Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Harley Quinn #1
Writers: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Chad Hardin
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Alex Lu: This book was a roller coaster of emotions. I’ll be very upfront and say that I have never bought into the Harley Quinn hype train. I think she can both be hilarious and have found a lot to laugh at when excerpts from titles that feature her are posted on Reddit or Twitter, but the frenetic brand of humor Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have imbued her with these last few years has never quite wormed its way into the cockles of my heart. That said, I approached Harley Quinn #1 with an open mind. I have a lot of respect for the following that Palmiotti and Conner have built for the red and black mallet queen over the last few years. The writing pair has shown a deft understanding of what their audience wants and have given it to them in spades. While reading the beginning of this issue, I thought I had a chance of being converted as well.
I was honestly enthralled by the opening scenes in this book where Harley Quinn spends a relaxing day at the spa with her partner in crime Poison Ivy. I think their interactions here echo those found in Paul Dini’s and Guillem March’s Gotham City Sirens in the best way possible. The warmth and humor shine through and even a new reader such as myself can’t help but feel the depth of their relationship with one another.
And then. I think Harley Quinn is the first DC Rebirth book that may have actually needed a Rebirth issue because this number one is simply overstuffed trying to serve the needs of the established fanbase while beckoning new readers to the fold. It was difficult to swallow the pages the proceeding five pages where Harley recaps her entire history and introduces an enormous cast of characters to the reader in an overwhelming set of spreads. If all the characters we’re introduced to at the Coney Island Sideshow such as Big Tony Delfini are not actually major characters are are just being played for laughs, the joke left me cold. If these characters are important to Harley’s story then they needed more room to establish themselves to the reader– which is where a prologue issue would have helped. As it stands, the scene feels interminable and ultimately ineffective. Even now, the scene lingers in my mind as a roadblock between the fantastic opening sequence and the solid main story that follows this diversion.
I don’t mean to be unnecessarily harsh on what ultimately seems like an extended gag. Ultimately, my problem with the scene is that it makes a nod at any new readers coming onto the book at this juncture without properly easing them into Harley Quinn’s world. It simply throws them in instead. There’s a lot of better meat to dig into, though– or at least I think there is– so let’s move on. What’d you think of the alien cows and Chad Hardin’s art, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: I get it, this isn’t a book for everyone, especially when it’s contrasted against the majority of the DC lineup, particularly when it initially came out. Imagine, if you will, just how much of a tonal shift this title was vs. the grim and humorless New 52! But, what Conner and Palmiotti are up to often appeals to me, even if it’s a book that I rarely follow regularly. It’s a zany cartoon, with just as many jokes landing as those that don’t, and in a way it fills a niche in my comics-reading life that was once filled by Ambush Bug. I appreciate the effort, is basically what I’m getting at, even if I’ve never really picked it up monthly. My few dips in have been fun and this book pops in a way that leaves me thinking, “I should keep grabbing this”.
As for this issue specifically, I can understand your complaints about the middle section and agree fully about the Harley-Ivy bits, which displayed some lovely affection between Harley’s best significant other/partner, and played to some of that Jaime Hernandez influence that I’m guessing Palmiotti has occasionally tried to imbue the title with. As for the rest; sure, I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the other characters that hopped on stage, though I enjoyed the cavalcade of Harleys, especially Harvey Quinn – why have I not seen this character cosplayed more???? – and anytime you get a sweet Danzig parody on the page, you have my attention. I have no idea how important any of these characters are to the long-running narrative, but I enjoyed the increasing ridiculousness, including the stuffed beaver and (what I presume is) an Egg-Fu parody. You’re right though, in that once the plot takes over, there’s a bit of confusion for the new reader, which is compounded somewhat by the editorial reference, indicating some need for background info, but I rode that short bit out and found that I had a pretty good time once we got to the bad hot dog meat interlude.
Come to think of it, the fake alien cow bit might have been my favorite set of pages. It’s just so goofy, that I got pretty tickled by that poor alien’s fate and then getting forced to endure the making of hot dog meat in a step-by-step. I guess if I had one complaint, it’s that I don’t totally get the joke behind Red Tool, the Deadpool parody, I guess he’s a self-serious version of Wade Wilson?
But yes, I’ve always enjoyed Hardin’s art. He’s the next best thing to getting Conner on pencils, combining vivid panel to panel sequences infused with just enough cheesecake that plays in simpatico with Palmiotti and Conner’s general storytelling predilections. I think what this boils down to is, if you like this series, or liked it prior to Rebirth, you’re going to dig this relaunch. Is it a clean jumping on point? Not really. But I don’t mind if I’m still having fun, and a few little bits aside, I think this did the trick. I’m a buy, but I totally get why you might not be.
Alex: Well, I wouldn’t say I’m passing on Harley Quinn, because I think there is stuff here to recommend. Like you, I adored the alien-to-cow-to-hotdog montage scene in its wackiness and ingenuity, deftly visualized by Hardin. The heartwarming moments between Poison Ivy and Harley are almost worth recommending in and of themselves. Ultimately, I think Harley Quinn #1 is as polarizing now as it was when it first launched under this creative team’s hands. If you like these sorts of humorously zany and irreverent titles I think you will find a lot to love here. If you were already reading Harley Quinn, there is no way you’ll be dropping it now.
That said, Harley Quinn is not my cup of tea. I’m glad I’ve read it and I would probably read another issue or three down the line on a rainy day, but it’s not something I would go out of my way to pick up or read again. On that note, I suppose it’s worth noting that I wouldn’t watch the Deadpool movie again, either, so I’m that kind of guy.
Kyle: For the record, I like Harley Quinn way more than any Deadpool comics I’ve read in recent years. I’m just rather thankful the character is getting this kind of loving, warm take instead of something that’s more “juggalo-like”, which I feel like in another team’s hands, could easily veer this material towards. Anyway, here’s to the proliferation of storytelling variety!
Alex: Yes! Please buy this book if you enjoy this book, as more tonal variance can only mean good things for a large publisher like DC Comics.
Final Verdict: Buy (Kyle recommends, Alex recommends with reservations)
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