writer Stephanie Phillips did a serviceable job at the Future State version of the title, it was difficult to tell—within the confines of that sandbox—how she might fare in the open-ended context of an ongoing title. So with the arrival of this week’s #2, I wondered if the debut was a fluke—or if Phillips and artist Riley Rossmo really mean business.
Yes, they mean business
Truth be told, I never doubted Rossmo, because he’s a known quantity. I have long enjoyed his bonkers aesthetic and his imaginative storytelling, so I expected to enjoy it here, as well. But Phillips is proving that she has something to bring to the table, too. Her Harley is plenty of fun, but it’s a fun that hearkens back to the more innocent origins of the character. She’s still nuts (in the best way), but she’s as close to PG as she’s been in years.
More than anything, though, I’m impressed with the story that Phillips is building. It’s heartfelt and endearing, and I’m pulling for Harley to come out on top. Phillips makes me empathize with Harley’s tough state, too: she feels like less than the Robins—like Batman doesn’t completely believe in her rehabilitation yet. She watches Gotham give a second chance to a duplicitous whackadoodle like Hugo Strange, while it shows no appreciation for her genuine change. Phillips never mentions these things explicitly, but the story lays it out so we can connect the dots for ourselves. We see Harley’s lot, and it stirs empathy.
Best supporting actor
And then, we have Kevin the reformed clown. Like Harley, he just wants to be better than what he was. Unlike Harley, he wasn’t in the Joker’s inner circle. Harley knows who she wants to become, because she bore witness to the antithesis for so long. Kevin, on the other hand, was one of many caught up in the madness of the Joker War. He realizes he did wrong, but he doesn’t have the same sense of purpose possessed by his mentor. Consequently, he functions as a target for Harley’s own compassion and empathy, and a lost boy in need of her leadership. We don’t simply feel bad for Harley because she seems to be getting the short end of the stick, but also because her compassion for Kevin makes her worthy of ours.
More than a cheap thrill
After Future State, my highest expectation for this book was that it would be fun entertainment. What I didn’t expect was a story I’d want to invest in, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find just that. Rossmo brings the fun, and his exaggerated character anatomy (look at how HUGE Strange is next to Nakano!) does a lot of storytelling work all on its own. But Phillips is proving herself worthy of DC’s faith, giving us the first “Harley goes good” story that I actually believe—and want to read—since they first started trying to make her more than the Joker’s moll.
- You prefer PG Harley to PG-13 Harley
- You’re on board with Harley going straight (ish)
- You dig Rossmo’s convoluted awesomeness
Harley Quinn #2 properly introduces us to the series’ first villain, while taking us a little deeper with Harley’s struggle to go legit. With a strong supporting character in Kevin, plenty of fun dialogue (and narration), and Rossmo’s playfully creepy aesthetic, this book is a winner, and I’m looking forward to the next one.