This is it. The final issue of the weekly Harley Quinn arc. I have to say, after reading and critiquing six issues worth of Stephanie Phillips’ Harley Quinn for an entire month, it feels like I should get a medal. It’s also worked up a lot of other emotions in me… but we’ll get to that later. Right now we have the closing of this arc to discuss, as well as a backup story. How does it all fare?
Well, this comic is pretty much your standard “one big battle to resolve everything.” Luke Fox has already gone through whatever simplistic character arc he needed to go through, so there’s nothing left for this comic to do than create beat-um-up action scenes and peril to get to the final conclusion.
One of my biggest criticisms with this story arc, and for the entire Stephanie Phillips Harley Quinn run for weeks now, has been how Harley has been reduced to an annoying side character in her own comic. It’s been as if Stephanie Phillips has no interest in writing her. In this issue, however, Harley’s presence is, at least, felt more. She’s depicted in the front of the team’s lineup, multiple times, as they charge into soldiers controlled by Luke Fox’s monster (she usually has a nonsensical line to say to lead the charge as well). There are a lot of scenes that spotlight her in the action, too. Of course, Harley has no reason to be seen as the leader of the team, and she’s still not really the character who is driving the plot. Harley is also sometimes shown doing something stupid on the side like drawing mustaches on fallen soldiers.
So here we come to the same problem this book has had for a long time and continues to have. Harley, most often times, is not the main character of her own book. She’s brushed off to the side. But, when Harley IS the main character of the book, she is a completely vapid, stupid, useless, nonsensical, and cringeworthy annoyance. I’m sorry, but Harley drawing mustaches on fallen soldiers possessed by a beast against their will is neither fun nor endearing if she’s supposed to be one of the good guys here. Harley babbling on about how maybe there’s a giant bunny of some kind behind the walls of Arkham, only for it to be a possessed Orca, halts the plot for a non-joke.
In addition to Harley, the other characters fell flat for me. Killer Frost, Verdict, and the rest are really just stand-in characters in this story. Their personalities do not feel like their authentic selves at all. For example, somewhere along the way it appears that Verdict has become accepting of Harley. How and when did that happen? What has Harley done to change Verdict’s mind about her? Meanwhile, Killer Frost is nothing but a gal with ice powers. As for the others on the team? I can’t remember who they are, and for once I won’t look it up just to drive the point home that these are people who really don’t matter to this book beyond being “the team.”
As for the artwork in this issue, much of the action by Georges Duarte is decent, albeit simple. There’s a lot of repetition with Harley’s using a similar hammer swing move in various sequences, or Killer Frost using her ice powers to sail through the air, but I could follow it all, and that’s a plus. It’s helped by a continuously simple panel layout on each page. However, there were some moments in the comic that definitely seemed to be the result of laziness or a rushed schedule, like the picture below.
What happened here? Did Harley Quinn turn into Roger Rabbit? Why are her feet so huge and curved? How long would her left leg have to be in order to stand in this position? And why is her hammer handle so short? This isn’t the only art gaff in the book. Georges Duarte actually reused one of his Harley drawings at two different points in the book. There’s even a point where Harley’s face seems like a copy of her face from the first issue of this story arc. I don’t think Georges Duarte’s sort of anime style of artwork is bad, but things like this show me how rushed and cheaply made this book really is.
What was this story arc that I just read? Was it a pitch for a Luke Fox mini-series they thought wouldn’t sell so they shoved it in the Harley Quinn solo? Because that’s what it feels like. At the end of the day, the Luke Fox Task Force XX wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it was ultimately cheap and shallow and not worthy of a weekly release of a title that’s already struggling.
I also can’t describe how exhausted I feel from reading Stephanie Phillips’ take on Harley. It’s like eating stale food: if you have one bite, it’s not so bad, but if you have a whole lot at once you just end up sick. The core problems DC has with Harley’s writing have been perpetuated issue after issue, but before we delve into that, I have a backup to review.
