Harley Quinn #1.
Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair
There were a lot of directions the ongoing Harley Quinn comic could have taken. The madcap absurdity of Harley Quinn #0 pointed to Harley as an alternative to Marvel’s favorite violent, fourth-wall-breaking madman, Deadpool, as the most likely direction, but there were others. I have to say, though – I did not expect the book to ultimately be a sitcom in which Harley had to maintain a rundown apartment building while fending off hit men and befriending the neighbors, despite that being spoiled in both the zero issue and (to a degree) in the solicits. It just feels like a weird choice.
At the end of the fever dream that was Harley Quinn #0, Harley was given a Coney Island apartment building by a recently deceased former patient of hers at Arkham – and, for a patient at Arkham Asylum who found Harley’s somewhat questionable methods helpful, the offer seems startlingly legitimate. Harley, a tax payer? Holding down regular jobs? There’s no way this can end well – and we don’t want it to! While one of her gigs seems like a pretty obvious sight gag at best, some of her schemes are a little bit longer-running, and should be a blast to follow. Unfortunately, this issue can’t really do much with them. The downside to the path Palmiotti and Conner have chosen to follow is that it requires a lot of set-up, and very little of that set-up is handled with a particularly deft hand here.
In almost every way possible, this is just a letdown after Harley Quinn #0, though that isn’t particularly fair. How can Chad Hardin compare after an issue that featured art from Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke, and Becky Cloonan? Hardin is talented, but a lot of the artists featured in #0 are kinetic, lively stylists whose art is full of personality. With cartoonier styles, the ‘Juggalo Harley’ redesign almost works, but Hardin can’t quite make it as playful as the series around it. Hardin does manage to inject some life into things, though – the best example is an early page featuring the world’s most dejected dachshund, a wonderfully physical sight gag. It’s one of the few moments in the book that makes me smile ever time I see it.
I know I sound fairly negative, but I’m honestly not too disappointed. While I enjoyed the first issue last month, I also noted how easy it was for a book that aggressively manic to slip off the track, as the various Deadpool books have with some regularity. Many of the best comedy comics are either a series of shorts, like Michael Kupperman’s excellent Tales Designed to Thrizzle, or grounded in strong, well-crafted characters or settings, like Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong or Quantum and Woody, and it seems like that’s the direction Harley Quinn is going to take. While Conner, Palmiotti, and Hardin have a tough road ahead, this issue actually gives me some hope that they want to stick with this for the long haul. There are growing pains clearly visible here, but there’s promise, too.