Harley Quinn’s New 52 Hardcover: Hot In The City   Leave a comment

Harley Quinn Vol 1

As a kid growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Harley Quinn has always been a favorite Batman character of mine.  By far the biggest breakout character from the 90s Batman Animated Series, Harley Quinn went from a one-note henchwoman who assisted The Joker on occasion to recurring villain in her own right.  Paul Dini (and the other writers) gave her the complexities that a lot of the other characters had, but since she was created on the show she wasn’t stuck to any of the archetypal frameworks that the others had.  Eventually becoming best buds with (and according to Paul Dini, an off-screen love interest for) Poison Ivy and having it revealed that she used to be The Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham (first in the comic Mad Love, followed by an episode based on the comic), Harley demonstrated an interesting flair for making epic and unapproachable figures a bit more grounded.  Her recurring infatuation with The Joker has run the spectrum from delightfully honest and truly romantic down to terrifying, abusive, and manipulative, and her occasional attempts to not be a villain anymore have demonstrated a lot of the complexities of the real life when our own plans don’t go the way we expect them to.  She’s even gotten Batman to warm up a little since Batman knows that not everything is her fault when things go crazy around her.  All in all, she’s a great character.  Does the series hold up to the legacy, though?

Short answer: yes?  It’s honestly hard to tell where this lands.  The comic is written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti as a zany comedy of the day to day antics of everyone’s favorite insane clown lady villain (not counting fans of The Joker’s Daughter).  The basic plot of the story is that Harley Quinn has had her old life sorta blow up on her, but an old client of hers from the Asylum has given given her an apartment building in Coney Island.  So, she packs her bags and leaves Gotham to travel to New York.  Her building is filled with a curious assortment of tenants, but she discovers that she won’t quite have the cash to keep the building running just from her rent money.  So she gets a couple of jobs: during the day she’ll be a psychiatrist and therapist at a retirement center, and by night she’ll work as a member of a Roller Derby team.  So, her new life is off to an awesome new start!  Harley’s gonna make it after all!

Mary Tyler Moore Hat Toss

Incidentally, I love this choice.  I’ve always wanted Harley Quinn to actually do something with her psychiatry training that wasn’t in her back story, so getting a job helping people during the day sort of answers the question for me of just why we never see her using all of this training she has (even if it’s sometimes suggested that she only did the bare minimum so that she could make a fortune writing self-help books and tell-all tales of Arkham’s more colorful inmates.)  As for the Roller Derby thing, something feels “right” about it.  My knowledge of roller derbies and the surrounding culture is limited to a single episode of Psyche, but from that limited amount of training it seems like a fitting place for her to ply the skills that she gained while being a super criminal and suicide squad agent.  It’s just wild and violent enough that someone of her skill set could thrive (even if she’d be prone to breaking rules) but still legal enough for her to do it and not get in trouble for it.  Plus, the Harley Quinn themed roller derby costume on the cover/first issue makes for an interesting counterpoint to her classic streamlined Animated Series outfit.  (Sidenote: at what point exactly did DC decide that Quinn’s skin color had been permanently bleached white like The Joker’s?  Was it just a quick blink-and-you-miss-it panel in Death Of The Family?  I’m not sure when that decision was made, or if I like it.  It doesn’t really hurt the story, but every time I see it I think “Oh, right.  That’s canon now.”)

Now, her perfect life isn’t so perfect.  Apparently, someone’s put a massive amount of money on her head, and that money keeps increasing.  Bounty hunters and assassins keep arriving to collect the big bucks.  This provides some fun side stories, but I never quite feel like she’s actually in danger from any of these murderers out to kill her.  Worse, I feel like the revelation of who’s hiring the bounty hunters isn’t handled quite as well as it could be… don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun idea, but I think it could’ve been pulled off better on some level.  However, to the credit of the writers, they use the revelation of what’s sending the bounty hunters her way to exacerbate other issues in the story, and that almost makes it worth it.

That’s the main plot of the book, but it’s worth pointing out that the collection includes some things that aren’t part of that overarching plot.  There are a few one-shot side adventure issues tossed in (including the fourth-wall breaking Issue #0, a Valentine’s Day special (and who better to have a story talking about Mad Love?), and some other issues surrounding her new places of employment), and  a good portion of the middle of the story features a secondary tale where one of Harley Quinn’s patients turns out to be a former cybernetic spy who wants to enlist her help in tracking down some secret agents who’ve been living in the States for decades.  I felt a little uncomfortable at times with how zealously Syborg (the secret agent) and Harey pursued these other secret agents, but then I reminded myself that I wasn’t reading about a hero per se.  I was reading about a villain, one taught by The Joker no less.  I actually found this story more interesting than the main plot surrounding the mysterious assassins, though I’m glad that it wasn’t stretched out for much longer than it was.

Before this comic series came out, the creators talked about how they would plan on getting Harley into some different outfits since it’s unrealistic for someone to wear exactly the same clothes every day.  I spoke a little earlier about how I thought her Roller Derby outfit worked…but a lot of the other outfits don’t feel like they work as well.  Some of them do, sure.  Some of them, though, felt a little too much like they were drawn just for the purpose of having Harley wear something revealing.  Fortunately, this problem didn’t come up so often that it got in the way of everything else that was happening.

Ultimately, it was an interesting read, though I don’t think it was for me.  It’s definitely meant to be a goofier, sillier comic than most of DC’s line-up, but I was hoping for an edge of seriousness akin to Paul Dini’s Zatanna comic from a while back.  The good news is that the series is doing a great job of mixing its stories and weaving together different plot elements (and it left a lot of unresolved hooks for the future.)  I look forward to seeing more about where this series is going, but for right now I’m going to be reading them one collection at a time instead of as a monthly series.  The series is still finding its sea legs, I think, and has the potential to be awesome, but isn’t quite there yet.  Here’s hoping!

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