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Comic Review: Harley Quinn #1

New 52 Villains Month Harley Quinn #1 Detective Comics #23.2

Harley Quinn #1 feels like going on a crime spree with your mom there to nag you the whole way.

Writer Matt Kindt and artist Neil Googe take psycho ditz Harley Quinn and try to blend her with her former self, the bookish criminal psychologist Harleen Quinzel.

The result is a messy storytelling duel between an introspective, intellectual narrator and a yappy, bubble gum-chewing troublemaker.

Spoiler alert: neither one wins.

Most of this DC Villains Month issue is a reflection on Harley’s origin. Flashbacks to Harleen Quinzel’s childhood touch briefly on some daddy issues before setting up Arkham Asylum as the challenge that breaks her.

Dr. Quinzel starts dressing like the villains she treats in a radical attempt to connect with them. But when her crazy getup grabs the Joker’s attention, Harleen’s professionalism and sanity go out the window.

She falls for the Joker, breaks him out of the madhouse and runs away with him. And while that’s nothing new for the character’s history, Kindt misses his chance to explore that turning point. Instead, he lets the Joker slip out of the story and jumps ahead to explore how Harley puts her costume together after she’s turned super villain.

Since Harley Quinn’s introduction in the classic 1990s Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, she’s made fans off being an infectiously fun, often tragic second fiddle to the Joker.

Her girl power-fueled crime sprees alongside Poison Ivy also proved she didn’t need “Mistah J” to have a riot of a time.

With DC’s New 52 relaunch, she’s become a reluctant hero of sorts in the Suicide Squad. She even moved on from playing Joker’s gun moll to start a relationship with fellow Suicider Deadshot.

But through it all, Harley’s always been good at putting the “cartoon” in “cartoon violence” with her love for oversized, overpowered guns and hammers.

So why go back and dredge up the boring psychiatrist she was, when her cartoon impishness is what makes her so fun?

Harley Quinn is the good girl gone bad. She’s the psychiatrist who fell for her patient and abandoned her career to follow him into a life of crime.

Kindt’s problem is he tries to keep the good girl—or at least, the intellectual girl—alive inside the crazy one. He tries to give Harley a rational, self-confident internal voice, but the difference between that and her mouthy, makeup-smeared external persona only makes her sound like a ridiculous contradiction.

Googe works well with Kindt’s vision by drawing Harley not as the cheesecake sex object she so often becomes, but rather as a sad clown. There’s a touch of melancholy to her droopy, tear-shaped eye makeup, even when she’s wearing a devilish smile.

Googe show Harley building her red and blue clown outfit by beating up college girls for their clothes. The whole time, Kindt has Harleen soberly discussing the creation of her Harley Quinn character. And it’s that character concept—the idea of being crazy in a nice, neat little box—that spoils all the fun.

Halfway through, it’s tempting to stop reading the internal monologue altogether.

Harley Quinn #1 is not a bad comic book. It avoids the clichés and takes the tougher road to bring Harley something new. Matt Kindt can write, certainly, and while he misses the mark for the most part, there’s still one moment where he catches the spark of Harley’s fun.

Harley walks into a police station disguised as a police officer. She whips off her disguise, casually tosses a lit stick of dynamite to a cop and walks out. On the next page, she’s kicking back at a coffee shop across the street to watch the police station explode.

It’s simple. It’s cartoonish. And it’s perfect.

So why is the rest of this comic so serious?

Maybe because DC is betting a lot on Harley right now. Harley Quinn #1 is a dress rehearsal of sorts. Harley is getting her own ongoing series in October, and that series is already drawing criticism.

DC landed itself in hot water earlier this month when its latest artist search asked contestants to draw Harley Quinn in a bathtub about to commit suicide. Writer Jimmy Palmiotti took responsibility for choosing the scene, but he’s not being punished. Instead, Palmiotti will write Harley Quinn #0.

If this issue is setting up Palmiotti’s run, he’ll have more than an art controversy to deal with. Kindt’s got Harley all tangled up, and it’s clear he’s not sure who this character is.

One panel sums up the problem perfectly.

“I’m more like a collage now. A mosaic,” says Harleen’s narration.

“Oh, pretty!” says Harley as she smashes a pawn shop window to get her hands on a giant mallet.

I want to hang out with Harley.

I don’t need a lecture from Harleen about identity.

5 out of 10

 

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  1. October 25, 2013 at 10:09 am
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