Friday, 23 May 2014

Harley Quinn, Volume 1 Review (Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner)

Looking at DC objectively right now, besides a great many other, bigger fixes, they need a few things: 1) with the Joker going AWOL at the end of Death of the Family, they need a prominent clown character as they’re kind of known for that, 2) they need a female character series to at least attempt to balance out the overwhelmingly male centric titles, and 3) they desperately need a fun character – too many New 52 titles are dark, grim, gritty and miserable. So it makes perfect sense to give Harley Quinn her own series as she ticks all of those boxes – and whaddayaknow? This is the first (non-Scott Snyder/Grant Morrison) New 52 title in a while that’s really enjoyable… or at least half of it is anyway.

Because while the series starts on a high with the #0 issue where multiple artists draw the comic and Harley has a brilliant back and forth convo with Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, each issue gets progressively worse so that it became a real struggle to make it through the last chapter.

But let’s talk about the good first half because it really is good. Harley’s sat in her storage locker, reading comics and eating junk food before going into a sugar coma where she imagines herself as different things – a rock star, a ninja, a giant robot, etc. – with each page being drawn by an amazing artist. I won’t list all 17 but you’ve got legendary artists like Walt Simonson, Bruce Timm and Darwyn Cooke rubbing shoulders with Becky Cloonan, Tony Daniel and the main artist on this title, Chad Hardin, with the co-writer of the series, Amanda Conner, contributing pages too. Suffice it to say this is a great looking comic and, with Harley breaking the fourth wall a la Deadpool, really fun too.

(This is also the issue where some readers might remember there being controversy when DC asked people to send in drawings of Harley Quinn committing suicide. In the context of this issue, it’s actually a pun on her former team book, Suicide Squad, which is brilliant and suits the silly nature of this issue, as opposed to the idea that DC were making light of the act of suicide, which is how it looked because they didn’t explain it well enough. Oh DC, another ham-fisted PR move!)

From then we get the setup of the series: a former patient of Harley’s at Arkham Asylum has passed away and left her his four storey building in Coney Island. Harley, as new owner, is to be the landlord to a group of misfits who (of course) run a murderer’s museum on the ground floor of the building and a weird avant-garde/violent stage show. She also takes a job as a psychiatrist to help stay afloat and joins a roller derby team because, well, a gal’s gotta have a hobby and she’s pretty much the ultimate roller derby chick already! Oh and someone’s put a hit out on her so she’s got assassins on her tail too, and somewhere in there is a talking dead beaver only she can hear (surprising to find a dearth of “stuffed beaver” jokes made).

Phew, you can’t accuse ol’ Harley for not having enough going on in this book!

The first coupla issues are fun and over the top – Harley meets her new cast of supporting characters and her old buddy (and ambiguous “partner”?) Poison Ivy shows up to help her liberate an animal shelter, moving them into Harley’s new pad. There’s a lot going on here but they’re very enjoyable comics – well written, chaotically creative, delightful art, awesome!

Then the rot sets in.

The Valentine’s Day issue has Harley feeling lonely so she swallows a berry Ivy gave her to make her irresistible to the opposite sex. But it works too well and, wouldn’t you know it, she’s suddenly attracted a group of prisoners who’ll pursue her to death! It’s an ok issue and tonally it’s just right, but it felt too much like the Valentine’s Day issue of Dustin Nguyen’s Li’l Gotham, with Harley in place of Joker, which took away from my enjoyment of it because it no longer felt fresh and original (to be fair, Palmiotti told me on Twitter that he’d never read the Li’l Gotham issue so it was just a coincidence).

Then the next chapter is basically an issue-length joke centring around a senile granny that isn’t funny, and the book ends with a two-part caper as Harley teams up with one of her patients at the psychiatric hospital she works, Sy Borgman, who turns out to be a retired superspy with robotic parts: Syborg.

Harley ends up playing second fiddle to this Yiddish-spouting Inspector Gadget-type as the two kill multiple geriatric characters because… well, I won’t say why but the payoff is really disappointing. And the whole reason Harley’s helping him – to try to get the hit on her taken off – doesn’t go anywhere either. By the end when a group of old gangsters are shooting at this wheelchair-ridden oldie, I realised I didn’t care what was happening on the page – and why’s Harley all but disappeared in her own comic?! What happened to all those other plot threads – why not pursue those instead of doing this dull Cold War cartoonish storyline?

The first Harley Quinn volume is definitely worth a look, if only for being a much more fun DC title than we’ve had from them in a while, but also for the really excellent first half of the book. It loses steam and inspiration from then on in but it’s done enough to stand out from other DC New 52 titles so that, even if I’m not going to pick up the single issues from now on, I’ll probably be back for the second trade paperback to see what she’s been up to.

Giant mallet lovers will adore this.

Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City

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