Gotham City Sirens: Volume 1

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A while back, I requested a comic that focused on Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn living together and going on adventures. I thought this was a pipe dream, a fangirl fantasy that would never actually come to be. Silly Jess, never underestimate the comics world. As it turns out, I got my wish, with this comic literally following the exploits of Gotham’s favorite femme fatales as they move in together and go on adventures…more or less.

The girls are trying to go straight in the world, but of course are constantly pulled back into the gritty underworld of Gotham.  Whether being framed for crimes they didn’t commit or tying each other up and demanding information, a standard day for these three always consists of some sort of hero and/or criminal behavior.

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There are plenty of “downtime” scenes, but this isn’t a sitcom in comic form.  The girls kick plenty of butt in each and every issue, making for a surprisingly decent set of stories. Then again, they’re written by Paul Dini, who just has a knack for writing these characters as strong, fierce women with the perfect personal failings to make them feel relatable, even when donning outrageous uniforms and engaging in some serious butt-kicking.

Dini’s writing felt spot-on, making each character unique and fun, while also making it clear that you don’t want to get on their bad sides.  While the writing was perfect and fun and expanded on the characters wonderfully, the artwork was sadly lacking.  It wasn’t poorly drawn or colored by any means, but unfortunately the artists fell into the same old trap of writing an woman-centric comic specifically for the male gaze.

What do I mean by that?

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This. This is what I mean. This isn’t an isolated incident, which could be overlooked. Time and time again this comic graces us with images of each character’s butt and boobs, emphasizing them in the most ridiculous panel layouts imaginable.  Why is Poison Ivy shown from the waist down, from behind? This takes the whole “artistic angle” concept and morphs it to fit what the artists believe their viewers want to see. Sure, I’m sure there are plenty of male readers out there who might pick up this comic for the sole purpose of seeing a few scantily clad, overdrawn characters, but quite frankly, that’s what the internet and fan-art is for.  The comics should be about the story and the artwork, and for me these images were far too common.  They took me out of the story, and I found myself rolling my eyes throughout most of this trade, knowing that Ivy, Harley, and Selina would no doubt be posed in the most ludicrous positions possible whenever I turned the page.

In summation: story and artwork good. Overt sexualization of your women characters for the sake of being “sexy”, bad.

Thankfully, Dini’s stories were interesting enough to salvage this comic for me. Yes, the artwork was frustrating beyond belief, but his stories drew upon countless pieces of continuity, helping ground the issues in Gotham’s lore while still being able to exist on their own.

One of my favorite throwback storylines follows up on Selina’s sister Maggie.  This comic summarizes everything that happened to her with Black Mask (helpful, since that particular trade isn’t currently on “the shelf”).  Distraught over what she’s suffered and essentially having broken from reality, Maggie believes her sister is possessed by a cat demon, and that it’s up to her to save her.

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Maggie herself becomes possessed by an “angel” who makes her much more powerful, and tries to take down Selina.  Selina makes it out alive, but her sister is still on the run, determined to save her sibling from the demon possessing her.  I enjoyed the reference to a smaller side character, one who doesn’t pop up outside of a Catwoman comic too often.  Dini manages to tie his stories into the main continuity really well, expanding on storylines that haven’t been followed up on in a while and helping make a more complete picture, even for smaller characters.  It’s a skill not all writers have, but I like that previous relationships and alliances are referenced in the story, adding a sense of history to everything that’s going on.

Overall, the stories here are great, and I’m looking forward to reading the second trade.  That being said, I’m also hoping that the artists change, because I can’t stand looking at these girls’ awkwardly contorted bodies all for the sake of getting their butt and boobs visible in the same panel. NOBODY STANDS LIKE THAT EVER, LEAST OF ALL WHEN THEY’RE STRIKING A DEFENSIVE/OFFENSIVE FIGHTING POSE.  I don’t understand why certain artists can’t grasp this concept. Seriously, I’ve tried to mimic some of the poses I’ve seen in comics before (in the comfort of my totally empty living room. I do have some dignity, after all), and they’re completely ridiculous.  They don’t make sense for anything, other than that maybe it creates an appealing visual for anyone in the vicinity (at least maybe when other people do it. I just fall over).

Am I ranting? Absolutely. This is just a major pet peeve of mine though, and frustrates me that the comics industry is completely alienating HALF of their potential readership.  I’ve vented on this poor trade’s post long enough though, and since I know I could go on for another 2,000 words, I’ll stop now.

My compromise for this? Let them make a Batman: The Animated Series spin-off based on this comic, using the original artwork style. Now THAT I would watch the heck out of, please and thank you.

-Jess

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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

Batman: No Man’s Land Vol. 3

I’m finding it difficult to write about these latest No Man’s Land trades.

Not because there’s nothing to say, but because there’s simply so much going on that it’s difficult to hone in on any one person or event.  With so many characters receiving a spotlight issue or two, it’s tough to focus my attention.

