Everyone loves Harley Quinn. Or, at least the idea of her. She has risen from the ranks of B-list DC characters to become one of the most popular cosplay characters at ComiCons, though why is interesting to ponder and maybe impossible to really figure out. Is it just that her costume is easy? Or is it, as I sort of suspect, that all those young women somehow relate to her in some way?
Because Harley Quinn is an odd intriguing characters. She can be strong, smart and confident, except when she gets around her asshole boyfriend, then she turns into a ditzy psycho. Like many females in real life. She is, as they say, a beautiful mess.
I had thought that DC was aiming to ‘catwoman-ize’ Harley Quinn—that is, turn a supervillain into a somewhat grey-ish (versus black and white) character who mostly want to do the right thing, especially when the right thing involves ripping off, or otherwise getting revenge on, bad rich guys in power. At least, that seemed to be what was happening in Gotham City Sirens, and later in the Suicide Squad, both of which series expanded her character, and gave her friends in Poison Ivy and, sometimes, Catwoman, though they’ve had some falling outs.
For her own series, however, writers Amanda Conner and Jim Palmiotti have taken Harley into a more zany direction. This storyline apparently takes place outside of other New 52 arcs, which is fine, and they’ve transplanted her away from Gotham completely, out in Coney Island—a Coney Island populated by freaks, just like in real life. And, they’ve given her some more personality quirks, both ‘normal’, like becoming an advocate for animals, and not-so-normal, like talking to a stuffed beaver.
Speaking of beaver, Conner and Palmiotti heap on the wordplay and double entendres. Putting Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy together sparks all kinds of snappy dialogue, similar to what Kelly Sue Deconnick does between Captain Marvel and, say, Spider-Woman.
The new idea the writers bring to the Harley Quinn series is to work with multiple artists, sometimes within one issue. The first issue of Harley Quinn, #0, which I bought in the stores because I loved the idea so much, and which is Chapter One in this collected volume, features a different artist for each page, along with lots of ‘meta’ jokes about artists not make montly schedules. Very clever, and funny, though I wondered what the actual ‘story’ would be.
And, well, I’m still kind of wondering. But that may be the point of the ‘story’, that there isn’t a story so much as an excuse to just draw Harley Quinn sexy and have her bop around being psycho funny. There is a continuing thread of someone putting a bounty on her, so some schleps show up occasionally to try and take her out, and she just shoots them, or knocks their heads off with her trademark wooden mallet, or just feeds them to the dogs.
And that’s not figurative language I’m using. She literally does that at one point. Which brings up the weird problem, if it is a problem, of the mix of kind of sassy-funny dialogue with some sometimes pretty graphic violence. I mean, we all know she’s a psycho killer, but none of her appearances in other series (like, say, Batman) have ever featured this much graphic violence. It’s drawn well, especially the smaller details, like for example the blood splatters on the mallet—nice touch that an artist could have opted not to include, but which ‘tells’ visually a lot about the story and her characters.
But, well, um, the main appeal of this series seems to be those two things: snappy slang-y dialogue and sort of random ultra-violence. Oh yeah, and the smoking hot costumes. There’s one section in Chapter Three and Four featuring Harley and Poison Ivy in hot costumes, then hot bikinis, then hot underwear. Or maybe it’s in another order, I got distracted. So add in hot gratuitous half-naked babes. Plus hot lesbian innuendo.
But there’s still no story. There’s great art, and I love seeing the different artists draw Harley and Ivy differently. I think I’m trying to take this series way too seriously, when the intention is to just have fun, which seems to be a trend in many of the New 52—DC’s way of getting more readers, I guess. And, they may be right.
So that’s what I’m left with in Harley Quinn Volume 1: Hot In The City. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s sassy, it’s visually cool. The dialogue is mostly written well, though there are some minor characters who’s language sounds kinda odd, including a guy who looks just like the metal singer Glen Danzig. But, you know, they’re Coney Island freaks.
A Coney Island freak show is what this series is. Weird, funny and creepy. You might like Harley Quinn, you might not. She doesn’t care either way. Because she’s getting everything she wants: a cool apartment, a cool roller derby job, pets galore, all kinds of potential implied sex partners. In fact, that might be the appeal of Harley Quinn—she gets what she wants, mostly, without any real consequences.