Harley Quinn #17 review

Today, we reach the final chapter of the “Verdict” storyline in Harley Quinn, as well as the last time Riley Rossmo will be handling the art on this title. While today’s issue might not be the worst one I’ve read in this series, it’s certainly a strange comic, and one that makes my overall opinion of the story arc worse. 

It starts off with a dream sequence of Harley fighting Verdict in a boxing match, which after reading the full issue, I don’t really understand the point of it. Dream sequences like this can be used for a few different things: for character development, for foreshadowing, for comedy, or they can be used for filler. The latter is what I feel this dream sequence is. It really doesn’t say anything about Harley and Verdict, apart from they have a conflict and Harley’s obviously not happy about getting shot. What’s strange about this entire arc is that, despite it revolving around the fact that Verdict has a beef with Harley, Harley still doesn’t have much connection with her or the conflict at all. She even stopped worrying about clearing her name with the cops as soon as Batwoman rescued her. Instead of Harley, Kevin is the one who had a personal connection to Verdict and uncovered her identity. It was Kevin who went through some heartache over her identity being revealed. It’s also Kevin who… well that would be getting ahead of myself.

Back to Harley, after her nightmare, she resumes acting like a crazy toddler who doesn’t have all that much concern over the situation that is occurring. She has a constant bright smile on her face while Kevin explains his devastation over finding out Verdict’s true identity, and over the fact that he trusted her and put Harley in danger. But Harley doesn’t seem concerned at all, no. She’s all smiles and goes into a very odd monologue about how “you just can’t stop trusting people.” I mean, I don’t think Kevin was going to completely stop trusting people over this, he’s upset he put Harley in danger and that someone he thought he loved betrayed him. Harley’s reaction does not feel like the natural reaction anyone would have over their best friend’s girlfriend trying to murder them. It’s gotten to the point where, to me, Harley doesn’t feel like an actual character anymore, not in the way she’s acting in this scene, and not for the rest of the comic.

Our protagonists then find out that Verdict has threatened to blow up the city council building because she’s angry about the innocent people that have been killed by the corrupt system of Gotham, so her solution is to go and kill some innocent people. I kind of  liked Verdict to a very small degree in the last issue because I thought it interesting that she didn’t seem like an actual evil villain. She was a regular person who couldn’t seem to realize she had lost her way and become too extreme. But all that’s out the window for this issue, Verdict is nothing more than a maniacal cartoon character, complete with an insane, villainous speech that makes her sound like a parody of a comic book villain.

Speaking of dialogue, Batwoman and Harley go on their way to stop Verdict, and we get a multiple page spread of Harley gabbing on and on and on to Batwoman with random, forgettable dialogue that’s really about nothing. And this won’t be the first time the story focuses on Harley going on a long meandering rant about nothing either. This kind of dialogue seems to be a staple of Stephanie Phillip’s Harley Quinn now, but I really don’t understand why. It’s not funny. In fact, it’s a chore to get through.  By the time I was finished with the comic, I realized it’s probably being put in there for filler for the character. I mean, just look at all of this.

The other day, I went on Youtube and watched some old clips from the Gotham Girls web-cartoon, listening to Arleen Sorkin perform as Harley. It reminded me how her unique, cheerful, yet insecure and vulnerable portrayal of the character worked, making her funny and sympathetic at the same time. I don’t get any of that from the current dialogue in this book. It’s like a three-year-old screaming in your ears, not because they have anything to say, but because they want attention. Come on, DC, Harley is supposed to be one of your most popular characters. Put a little more care in how she’s presented. 

Back to the story at hand, though, all these weird character steps, filler scenes, and filler dialogue are meant to lead up to the big moment where Harley attacks Verdict. The fight is brief, and it quickly results in Verdict getting the upper hand, that is, until…

Spoiler
Kevin distracts Verdict with a speech, catching her off her guard in order to disable her bomb. So Kevin defeats Verdict, but Harley is allowed the last blow because she is supposed to be the main character in this book, after all. 



