I want to start off this review by talking about something I haven’t mentioned before when discussing Harley Quinn on this website: sales. Back in the mid-2010s, the character’s comics were selling gangbusters. She’d oftentimes rank only below Batman in terms of the amount of units sent to comic book shops.
A lot of people don’t seem to realize, though, that Harley Quinn’s comic book sales have gradually been spiraling down for the last 5 or 6 years now. At this time, she only has one book on the stands month to month (this solo), and it’s been consistently appearing around the 150 mark in terms of sales rankings. And yes, actual sales data for comics is scarce now, but if we were to compare that ranking to what comics at the 150 mark were selling back when actual numbers were available, then Harley Quinn would be shipping about 14K issues to comic book stores. That would mark the lowest a Harley Quinn solo book has sold since her first run from the 2000’s lost steam. This would also explain why each Harley Quinn issue now has about 5 variant covers to boost sales.
Why am I bringing this up? I usually wouldn’t, because sales don’t necessarily judge the quality of a comic. I bring it up because I’ve known this information for a while, and I was utterly baffled by the series all of a sudden going weekly. Surely it doesn’t have the interest to support that right now. I’ve heard people say this is perhaps to rush out another Harley Quinn anniversary trade. After reading the first issue, it seems also to be an attempt to cash in on Dark Crisis, but despite getting a better artist, I think the release schedule compression might make the book suffer even more.
But never mind all that. I’m in for the long haul with this book until it’s over. So how does Harley Quinn by Stephanie Phillips fare with a new artist and a compressed release schedule? Let’s take a look.
First of all, I’m amazed at how my experience with this book has changed now that a new artist is onboard. I can actually see Harley and the other characters! I can actually tell what’s going on! Rossmo’s art was so wacky and so mangled, I had a hard time picking up any visual cues to successfully follow the story. It made each issue a chore to read, taking much longer than usual just to make out what was happening. The art in this issue makes it feel like I’m reading an actual comic. It uses very simple panel layouts and splash pages to move the story forward. Sometimes there are only three or four panels on a page, making it simple to follow, and making it a quick read.
I mean, it’s not perfect. There’s not a lot of detail or distinct style to the art. While Max Sarin or Amanda Connor give a cartoonish flair to Harley Quinn books, this is a generic art style I could find pretty much anywhere in comics. However, my only real criticisms are minor things like character proportions. Sometimes Harley’s face looks too long, and there’s one panel where she looks like she doesn’t have pupils or eyelids. So it’s not incredible comic art that’s going to sell the book alone. It is a relief on the eyes compared to Rossmo’s art, nevertheless.
The writing for Harley Quinn, however, obviously– and sadly– hasn’t changed too much.
She’s not so bad in this issue. Part of that is, once again, the artwork. In the past, one of the reasons Harley was so insufferable to me was Riley Rossmo depicting her with such annoying, smug facial expressions. She looks more or less normal here. The artwork gives her a variety of expressions other than “crazy cartoon,” and that makes her feel just a bit more human. (Sometimes her facial expressions remind me of Jinx from Arcane). However, we still open the comic with a long pseudo-philosophical musing from Harley, about not liking group projects, that goes on for a while. The only purpose of it is to set up one panel where Harley is trepidatious about being made to join another team after being forced by Amanda Waller to serve on the Suicide Squad. But that all changes the second Luke Fox offers her some cash to be on his rag-tag team. Did we really need a long internal monologue to set that up?
That’s the crux of the issue, however. After a completely needless chase sequence where people under Luke Fox’s employment try to capture Harley (and knock her out against his wishes), he reveals that he wants her to go on a “completely optional” mission for him, since the rest of the Teen Titans and Justice League are either busy or out of commission for the Dark Crisis event. I must say, I don’t know why Luke Fox would hire the likes of Harley or Verdict (who looks like Vi from Arcane here) for a mission even if he was desperate. But it only becomes apparent next issue why Harley is really, truly, a bad choice for the team.
Once again, she’s a bit more mild in terms of dialogue and hyperactivity in this issue, probably because we’re dealing with mostly exposition. There is a weird running gag where Harley REALLY wants Italian food, and she keeps talking about it, and she keeps annoying people on the spaceship because she’s eating garlic and her breath smells bad. These are just forced, bad attempts at humor and they don’t do the character or story any service. They just continue to make the reader question why Harley was asked to join the team at all.
- Rossmo’s art turned you off of the Harley Quinn series, and you want to give the book another chance.
- You want to read everything and anything related to DC’s Dark Crisis event (and this very vaguely connects to it).
While the artist change-up for Stephanie Phillips’ run of Harley Quinn probably won’t save the series at this point, it does make the book a lot more palatable than before. I still think it was a bad choice to make this book go monthly though, since I don’t think it has the clout or substance behind it to handle that.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.