An incredibly brief synopsis of this trade might read something like this: Batman and friends continue working to contain Gotham’s criminal element while fighting to find food and supplies for its remaining residents.

That’s essentially it.  It’s simple, but the comics themselves are anything but.  We learn so much about how individuals handle adversity differently, and how certain criminals can thrive in this environment.  The utter desolation of the city doesn’t mean a complete loss of hope for some, although many are beginning to question how they can continue on like this indefinitely.

Reading these comics, there are always one or two individual issues that stand apart from the rest.  They may not have the biggest impact on the overall story, but they catch my eye and stay with me longer than the rest.

In this trade, those issues were Batman #570 and Detective Comics # 737, a storyline featuring Joker and Harley Quinn titled “The Code”.

This is one of the first appearances of Harley Quinn within the main continuity, and she truly enters the fray as her own unique character.

In this story, Joker has just shored up a new territory, and Harley goes to do some investigating in the penthouse apartments.  In one, she find a book laying out the rules of love, and settles down to read it.

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According to this book, Harley has been making herself entirely too available, and that’s why the Joker doesn’t pay her any mind.  Deciding to change her act, Harley begins acting more independent and less reliant on Joker and his whims.

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While Harley puts her new knowledge to good use, she also suggests to Joker that he hold an election and run for President of Gotham, using “Batman would never do that” as her reasoning.  Joker thinks it’s a brilliant idea and begins campaigning full force.  It’s a completely ridiculous scenario that fits him perfectly; in a city of utter chaos and instability, of course Joker would choose now to try and instill a little order to everything around him.

The election storyline is fun, but Harley steals the show.  As she grows more and more independent, the Joker begins to miss his ever-loyal lackey, and appears to even miss the nicknames he once claimed to loathe.

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I couldn’t help but love Harley in this story.  She is so determined to get her “puddin” to pay attention to her and return her affection.  Even with a city in ruins around her, she is single-minded in her goal to get the Joker to love her back.

It’s innocent, naive, and absolutely crazy, yet you can’t help but sympathize with her.

It’s also rather effective.  Joker doesn’t seem to take too kindly to not being the center of Harley’s world, and her indifference starts to wear on him.  It’s the classic “ignore him and he’ll come running” trope that is perpetuated in every women’s magazine published for the past fifty years.  With the Joker at least, it seems to work perfectly.

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Marry?! There’s a word you’d never expect the Joker to utter.

This just proves how masterful Harley is.  If she can control the Joker, there’s really no stopping her.  Even Batman hasn’t been able to make Joker change his tune about anything.  This girl’s an evil, lovestruck genius.

If this was all there was to her character, she’s be entertaining, but luckily beneath that sweet and playful exterior is a strong and skilled fighter.  Taking on Huntress and walking away virtually unscathed, Harley proves that she can hold her own against Gotham’s best.

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This, for me, is what makes Harley such an enjoyable character.  She’s goofy and childish but also fierce.  Strip away the psychotic tendencies and she’s exactly what I want to be.  I have a feeling she strikes a chord with a lot of readers for this very reason.

Of course, her resolve can only last so long, and after thinking her lovable Mistah J has been killed in a blast, she can’t help but express her undying devotion, much to Joker’s dismay.

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She tried, she really did. She even succeeded for a while there, making the Joker pursue her for a change.  Alas, her weakness got the best of her, and she flew into his arms and undid all that she had accomplished with their relationship.

These two make for a highly dysfunctional pair, but perhaps that’s why they’re so great together.  Harley loves Joker; there’s no doubt about that.  However, in this story we get to see that although the Joker’s feelings may not be identical, he at least loves the attention and adoration Harley gives him.  Sure, he’s tried to kill her once or twice, but he has his moments of caring, if only because she doesn’t.

I’m not sure what it was about this particular storyline that stood out to me so much.  Harley Quinn is certainly a key factor.  She’s fun to read about and is unlike any other Batman villain I’ve seen.  Plus, she’s paired off with the Joker, and his interactions with everyone are always fun to read.  Harley is essentially a hyper little puppy that follows the Joker around constantly, much to his chagrin.  She’s innocent, she’s sweet, she’s utterly psychotic.  She’s also loyal to a fault, and one can’t help but admire that loyalty, even if it kicks her in the butt or ends up with her strapped to a rocket.

Harley Quinn is a deranged love-struck psycho, and yet she still manages to be adorable and likable.  She walks a fine line that few other characters can manage, being a villain that the reader wants to root for.  In the midst of tragedy and city-wide destruction, Harley’s single-minded focus on getting the Joker to love her heightens her naivete while endearing her to readers.

Much like the Joker, Harley has a perfect blend of violence and comedy. She has the added touch of sweetness though that makes her a truly unique villain, and one whom can’t help but steal the show every time she’s featured.

She’s funny. She’s crazy. She’s awesome. I bet deep down, even Batman likes her.

