Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

I wanted to love this comic.

That’s not to say that I hated it.  I just really wanted to love it.  After all, this is Harley Quinn, the bubbly little sprite who’s constantly tailing after the Joker and helping him try to kill Batman, and she finally got her own comic!  This trade collects the first seven issues of said comic, and as I began reading I just kept thinking, “Oh man, this is going to be so epic.”

…Sadly, it wasn’t.  It was good, alright, but it just didn’t grab me the way I had hoped.

The series opens with Harley breaking Joker out of Arkham, with all the subversion and panache that one would expect from her.

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It seems like Harley’s one of the few people to ever actually help the Joker.  Sure he has other lackeys, but they certainly weren’t the ones orchestrating his escape.

As Joker recovers and learns of a new theme park being built in Gotham, he orders Harley and his goons to rig the new Joker ride so that it’s more deadly fun (emphasis on the deadly.)

Harley gladly obeys her Puddin’s wishes, but unfortunately it seems she’s a little too good at her job.  Joker can’t share the spotlight, so he arranges to have Harley killed, even going so far as to shoot her himself (turns out he shot Poison Ivy in disguise, but he didn’t know that at the time.)

Heart-broken and alone, Harley decides to strike out on her own in search of her own identity.

The first thing she does? Throws a party of course, inviting all the female baddies in town.

I loved the concept of this issue. Finally, a female-centric cast, and villains to boot? We’ll finally get to see how Catwoman and Poison Ivy would react to each other?   I was stoked.  Throw in a few new or lesser-known villains for good measure and you’ve got yourself a party.

Except…Karl Kesel took the easy way out.  Rather than stop to think exactly what all of these characters would actually say to one another, he reduces them to cliches, essentially crafting a “bad girl slumber party” issue.

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Clothes. Guys. Boob jobs.  These are basically the only topics we’re supposed to believe these women would discuss.  Sorry, but it’s tired and old and not at all creative.  Maybe this appeals to the male readership, but for me it was a missed opportunity.

(To be fair, the “main” villains, primarily Harley,  Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, don’t engage in these topics as much. Unfortunately, we don’t see them talk much at all.  It’s as though Kesel knew they were above this sort of pedantic behavior but couldn’t for the life of him fathom what three intelligent women might discuss.)

As the comic continues, Harley decides to form her own gang, but this time she’s going to be the leader.  She dubs her followers the Quinnettes, and spends the rest of the trade running around getting into all sorts of hijinks.  Her crimes are often more personal in nature, steering away from straight-up mayhem and always having a purpose, at least in her own twisted mind.

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Yeah, she breaks into the zoo to free her pet hyenas, who were sent there after they were taken from her.  It’s not exactly elite criminal activity, but at least it feels like Harley.  She’s committing crimes, but she’s not some cold, calculating criminal.  Her heart influences her decisions, making her more endearing that most villains.

There were a few bright spots in the comic, particularly whenever a reference was made to Harley’s background as a psychologist.  Every once in a while Harley would make a keen observation, such as when she commented on her first opinion of Bruce Wayne:

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I feel like Harley could easily figure out Batman’s secret identity, if only she wasn’t so distracted with thoughts of Joker and what new shenanigans they could get up to together.

Like I said, I was really excited to read this comic.  I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it.  It was alright.  I’ve certainly read better Harley Quinn stories, ones that zero in on her personality and help flesh out her character a bit more.  While I’m thrilled that Harley was popular enough to warrant her own comic, I must admit I was just a bit disappointed that these first seven issues weren’t more engaging.  There’s definitely potential here, but the stories just never live up to it, falling flat in one too many key places to be considered great.  I’ll still be excited whenever I see a Harley title appear on “the shelf”; I just hope future trades present her character in all her bubbly, unhinged glory.

-Jess

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