What’s this? Another Harley Quinn book? I guess DC will just never get the message that the character is too over-exposed in comics. This is her third series running this month, with absolutely no good sales data to back it up! The first Black, White, and Red series actually provided some of the better stories in the character’s recent history, however. So, will there be any good stories in this collection? Let’s find out!
“The Man of Steal!”
The first story in this book features Harley dragging Ivy on a snowy quest to the Fortress of Solitude. Harley is hoping to loot the place. What I liked about this story is that I could instantly recognize that the character I was reading about WAS Harley! She wants to rob places! She’s childish without being an actual child! The banter between her and Ivy – who is portrayed as her exasperated friend here rather than her doe-eyed girlfriend – was also fun. It reminded me of just how changed the characters have become in recent years just to facilitate their new romantic relationship.
I also liked the artwork by Kevin Maguire. The splashes of blood-red against the white snowy background catch the eye immediately. It reminded me of how strong Harley’s black, white, and red color scheme is. (They really should get rid of the pastels from her current look).
However, the big flaw in this story is that it’s supposed to be a comedy, yet none of the comedy landed for me at all. That made the story itself really bland and forgettable. Unfortunately, I think that Chip Zdarsky’s skill as a writer has been overestimated. I don’t think he’s really proven himself yet at DC.
“Push Through the Pain”
Leah Williams presents a story with which I also like the concept. She goes back to Harley’s scarcely explored high school days as a gymnast. The artwork by Natacha Bustos takes on a YA novel look with simple, yet cute designs for the characters and backgrounds which is fitting for the story.
However, the execution of the story fell flat to me. While I appreciate that this is another story that recognizes that Harley is not a good person, she is portrayed as the exact same person in her backstory as she is when she’s Harley Quinn. She’s got the pigtails, the violent, crazy behavior and all. What’s intriguing about Harley’s backstory is that you get to see the contrast of who she was before she went crazy. That should add layers to who she is. For some reason, people like to dwindle down the character as if she’s always been one thing forever.
I also didn’t care so much for Leah William’s Harley voice. It sounded more on the side of “edgy, crude” Harley. DC needs to decide what Harley’s personality really is. I would recommend that the “cute but villainess” Harley would have the most broad appeal.
This story starts out okay. Paul Scheer is another writer who chooses to portray Harley as a criminal, but gives her a more cutesy voice (though the dialogue is a little so-so). Harley is greeted by Gaggy Galsworthy and another former Joker henchman. They say that they are inspired by her newfound independence and want to follow in her footsteps, proposing that all of them go on a jewel heist to show the Joker how great they can all be without him.
It was fine at first, but then the story completely lost me. Gaggy and company betray Harley, revealing they only wanted to set her up to take the fall for their robbery. This becomes an opportunity for Harley to bemoan how she “always tries to fix broken toys” and how she’s too wise to align herself with untrustworthy, narcissistic criminals now. (No, she should only let herself team up with trustworthy, humble criminals as they commit crimes!)
I’m sorry, but that literally is the story.
What we’re seeing here is the bane of Harley Quinn’s existence right now. There was a time when Harley could just be an insane, wayward criminal with or without the Joker, and it would be left at that. Ever since Harley broke out in the mainstream, however, she’s had to be a “good role model.” She needs to present messages of growth and empowerment for all of her female fans despite still being a crazy person prone to theft and murder at the best of times.
I’m sorry, but how stupid do people think women are? If you see a woman on the news who robbed a bank, but she starts preaching about how she broke up with her abusive boyfriend, you’re not gonna respond, “YAS SLAY QUEEN, DUMP HIM!” No, you’re gonna be thinking about what a terrible human being she is for stealing! To see Harley go off on a jewel heist, and then have the story shift into a narrative about personal growth and betterment while she’s still a lunatic criminal is just ludicrous.
Harley Can’t Be a Role Model
It doesn’t matter if Harley isn’t with the Joker anymore; she’s still no paragon of growth and empowerment. The character continues to be a walking oxymoron as people try to portray her as a “bad girl” character and a feminist icon at the same time. As such, it doesn’t work. Noticeably, Harley’s storylines that have explored her independence in the past, like her first solo series, didn’t try to pass her off as a feminist character either. I guess we’re still trapped in the day and age where every female character needs to spread a good message to its audience. (We poor, foolish little women might not know how to be strong otherwise, don’t you know?)
The artwork by Tom Reilly isn’t that great either. I didn’t feel it made the best use of the required black, white, and red aesthetic by overwhelming the flashback pages in mostly red. The character designs were also kind of flat and generic. Nothing really stood out.
- You want some more traditional Harley Quinn stories, but are not asking for too much.
Despite my blasting the last story, I will say that it was nice to read a Harley book where I could recognize that I was reading Harley Quinn. Noticeably, every writer so far has chosen to write Harley as a villain here. That shows how people are still viewing the character apart from editorial constraints. However, we can still see the confusion about who Harley is even supposed to be as a character. We can also see that DC just doesn’t have the greatest pool of writers to pull from right now.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.