-Jess

Batman: Harley Quinn

I feel slightly dishonest writing an entire post about this trade, seeing as I didn’t actually read the entire thing.  Truth be told, I think I read less than half of it.

Therein lies the problem with character story collections such as this for my pet project.  Attempting to read about the DC universe in continuity order makes for a few tricky instances of trades having to be left unfinished because half of the stories take place later on.  Thankfully I have Mistah J to point out when and where I should stop reading so as to avoid as many spoilers as possible.

That being said, I couldn’t not write about what I read in this collection.  This is Harley Quinn after all.  Hers was the first comic I ever read.  I bought a copy of Mad Love at the recommendation of Mistah J, and that’s what ultimately began this whole journey.  I was a fan of the character from the original “Batman: The Animated Series”, and after seeing her in that cartoon and reading about her origin in Mad Love, I knew she was a character I wanted to read more about.

With that, I soon learned that the origin I had read was only her “Batman: The Animated Series” origin, and that this trade held her DC comics origin (yes, confusing.)  This origin shares many parallels with the Mad Love storyline, and only further cements her as one of my favorite characters.

(Add on top of that the fact that I can’t read a Joker and Harley story without hearing Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin’s voices as their respective characters from the tv series, a fact that only enhances the overall experience for me.)

Harley’s origin story opens with her being rescued by Poison Ivy and taken back to her lair.  Battered and beaten, Harley recounts her early days as a doctor at Arkham Asylum, reminiscing on how she lobbied to work one on one with the Joker.

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She must have missed that day in college where they explain that making out with the patients is not a good idea.

Harley is, quite bluntly, head over heels in love, and goes so far as to help Joker escape from Arkham on numerous occasions.  She winds up locked up in the asylum herself, ever hopeful that the Joker will come and rescue her.  He never shows, but one fateful day a little earthquake causes the power to go out in Arkham and allows Harley to escape.

Her first thought is finding the Joker, so she heads to a costume shop and grabs a new and improved outfit to surprise her Puddin’ with.

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(I know there have been plenty of different versions of her character’s appearance by now, but this will always be my favorite version of Harley.)

Joker hardly remembers her, but decides to make use of her while she’s there.  Harley is too head over heels to notice just how deranged and psychotic Joker really is, and her blind faith in this mad man makes her all the more sympathetic and likable.

She may be completely bonkers, but at least she’s driven by love.

Her poor decisions ultimately catch up with her though, as Joker decides he no longer needs her and plans to dispose of her by shooting her off in a rocket.

Understandably,  she’s slightly peeved at this turn of events.

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She survives, is rescued by Ivy, and there we are brought up to speed with her story.  Ivy administers a special potion that will make Harley immune to her poison, and it winds up having the odd side effect of enhancing Harley’s acrobatic skills and agility.

Translation: not only is she crafty, but now she can fight.

Hell-bent on murdering the Joker, she teams up with Batman to bring him down, but ends up breaking the rules and going after him on her own.

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I love this panel. It just sums up their relationship so perfectly.  Harley’s just this crazy little thing flitting about while the Joker looks on with exasperation and frustration, all the while trying to kill her.

Of course, being Harley, she’s not immune the the Joker’s charms, and it doesn’t take much for him to win her over one more.

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Joker can make Harley flip on a dime, because ultimately Harley is just too in love and wants to believe that the Joker cares about her too.  It’s a sick, twisted relationship, and yet one that I love reading about.

I’m not so sure what that says about me.

This origin closes with Harley writing a letter to Batman, complete with hearts and doodles, explaining that she got her happy ending.  Of course, knowing the Joker, it won’t be happy for long.

I don’t know what it is about Harley Quinn that just draws you in.  I’ve given it a lot of thought, especially since I started diving into DC’s continuity, but it’s not as simple as it might seem.  Harley has a certain indefinable quality that makes people want to root for her.  She can be both silly and sweet and fiercely murderous and tough, a balance that I think most girls wish they could find within themselves.  No, I’m not saying we all want to fall in love with murderous psychopaths (although truth be told, we do tend to favor the bad boys), but we want to be innocent and bubbly and strong and independent all at the same time.  Harley represents this ideal, and as a reader you can’t help but love her, pity her, and want to be her.  Add on to that the fact that she’s paired off with one of the most famous comic book characters of all time, and it just makes sense that she has an ever-growing fanbase.

I may not have read this entire trade, but I think the origin story alone tells you a lot about who Harley Quinn is as a character.  She’s a lover and a fighter, more than a little unhinged and certainly blind to her paramour’s less than perfect personality, but she’s endearing.  Her fatal flaw is that she’s in love with a mad man, and it’s this devotion that makes her so likable.  She may go around blowing things up and helping the Joker pull off these insane schemes, but deep down there’s a childlike innocence about her that few other characters share.

Harley Quinn is far from perfect, but her combination of sweetness and ferocity makes her a uniquely entertaining character.

-Jess