Writer: Karl Kesel
Artists: Brandon Badeaux (p), Rodney Ramos (i)
The book opens with Harley Quinn & her gang deciding to test their luck against the three-headed Cerberus, as if they can make it past this creature they stand a good chance of escaping from Hell, and the bounty-hunter that is dogging their heels. However, while they are able to take down Cerberus, the battle costs the group their most powerful member, and the rest of Harley's gang is gunned down by Highwater, the bounty-hunter. While Harley does find herself with a chance to escape, we see her grief gets the better of her. We then see that when Highwater moves in for the kill, Harley is able to discover why he's gunning for a man named Nathan Drumm. One gunshot later we see Harley wakes up to find she's being used by the captain of Hell's police force, as a training dummy, and Harley is killed time & time again to show the new recruits how a criminal is dealt with in Hell. However, Harley is able to use the skills of her previous job to get inside the head of the police captain, and she is able to trick her way into a second meeting with Highwater. We then see her use the information she learned earlier to defeat Highwater & get herself kicked out of Hell.
I recognize that Harley Quinn's driving motivation is to make the world a better place by insuring the success of as many romances as possible, but to have her kicked out of Hell for this ability seems a bit too simplistic a finish to this arc. I also found Highwater's defeat felt manufactured, as we see that all it takes to defeat him is a heartfelt speech about love & understanding, and suddenly this ruthless bounty-hunter's obsession over finding the man that corrupted his son vanishes. It becomes even more irksome when one looks back on what Harley said to him and you see that it fails to address the driving motivation for why Highwater is after his son's lover. I mean, Harley's arguments earlier in the issue are far more compelling, and they do a far better job dealing with the problem itself, but Highwater's response then was to put a bullet in her head. It's rather frustrating to see this potentially interesting debate dealt with in such a hurried fashion, as right when the material looks like it might get interesting, Highwater ushered off the stage, and Harley is suddenly viewed as to much of a rabble rouser to be kept in Hell.
I will give this issue credit though for its fairly innovative use of the idea that Harley Quinn is trapped in Hell, as the underworld has been visited many times in the pages of comics, and Karl Kesel has managed to make this visit a memorable one. Harley's stay in Hell has resulted in a fairly entertaining adventure, with a wealth of clever ideas, like the use of a vengeful bounty hunter from the Old West being set loose upon any party who attempts to flee Hell, or the Harley Quinn being used by a ruthless police captain to show Hell's police force how one goes about capturing & questioning a criminal. This arc also offered up the idea of the repeating loop of tragedy, as Harley and her gang are trapped in a never ending cycle, that has their escape attempts forever ending exactly the same manner. I also enjoyed the high tension of the scene where Harley attempts to avoid being tagged by the bullet with her name on it. The little Harley is also a fairly amusing means for delivering exposition, as her little songs keep the material from getting too confusing, which is fairly important given the issue does jump around a fair bit.
Since an entirely new creative team is slated to arrive on this book quite soon, it's pointless to bemoan the loss of Terry & Rachel Dodson, nor does is do much good to point out how Brandon Badeaux's work isn't all that well suited to this book's humor-based tone, as the current arc has been a bit light in the humor department. However, I can mention that Brandon Badeaux's work does seem to struggle a bit at conveying the material in a clear, easy-to-follow manner, as there are scenes where reading the text is vital to understanding what the art just showed us (e.g. Harley's opening tussle with the three-headed Cerberus). Still the art does a pretty nice job on several scenes, as the excitement level when Harley's dodging the bullet with her name on it is nicely conveyed by the art, as is the building tension when Highwater moves in to take the piece of paper from Harley. The final page was also a nice finishing note to the issue, as we see Etrigan gets his hands on the singing Harley. The cover to this issue is also a fun visual, as the Dodsons continue to make their presence on the book felt months after their departure.
Karl Kesel has a fairly nice message that he wants to get across, but personally I feel that the message was given far too much weight considering the audience that Harley was delivering it to, and as a result the finish doesn't ring true with the rest of the issue. I mean, I simply don't believe that a man who has spent his entire time in the afterlife consumed by a burning hatred would suddenly have a change of heart because Harley offers up a heartfelt speech about what love truly means. This ending simply doesn't wash as it requires Highwater's intense hatred to burn out when confronted by the slightest doubt about whether it's right to hate a man for leading his son down a path that he finds objectionable. I realize that this is a humor title & one shouldn't expect heated debates on inflammatory issues, but this ending simply didn't do it's setup justice. Still, I look forward to where this book is headed next, and this issue does have itself a couple interesting ideas, such as the way that Harley was able to manipulate the police captain into doing her bidding.
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