After the success that was Harley’s San Diego Invades Comic Con special from last year, I anticipated any future one shots that the artist and writer team would come up with. Whether her adventures take place on Earth or on some intergalactic setting (provided that it is temporary), Connor and Palmiotti have some creative endeavor to place Harley in and it doesn’t forced. It feels like a natural, organic extension of her colorful personality. Granted, I am not too excited about her mini with Power Girl but as long as you see it as a mini story that just happens to take place in outer space, you should be good. This is why I am glad that the Road Trip takes place on planet Earth. The main gist of the story is that one of Harley’s favorite uncles has died. She has to pick up his ashes in Los Angeles. Her incentive to go is because he has bequeathed to her a van, specifically a 1950s trailer. Naturally, Harley cannot have this adventure by herself so she asks Catty and Ivy to come join her.

Beautiful artwork and offbeat hijinks make this one shot a fun read. Yet, we also get to know more of Harley. The writers add extra layers to her by tweaking bits here and there.

I like the friendship she has with Big Tony. It is platonic (so far). When Harley tells him of her plans, he replied “Uh oh. Let me know where to send the bail.” Little comments like this show that Harley has genuine friendships that aren’t based on being calculating to achieve a goal. There is warmth and humor. Harley is no longer the moll of yesteryear when she has others caring for her and we the readers care for those characters. This has shown evolution in the character.

The friendship between Ivy, Harley and Selina. In Gotham City Sirens, the girls became allies out of necessity. In Arkham Unhinged, it was also based on that but there was something beyond. There was an element of trust that none of them could exploit and because of their allegiance in GCS, perhaps they became close. In the Road Trip special, their friendship was the kind of thing you would only see in crack fanfic.

The girls genuinely care for one another and they have fun together. This is very refreshing.  They even play a dirty version of “Truth or Dare”.  In it, Harley finally admits to Catwoman that she kissed Batman/Bruce which she described as ‘kissing my brother’. Selina looks more piqued than angry and jealous. At the end of the book, Ivy even creates a new tree for her uncle and aunt’s final resting place. For a misanthrope that is impressive. This is a sisterhood I would love to be a part of. While in Selina’s own book she is focused on being a leader of a crime family, here there is friendship. They plan road trips, crash Hollywood parties and share a bathroom at the same time.

Speaking of bathrooms, there is a part where they are in some hotel and at one point we see what is clearly a bed that has been abused. There are scratches on the wall and a strange discoloration on the sheets. Either the girls are so close that they had a threeway or they partied like the rock stars that they are (which is essentially the same thing).

The artwork is stunning and it lends itself beautifully to yet another hallucination scene Harley and Ivy undergo after drinking some ‘water’ from a marked bottle that belonged to a Native American truck driver who gave them a lift. What I found interesting about this part is that just as Harley is about to share the supposedly purified drinking water, Harley says “Pass it around like a Peace Pipe” to which Ivy replies, “I am not sure if that politically correct.” Selina finishes off by saying “If you have to ask, it probably isn’t. Now give me a swig!”

This stood out to me because there is public discourse about appropriation and cultural sensitivity. I felt that this was the creative team’s way of acknowledging that discourse while telling everyone to relax judging by the way Selina quickly demanded a sip. In a time when there is emphasis and in some cases a demand to watch one’s language and to be more mindful about what one says and thinks, I thought that by using the girls as a mouthpiece for this was subtle and clever. First off, EVERYONE says things that can be perceived as insensitive and it is not limited to white, heterosexual cisgendered males. Everyone is guilty of saying things that may or may not be perceived as problematic. That doesn’t mean that they are racist/sexist/transphobic. I think that as creators, Palmiotti and Connor are very aware of this. Look at the drama that occurred with the Joker and Batgirl controversy because an art student found it ‘offensive’. What the person found offensive was what was implied rather than what was explicitly stated which never occurred.

Harley has never been shy of making double entendres that were edgy and towed the line.

She asked Joker if he wanted to ‘eat (her) pie’ and ‘rev up her Harley’.

She referred to half naked men at the beach as ‘man meat’.

Selina referring to Harley and Ivy’s bad hangover being caused by them taking the ‘liquid Indian magic mushroom thing’. It’s been implied that Selina is Latina and she has been confirmed as being bisexual. Is she a bad person for saying this? Would people have been up in arms if Dick Grayson or Tim Drake said this?

In short, Harley and the girls are not above objectification and making “inappropriate” comments. That doesn’t make them bad people. I could be looking too much into that scene but there was something about the way it was placed and said that made me question. Why would three women who have a Devil May Care/Machiavellian attitude towards achieving their goals suddenly talk about political correctness?

Towards the end, I saw two things that impressed me.

  1. Ivy giving Harley’s uncle and aunt’s final resting place a makeover by uprooting the old and dying tree to make room for a shiny oak. Not only is this a testament to Ivy’s ability to care for another person but that she is more than just a plant obsessed misanthrope. She makes a quote about the ‘circle of life’ that coincides with one that Selina made earlier.
Harley: Ya really think that’s what happens when we die, Kitty Cat?
Selina: Your guess is as good as mine. I like to think we are all part of some cosmic plan and here to have the best time that we can, while we can, before we move on.
Ivy: The circle of life is on display here and part of that is that the living acknowledging and remembering the past. We all will die one day and I believe that we get born again. We are all part of this process.
Selina’s quote stood out to me because there is a touch of spiritualism. She is not religious to the extend that her sister Maggie is but she believes that there are elements beyond the physical realm. Catwoman/Selina is a character thought of a character who is focused on the senses. For her to talk about cosmic activity seems left of field but it also completely makes sense given her ‘Live Fast’ mentality.
    Ivy’s quote tells me that she respects and acknowledges the living. Some writers have portrayed her as disregarding the living as nothing more than ‘meat’. I don’t have a preference. I don’t believe that there is only ‘one, true’ correct way to view Ivy. I have enjoyed interpretations of her that range from her being unapologetic and cold hearted. I also enjoy seeing her express sensitivity. This is what makes the characters fascinating. It is the complexity and how the readers always keep guessing. A good writer can weave varying interpretations and make them align. Ivy’s quote perfectly incorporates that.
  As an aside, I love the vine tattoos the artists gave her. They spoil us too much!!
  Finally, Harley’s relationship with her uncle. As we have seen in Gotham City Sirens, Harley’s relationship with her father wasn’t the most functional but it wasn’t cold and distant either. It would be wrong to call it unhealthy because she knew that what he did was wrong. Nowhere did she acknowledge that he was the cause of her seeking emotionally unavailable men. Her relationship with her uncle adds to Harley’s background. Here she has a very healthy relationship. He served as a surrogate father who filled the position where her biological father could not. This begs the question: if Harley’s needs as a child were met by a positive make figure in her life, what caused her to seek a relationship with dangerous men who used her? With only a few panels, Connor and Palmiotti added depth to Harley. She continues to fascinate and intrigue. This goes to show that even though we have come to ‘know’ her, we really don’t.

Harley Quinn Road trip #1: 5 stars out of 5.

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