Back up Story
Since this is an annual, we get a little backup story with a new artist, but Stephanie Phillips is still the writer. I had a very strong reaction to this short story. Does it contain more substance than Harley talking with Kevin and a new alien character being introduced? No, but it has the best artwork I’ve seen in a Harley solo book in a long time. It’s colorful and well-detailed. The characters look three-dimensional. The style is cartoonish and distinct. There’s a real animation in the expressions of the characters. You can tell what they are thinking without having to look at the dialogue– though it did make me realize how horrifying Kevin’s design is when it’s not hidden by the wackiness of Riley Rossmo’s art. However, this wonderful artwork is completely ruined by one thing: Harley Quinn’s writing.
Once again, Harley displays only one dimension: being wacky. There’s a not-funny running gag about her really wanting cheese so much that she doesn’t pay attention to the alien in the room. I’ve said this before, her character can only be described as a writer trying to be zany, trying to be funny, but falling flat on both.
Listen here, I don’t like giving comic books scores of fours, threes, and twos. I want to love every book Harley Quinn appears in. But how can I recommend this comic– this version of Harley Quinn– to anyone?
Is she funny? No. These jokes don’t even sound like humor. Is she a good hero? Double no. She wasn’t set up to be a hero in the first place, and her various jokes about murder and robbery along with her total lack of self-awareness make the pseudo-hero setup worse. I’ve often times heard people defend Harley Quinn’s reform, claiming that she is more evolved and more complex now. That is laughable to the point where I’m sure none of those people are actually reading these comics. Harley Quinn has become devoid of any real character. She’s just portrayed by the writer as trying to be loud and trying to insert bad jokes, that is, when Harley isn’t brushed into the background of her own book. I’ve also heard it said that this modernized Harley is good because she’s an inspiring representation for abuse survivors everywhere. I’m close to someone who got out of a very abusive relationship. What if I was to present Harley to her as her representation? This character who talks about BDSM and sticks garlic bread up her genitals is totally vapid and annoys not only people in her comics, but the readers as well. Do you think my friend would be flattered? Because I think she’d be absolutely insulted.
This is a fallen character. I say that in terms of writing and in terms of the sales. If I were to give one suggestion now on how to make this better, I would tell anyone who works on Harley Quinn comics to go back. Read the Karl Kesel run, read the old Batman Adventures comics from the 90s with Harley Quinn. Go read the Joe Quinones issue for Harley Quinn: Black, White, and Red because he nailed the character’s voice there. You’ll find a completely different personality for the character: one with actual nuance and good comedic delivery. The reason I can lift panels even from the most mediocre of Harley Quinn comics from the past to give examples of better writing is not because of bias. It’s because they DID have better writing.
At the root of all the decay around Harley’s character is the problem with her voice and personality. You could give her a new outfit, artist, or writer, you could even go back to basics and make her a villain who teams up with Joker again. But no matter what you do, she’s not going to be a good character people actually want to read so long as whoever is writing her is giving her a terrible, grating, and shallow personality.
I would be happy to recommend Harley Quinn books to anyone and spend plenty of money on them myself even if the story isn’t very good, if she would only have her solidly good personality and voice back.
- You made it this far in the story, and you might as well finish.
- You ignore the dialogue as there is great art in the backup.
I’m truly exhausted by this comic at this point. What makes it all the worse is that I feel I’m the only one reading this book at this point. This is why it was such a bad idea to make this one weekly. I really don’t know how it can last after the next arc, but what would happen if it got canceled? Would we just get yet another writer who gives the character a bad voice and doesn’t really know what to do with her?
DC needs to take a hard look at how vapid this character has become and make a change. Otherwise, I’ll have to continue to churn out bad reviews for how bad Harley’s personality has become, or anyone else who reviews this book will be in for a lot of suffering.
Score: 3.5/10 (Not lower since the artwork at the end was genuinely good).
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.