I wanted to preface this post by saying that I am sorry for not updating. For the last week and a half-ish, I was doing storyboard art for a friend and it took me longer than anticipated to finish it. I sent it to him days before the deadline and he seemed impressed with my chicken scratches.
So yeah. I wasn’t ignoring this blog. I was just caught up in other endeavors.
Anywho, onto my rant.
Harley Quinn has gained mainstream popularity due to the Arkham games. Naturally people want to know more about her. Of course you can’t go wrong with the Kessel and Dodson run from the early 2000s. Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti have created a version of Harley that borrows elements from that comic incarnation yet at the same time they gave her a very refreshing makeover. Jimmy and Amanda ‘get’ Harley’s warped sense of humor. Dirty puns, pop culture references that don’t overdo it and of course those ‘Holy Blankarollee’ quips. It’s hard not to fall in love with Harley Quinn as interpreted by Connor.
I admit, I am jumping into the middle of a story but the gist of it is this: At this point in her series and in the DCU, Harley has assembled her own team of Harleys. The extra help ranges from all backgrounds, shapes, sizes and genders. There is even a token man named Harvey Quinn.
I can just picture Amanda Connor throwing out all these crazy ideas in trying to reinvent Harley but instead of taking it too far, she created unique characters who borrow elements from the original. It is hard to say if Bolly Quinn and Harvey Quinn will stay but the fact that Harley has her own team to help her demonstrates that she is her own person. I remember a time when it was impossible to even imagine Harley as her own character away from the Joker. She was attached to him like an extra limb. He defined her and she was in his shadow.
These changes occurred with a slow but sure process that began way back in 2007 when her own creator Paul Dini took over Detective Comics and brought Harley back from limbo in Detective #831 in April 2007. The comic was a lot like ‘Harley’s Holiday’ in that while she had her history, she still had heart. This lead to Harley being released from Arkham Asylum by Bruce himself after he saw that she double crossed Scarface and the new Ventriloquist Peyton Riley which led to a stint in Birds of Prey for a few issues.
During this time, she also volunteered in an abused women’s shelter. This was referred to in Detective and in the Countdown weekly comic. Two years later in 2009, we got Gotham City Sirens and that very same year, the general public was (re)introduced to her in the very first Arkham Asylum game. In the Fall of 2011 she had a lead role in the Suicide Squad comic which was part of the Nu 52 continuity. Two years after that, her current monthly was solicited.
Harley’s had an amazing transformation. At times even I forget that at one point that she was second banana to both Joker and Ivy. While it is understandable that depending on what media, she will always be associated with either of them, it would also be a disservice to her development. Harley is one of those characters who appeals to people on such a personal level that I even recall seeing some very heated debates on the old DC boards and on livejournal (yes, that is how old I am! Shut up!) about who Harley really ‘was’. The truth is is that there is no ‘real’ Harley.
When you read a Batman comic from the Golden Age, does he still “sound” like Christian Bale version? Batman himself has been written as a very dark and cynical character who shows no mercy. Yet, there have been times when he has shown sympathy to his worst enemies, Harley Quinn and Harvey Dent/Two Face being notable examples.
Harley Quinn has been around for over twenty years. To keep her in the same ‘Mad Love’ interpretation meant that she would run the risk of being forgotten. I am personally in the camp of having Harley be her own person because the Joker is someone who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Years ago, someone made a brilliant observation that Joker’s worst crimes were the ones where he did NOT kill people. In the Post Crisis 1985/Pre Nu 52 era (roughly 1986-2011), he was noted for shooting Barbara in the spine and paralyzing her. He also drove his lover insane. To me, that has more impact than him just randomly killing people. Having a high body count loses its edge after awhile and that is when people start asking ‘Why doesn’t Batman just kill him?’
What does this have to do with Harley Quinn #18 and #19? Too much for me to put off any further.
When Harley was Joker’s sidekick, he would not hesitate to throw her under the bus. In #18, we see Harley running with one of her underlings, an Indian Harley who is christened Bolly Quinn here. The scene is preceded by Harl and Bolly trying to make a deal with a thug who wants her phone. Harley quickly mentions that it is wired to explode. With this, the thug lets them go. Bolly asks Harley why didn’t they just take on the troublemakers. Harley replies ‘Never get yourself killed over a thingamajig, specially a phone that ya can replace. Yer life is worth more than that. Y’gotta be smart, live to fight another day and all that stuff!’
This is someone who cares about her henchgirls (and men). She is compassionate and she has a quirky sense of humor. By quirky, it means that she knows her art (Jackson Pollock), makes obscure pop culure references and has a great taste in music as demonstrated in Harley Quinn #14 when she started singing the chorus to KISS’ “Rock n Roll All Night”. I can’t really see her as a ruthless killer unless we are talking about how she is written in the Arkham games, the Arkham Unhinged comics, and in the Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermejo Joker GN of 2008. I want to stress that I recommend those reads even though I prefer Harl on her own. I see them as their own valuable source of Harley even though I (and many others) prefer a more comical and light version.
Connor and Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn leans more on the zany and comical side with just enough dark humor that you can believe that it doesn’t come across as forced. This is a Harley who makes dark and dirty puns. As a Batman character, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she even uses the Adam West Batman’s trope of saying ‘Holy ——olee’ everytime she sees something that surprises her. I admit, at first I found it overwhelming but then I saw it as a not so subtle nod to the Bat fandom.
