I’m going to be making a small change in how I review these comics, because, honestly, I’ve been holding back. I’ve been trying to compromise with these Harley Quinn comics with the hopes of just getting something that isn’t complete gobbledygook. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and I held back on some of my opinions so as not to rock the boat.
However, this is the first Harley Quinn comic I’ve reviewed since Arleen Sorkin passed away. Her passing really affected me deeply and made me reflect both on how much her work means to me and how much it’s been disregarded and spat upon by DC Comics.
So here’s the thing: there’s been a bit of emotional manipulation going on when it comes to discussions on Harley Quinn. Here’s how it goes. If you say you think the character was better portrayed in her original form and you think that is what she should go back to if she is ever to be a popular or well-written character again, there are those who will call you an “abuse supporter”, or “you want to regress Harley’s character!”
For those who don’t know, this is called an ad hominem fallacy. It occurs when you attack someone as a person for the opinion they hold rather than by providing a substantial argument against their opinion. Harley is fictional character. Readers want fictional characters to be written in the way that they find to be the most interesting. A reader who thinks it would better to write Harley as a villain again and be allowed to have stories with the Joker once more is not supporting abuse anymore than someone who wants Batman’s parents to stay dead is supporting parental murder in real life.
The reasons why people want Harley Quinn to return to her former state have been explained ad nauseam to this point. I don’t really see any benefit in projecting some malicious ulterior motive onto the people who hold this opinion.
That said, once again, I will no longer be compromising with these books. I’m not talking about religion or politics here; I’m talking about comics. I should never have felt the need to water-down my opinions on how this character has been used and destroyed, and neither should anyone else. Without further delay, let’s get on to this review.
“Deeply Strange Adventures” by Gail Simone and David Baldeon
Of course, we would start off this book with the worst story in the entire series so far. Gail Simone has decided that the version of “Harley” she wants to use is the one that’s not like Harley at all. It’s the one that is a wholly unlikable character whose entire persona revolves around “Antics! Antics! Antics!”. She’s the one who speaks in fart jokes, sex jokes, poop jokes, and pop culture references for things that aren’t even widely known; so, I don’t know how anyone could find them funny.
“Harley” spends her time blowing things up, screaming, and getting horny over everyone, but she makes cute faces sometimes, so I suppose we’re supposed to like her, right? Oh, and she reminds Ivy, her lobotomized and completely accepting girlfriend, that, don’t worry, she didn’t actually cheat on her this time, though she certainly seemed game for it. I guess that’s also supposed to make us like her?
In case you can’t tell, this version is based off of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor’s work. I don’t know how often I need to describe how this portrayal was the worst thing to ever happen to Harley Quinn. Their version of the character was basically a self-insert of a middle-aged couple who makes poop, sex, and pop culture jokes that are funny to mostly themselves, and I suppose to Gail Simone as well. Reading this kind of stuff is like pouring sewage into one’s mind. It’s the kind of writing that has made Harley so hated over time.
The artwork meanwhile is objectively good. David Baldeon provides a very exaggerated, cartoonish style for the comic, which is fitting. The problem is that he’s asked to create art that accurately depicts an obnoxious character, and consequently, I thought that the over-exaggerated drawings of Harley screaming and flirting were just that: obnoxious. However, that’s not his fault. The problem is with the writing and tone of the story that called for him to draw in that sort of way.
“Stacked Deck” by Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips
In stark contrast to the last story, Chris Condon chooses to portray actual Harley Quinn in a scenario that is meant to explore what Harley’s life could’ve been like if she had never become Harley Quinn. It’s an interesting concept. I appreciate the reverence Condon seems to have for the original Mad Love issue by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. There are even pages that directly reference scenes and panel layouts from that story. Harley sounds much more grounded and innocent in a way that makes me back her as a likable character.
The ending, in particular, really hit me hard. I very much appreciated having a Harley story that was allowed to have a downer ending for once, as the tragedy of Harley’s character has always been one of her strengths in writing.
However, there were things that held this story back.
1. The artwork isn’t good. Harley looks like a man at multiple points. There was also a conceptually very stylized moment that was meant to demonstrate how Harley felt as if someone’s blood was on her hands, but the simplistic art didn’t provide any sense of surrealism for it.
2. It felt very contrived to say that the entire life of this massive character would’ve changed just over a missed alarm and some car trouble in which she might miss her first appointment with the Joker.
3. This comic is built on the premise that Harley was/is a good person without the Joker. However, this comic is also directly referencing Mad Love. Harley Quinn was not a good person in that book. Mad Love very specifically laid out that Harley was a person who wanted to exploit the stories of her patients for money and fame rather than to actually help them. She felt sympathy for the Joker in a way that made her take his side in his senseless murder crusade. But if her ultimate goal was to cure him, she wouldn’t have also helped him in his murderous crimes.
There is an innocent side to Harley Quinn, and I really appreciate the love that Chris Condon seems to have for the character. I just wish that more writers would incorporate ALL of her character, and not just one select part. She can be both a victim of manipulation and not a great person herself at the same time.
“The Rebound” by Juni Ba and Aditya Bidikar
This is another story that is more up my alley. During yet another break up with the Joker, Harley receives a kitten to help her get back on her feet, as opposed to her getting another boyfriend. Harley in her jester suit plus a black kitten proves to be a great opportunity for some very delightful art and narrative moments. Combine that with a Harley who is more of a cute character with a balance between innocence and villainy, and you’ve got me pretty much onboard with the story.
However, the ending let me down a bit for a story that was overall so adorable, as it concluded on a different note than Harley’s kitten being helpful to her. What was really disappointing though is this is yet another Harley Quinn story that ends with Harley needing to be “her own woman.”
I’m not going to blame the writer for this problem since this is said so consistently about a character with almost no consistency anymore that it must be an editorial thing. The reason why it frustrates me so much is that DC has spent almost 8 YEARS at this point declaring that Harley Quinn must be her own woman. Meanwhile, all DC has shown is that they CANNOT make Harley her own woman! I’ve read nearly all of her comics, and she has been given no motive, dimension, or place within DC, or really even a consistent personality.
Who is she now? Well, the only consistent thing about her she’s supposed to have this kooky clown persona still – the persona that was made to match with Joker. So, the only defining trait of Harley Quinn is that she riffs off of Joker’s motif. That doesn’t sound like someone who is her own person or her own character.
Once again, I don’t blame the writer for this. It’s a DC editorial thing, and they’ve been dishonest about it. They’ve been trying to gaslight the audience into thinking that they’ve achieved something with Harley Quinn that they haven’t. And I am so over it.
- You want to read 2/3 of a Harley comic that is marginally better than the mainstream stuff.
- You want to read about Harley getting a kitten.
- More “Tank Girl” Harley in the beginning is something you wanted.
I don’t really know if I can recommend this comic. Do I recommend this because 2 out of the 3 stories are marginally better than what we get in the main Harley comics? Do I tell you to skip it because it still isn’t good enough to make up for the bad stuff? Not only is the quality of this comic inconsistent, but the very identity of the character that each writer thinks they are portraying is inconsistent as well. It’s just not good enough to make up for a company that has abused the character of Harley Quinn more than the Joker ever did.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.