So, what’s my problem with all of this? Well, I’m looking back on the whole Verdict storyline, and I’m just baffled by it. Why did the police lock Harley up for Verdict’s crimes with no trial or further investigation? Why did Harley lose most of her investment in the conflict right after Batwoman got her out of prison, acting like a one-year-old in a toy store?  Why didn’t she ever develop a personal connection with Verdict when this entire storyline was supposed to be Verdict vs. Harley? Why does Harley react with a big smile on her face when she finds out Verdict, who tried to murder her, is Kevin’s girlfriend? Verdict’s storyline began as the most predictable mystery in comics, to then be revealed as a potentially more nuanced character, to then being a total parody of a Saturday morning cartoon villain. When this story is collected in a trade, how could I recommend it to anyone?

But the most baffling part of this entire story arc is the ending. After Harley is pardoned by the police (and goes on her second long babbling fest about espresso machines, or something) she goes on a long speech about how far she’s come. I predicted this, since every arc in this series has ended with Harley essentially saying “no matter what anyone says, I’m a hero now,” which she does here. But what has Harley learned, and what has made her so proud in this story arc? As I’ve already outlined, a big problem throughout the entire plot is Harley’s lack of investment in everything that was happening, and how the story seemed to want to focus on other characters instead. Harley wasn’t the character who formed a personal connection with Verdict, and she wasn’t the one who defeated her either. But Harley talks now as if she’s finally made a triumph in becoming the good person she hasn’t been in a very long time, and I’m not seeing that arc anywhere in this story.

In the end, Harley claims she’s happy for the friends that believe in her, and that most of all, she’s going to keep clowning around and is PROUD to be Harley Quinn.


This, above all the other things in this comic, send my head for a spin.

Ever since Harley’s first origin, the idea behind her “Harley Quinn” persona has been that it’s something she adopted to impress the Joker and make herself more like him. This idea remained canon for multiple decades. Since DC has wanted to reform Harley, they’ve always tried to have their cake and eat it too by having Harley hate Joker, try to be a hero, but still be in that silly, clown themed persona. Comics have never addressed how this makes sense, but this scene calls direct attention to the fact that Harley is a walking oxymoron now. How can she spontaneously talk about how far she’s come in her reform, AND proclaim that she is proud that she is Harley Quinn? Going all the way back to Joker War, Harley has faced problems and attacks BECAUSE people are seeing her as Harley Quinn and as a “clown,” and continuing to demonize her and associate her with the Joker because of it. How does it make any sense for her to still be Harley Quinn, and to be proud of that, when she’s trying to reform and get people to trust her? Stuff like this insults the intelligence of a reader, and is very blatant proof that the “Harley Quinn the superhero” direction never made any sense.

The last thing I have to talk about for this comic is the artwork. As I said, this issue is important because it is the very last time Riley Rossmo will be doing the artwork on Harley’s solo title. All I can say about that is: it should’ve happened sooner. The way Rossmo draws Harley with a tiny body, huge round face, and a banana smile made the character all the more obnoxious along with the writing. I particularly winced at the panel near the beginning where Harley puts on a big, smug, smile during the dream sequence, when you know there’s absolutely nothing of substance in her head. I’m looking forward to the next issue with a new artist, where hopefully that will help the storytelling along, and it’ll be nice to see Harley and Kevin look like actual people.

I realize that the pink and blue, dip-dyed hair has come back, after leaving for just one issue. We’ve had this look for 6 years now, and it really clashes with Harley’s red and black outfit, so from now on I’ll be reminding DC to “let go of the pink and blue hair.”

Recommended if…

  • You’ll buy anything with “Harley Quinn” on the title. That is the only reason to buy this comic.

Overall

Look, I’m a reviewer. My job is to look at media through as critical and objective a lens as possible and tell people if the piece of entertainment is worth their time. This just isn’t. Neither the story or the characters make sense or have consistency. The storytelling pretends to have depth through some occasional monologues, though everything is actually very shallow. We’re nearing Harley’s 30th anniversary celebration, and I’m reminded that the character exists because fans reacted so positively to her concept and personality from just one guest appearance in Batman: the Animated Series. And well, if Harley was written in that show the way she is being written now, the character wouldn’t exist at this point.

Score: 2/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics Provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.