Harley Quinn #18 basically deals with Harley trying to rescue a couple of members of her crew of Harley’s from a rather peculiar interesting villain of the current storyline. His name Horatio Strong and he bears a very suspicious resemblance to Popeye. He is a very large and hulking sailor who can turn very mean when he consumes seaweed that makes him hallucinate. The premise sounds simple but what makes the story pop (heh) is the artwork. The artwork is just stunning. Harley, being a former gymnast, is drawn as limber and flexible. It’s not gratuitous and the artwork doesn’t exaggerate her poses and curves to the point where it looks like she is convulsing or has a skeleton made out of rubber.
I see a lot of geometrical weight and depth. Harley is a visual character who demands to be drawn doing things like flying in the air, doing cartwheels and fighting. One of the big problems I had with Guillem March when he drew the girls in Gotham City Sirens was that I could tell that he had too much fun drawing curves but paid little attention to proportion and how anatomy worked. As a manga artist or someone who only did covers, he is solid but his interior art was too much. There is a panel where Harley and Holly are both hitting Horatio Strong and while we get a view of Harley’s derriere, it doesn’t feel like it is the primary focus. It is not exaggerated. The shorts cover her buns just enough for her to fight without looking like a gratuitous photoshoot for Nuts magazine.
The highlight of #18 was the hallucination Harley had. This wouldn’t be a Harley comic if she did not taste the undersea chronic. The results were hilarious.
We are treated to a fantasy/dream sequence where Harley is the captain of her own ship and it looks like Dick Grayson is her cabin boy. I recently read a Scarlet Witch storyline that dealt with a very similar concept. It makes me hope that Conner and Palmiotti revisit this and maybe, hopefully give us an Alternate Universe treatment where we see more of Captain Harley and her Scurvy Crew.
Needless to say but Conner and Palmiotti have been providing Harley Quinn cosplayers with some very good ideas.
Captain Harley is warned about an enemy ship, the Gotham Mist. The crew consists of every Batman character reinterpreted as a pirate except for the captured victim: Ivy who is a mermaid. The Joker is the Captain of THAT ship. Even Batman himself is there and he looks like Davey Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean.
I loved how there was a reference to the Killing Joke when Joker holds up the monocular. There was so much fannish indulgence in those few pages.
I wanted to note the exchange between Harley and Joker. The writer and artist revisit this toxic relationship. There was a sword fight and an exchange of insults between the two characters before they share a kiss and the ship explodes. Looking at it now an maybe I am putting too much into it but I wonder if that is Connor and Palmiotti telling fans of the ‘true’ and ‘original’ Harley that that ship…..has sailed. Twice.
Connor Palmiotti have been careful with towing the line in pleasing the many facets of the Harley Quinn fandom. You have the vocal minority who only want the Mad Love version to be the only canon one that is acknowledged and then you have a new generation of Harley fans who see her as her own character and doesn’t let her past define her. A few issues back when Harley and Joker have their wedding on an island, it looked as though they were going to make it official. That was until Joker said that Harley had to be sacrificed and she fought back.
They are careful enough to indulge all facets of Harleys fans without directly pandering to them and for that Palmiotti and Conner have my respect.
They have given Harley enough of a new background and lease on life that to throw it all away to please a few vocal fans who can’t see beyond the ‘she is just as mentally ill as he is’ argument would be reductive.
I also want to mention that as I type this, my Pandora just started playing this tune called ‘Can’t treat me that way’ by Kate Earl. When I am done, I am going to find it on iTunes and make a Harley playlist.
The issue ends with Horatio Strong capturing ALL of Harley’s teammates. This storyline culminates with #19 which just came out this week.
Issue #19 revisits certain things that appeared earlier in Harley’s run. The Scatapult returns and this is how she lands on Horatio Strong’s boat. There is an exchange of words but not before ‘confirmation’ of Strong being inspired by a certain famous Sailor Man with his signature ‘Glug glug glug’ laugh.
It also turns out that aside from being addicted to the sea hash, Captain Strong’s stomach doesn’t agree with it. As if bathroom jokes are beyond the realm of Harley.
Horatio Strong is stopped when he is shot by the mother of some of Harley’s gang. There is drama in addition to the comedy in Harley’s comic. It turns out that some of Harley’s crew are actually underage. Eggy runs to Harley looking scared for his life. It turns out that Mama Bear has found out that her girls were part of Harley’s team and that they are all actually 14. Harley vouches for her new friends by emphasizing that it got them off the streets and away from bad influences. With this mama invites Harley for a hearty Italian meal.
I want to emphasize that in the very beginning of the comic, we see a reference to the Potato Jesus meme. I want to say that by adding this piece of infamous popular culture is an allusion to Harley being the ‘savior’ to this woman’s girls. She may not be perfect just like the ‘restored’ image of Ecce Homo is, but it has its “value”.
Finally, the issue introduces us to the next storyline which will take place in Hollyweird.
Connor and Palmiotti have created a series that has humor and heart. Is it any wonder why this is one of the top selling books? Harley Quinn is a fun read that has just enough reference to continuity for old time fans but enough substance to keep new fans interested. I can’t recommend this book enough.