I’m alive. I’m still kicking. I’ve still got the fight left in me to finish out Stephanie Phillip’s Harley Quinn run.
I’ve been getting the impression for a while that Phillip’s time on this book was coming to an end: it’s the way she hasn’t promoted it nearly as much and the way Harley’s been put on the back burner of her own title so much. This will, indeed be, Stephanie Phillip’s final Harley Quinn arc. Is there anything about it that’s worth checking out? Let’s take a look!
Yes, there is good to be found in this comic. The story begins with Kevin on his way to meet the League of Assassins, hoping to use the Lazarus pit to resurrect a friend. No surprise after the cover and premise of this comic, that friend is Harley Quinn. Then the rest of the comic must explain how we got to this point. Even if the reader knows that Harley can’t really die, this is a good opening hook. It immediately got me invested in finding out how Harley was murdered. I was also invested in seeing how the Lazarus pit would work on Harley, given the consequences that pit is supposed to have on those who use it.
Another positive to this book is the artwork. It’s colorful and fun without being either too wacky or too realistic for the tone of the book. The characters are well-drawn with 3-dimensional detail and that makes them look like real people (unlike the either mangled or flat artwork Harley’s been getting lately). Harley looks cute, and Kevin, while I thought his appearance looked hideous in the last issue, looks warm and inviting here.
It’s generally decent stuff, so what could go wrong?
The Problem is Always Harley
Once again, the main problem with a book that stars Harley Quinn… is Harley Quinn. This is the set up for her death in the book: Harley has been flippantly spending the money that Luke Fox gave her on ridiculous things. When Kevin confronts her for her irresponsibility, Harley gets angry and treats him very rudely saying “Guess what? Tomorrow, I’m gonna buy an ice rink and pay to have Cats performed on ice. Full buttholes and everything. The @!*$% cost extra!”(Charming). She’s loud, selfish, inconsiderate, irresponsible….
…and I’m getting really tired of explaining all this.
There’s a little reversal in the following scene where Kevin sees that Harley has dedicated a room to him and their friendship, but it doesn’t make Harley feel more nuanced. It makes her feel more shallow, because she thinks she and Kevin are besties, but will completely dismiss him and mistreat when he merely tries to set her on the right path. Kevin, while he unfortunately won’t be remembered past this run, at least follows the reliable “lovable shlub” trope that has worked and been used for decades. Harley has nothing to like about her and nothing to root for. When she died, I didn’t feel sorry for her, I felt sorry for Kevin feeling sad. There’s things to like about Kevin, but not Harley.
It Never Needed to be This Way
Like I said, I was invested in seeing how the Lazarus Pit would affect Harley, but then I was disappointed by how it did.
It only makes Harley *crazier.* Like, what is the interesting story that brings about? Harley is being portrayed as unlikable and awful, but now she’s even moreso that way? I remember there once was a comic where the Joker goes into the Lazarus Pit, and comes out a temporarily sane man (it was Legends of the Dark Knight #145). What if, in this story, we have Harley act crazy and treat Kevin badly, then she is killed and comes out of the Lazarus Pit a sane woman. Then maybe she and Kevin work together to find the killer, and Kevin decides he likes this “sane” Harley better, because she’s a more considerate person. Then, Harley could slip back into the same selfish, crazy person who is rude to Kevin. By the end of the story, Kevin could explain his experience with meeting “sane” Harley, and Harley could be challenged on what kind of person she’s truly become. It would also be thematically fitting in a story arc that teases exploring Harley’s different personality throughout the multiverse.
You see, even in the state that Harley is in now, there’s still more dimension that can be brought out of her. It’s just that the writers always refuse to do so. I was really hoping that my criticisms with Harley would be heard so that she could be brought into a better state, but why would Stephanie Phillips make changes when she’s about to leave the book?
Tini Howard As the New Writer
As some of you might have heard, Tini Howard has been announced as the new writer on this book, starting in March 2023. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken by the news, and I didn’t see many people who were thrilled by it either. You see, I’m already unimpressed by her work on Catwoman, and I’ve already seen what her Harley will be like. Yet another completely different voice and personality that prioritizes vapidness and loudness in place of good character writing.
It both matters and it doesn’t matter. It matters because it would be amazing to see a return to form for Harley in any degree, as we are seeing with Poison Ivy in G. Willow Wilson’s run. On the other hand though, it doesn’t matter, because most likely no one is going to continue to read this book.
I see the signs all around. Comic book shops saying that they’ve finally had to drop Harley Quinn. The lack of engagement around the series and the character. This comic can’t even get above the top 100 comic books, and Tini Howard does not have a good track record of bringing in sales.
I’m a pretty good judge of what people actually want from comic and comic book characters as a whole. When I started reviewing this book, I was told that Batman News stopped doing reviews for Harley Quinn because no one was clicking on the articles. I knew if I did a review critiquing how much Harley had fallen as a character that people would enjoy it, because that’s what most people seemed to think. And you know what? The review did do well, but no one seems interested in continuing reading Harley the way she is. So what will happen if this writing continues? Sales will bottom out even more and the character will continue to become more and more irrelevant.
I’m sorry that’s going to happen, but I think if there is any hope for this character, it won’t be found at DC Comics.
(For anyone’s consideration, Google Trends reports that interest in Harley Quinn peaked in 2016.)
- You wanted to see Stephanie Phillip’s Harley Quinn get shot.
- Kevin is one of your favorite characters.
- You’ve wanted to see better art in a Harley Quinn book.
There are some elements to this book that remind me Stephanie Phillips does have talent as a writer, but those talents don’t lie in writing a good Harley Quinn. It’s sad how unreadable the character has become with no change. This is not character evolution, development, growth, or whatever you want to call it. It never was. I will award the book a 5/10, however, because the art is actually good.
This will be the last monthly review for the Harley Quinn ongoing. I and my editor have decided that it would be better to review the arcs instead of the individual issues. Interest in the book has waned too much, and I don’t want to have to repeat myself every issue on the fundamental problems with DC’s handling of this character.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.