Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Artists: Mike Huddleston (p), Troy Nixey (i)
The book opens with Harley Quinn taking down yet another thug who is looking to cash in on the sizeable cash reward that is being offer up for a young girl with a super secret formula embedded on her eye. We then see Harley has to ask herself if she's in the hunt for this little girl for the cash reward, or is she working to protect this girl from the unkind attentions that would be used against the little girl in order to retrieve the information she holds. If it's the former than Harley has to openly ask if the cash reward is large enough, as the little girl is currently in the custody of the Gotham Police, and it would require a considerable effort & a great deal of risk to rescue her. However, if she's looking to protect the girl, than she has to wonder how safe is it for her to remain with the police, as the force is littered with crooked cops who would hand over their own mothers for a piece of the reward being offered. As Harley search for answers has her attempting to get Doc's opinion on the matter we see his advice is essentially to walk away as the risk is far greater than the reward, and in their business forming relationships with anyone is downright foolish. The book ends with Harley making her choice, as she storms the police station and gets caught in the crossfire of the police & the thugs who had arrived looking for the little girl.
I guess one of my main problems with A.J. Lieberman's work on this title is the fact that his stories seem to have a tendency to fall into a repeating loop once the initial premise is established, and this in turn makes the middle chapters of his overly long arcs less enjoyable than they could be. I mean I entered this issue well aware of the basic plot that Harley was essentially playing bodyguard to a young girl who was being sought by every thug in Gotham City who was looking to cash in on the rather impressive bounty being offered, and A.J. Lieberman only manages to add two new twists to the story in the entire twenty-two pages. First we learn that retrieving the information encoded on the girl's eye will likely leave the child blind, an option that Harley isn't exactly ready to pursue. The other new insight is that the villains have agents inside the Gotham police department, but Harley boyfriend looks to be an honest cop. Neither of these revelations is particularly earthshaking, nor are they plot elements that I hadn't already arrived at based upon information I pieced together from the previous chapters, so once again it does feel like A.J. Lieberman is flying this story in a holding pattern until he has enough issues to fill a trade paperback. Heck, even the opening & closing action scenes aren't enough to recapture my general disinterest in this plot light affair.
One can also start to see the effort being made to make Harley into a more sympathetic character, as with the addition of the child we see Harley's more maternal instincts are starting to show, and in a scene that is suppose to offer up insight into Harley's relationship with the Doc, we see her attempt to appeal to his sense of right & wrong. Now speaking as a fan who was rather fond of the idea that Harley was a criminal who had a grand old time while she was busy carrying out her criminal enterprises I have to say I'm not entirely certain I want the writing to be making an active effort to show us she does have a capacity for kindness & understanding. Now I'm perfectly fine with the book establishing that there are lines that Harley Quinn the criminal won't cross, and this issue basically tells us that she doesn't consider children to be viable targets, and she'll work to protect them from the criminals who don't hold this same opinion. However, I do grow a bit concerned that Harley's edge is being dulled, as while the book still has her willing to end the lives of people who are attempting the end hers & there's a wonderfully unsettling moment where we see Harley exercises her sewing skills, there's also a scene where Harley has her feelings hurt when she discovers Doc looks upon their relationship as a business, and frankly this scene felt a little too much like it was appealing to the reader's sympathies.
The art is pretty sharp, and I not just saying that to draw attention to the pointy feet & arms that Mike Huddleston likes to employ when the characters are being shown from a great distance. Mike Huddleston is an artist whose work is ideally suited to the material he's being called upon to draw, as his strong shadows & light work manages to really sell the overall mood of the story. The action also moves across the page extremely well, as the opening sequence where the falling body alerts the police to Harley Quinn's presence is a very solid sequence, though I do have to ask how those police officers found their way up to the roof so quickly. There's also some fun little details like having the little girl set in front of a wall of pictures featuring the various baddies in Batman's rogues gallery, as it affords the art an opportunity to show the readers how these various characters would appear in the pages of this book. The art also does some solid work on the scene where we find Harley tending to her injuries, but again I do have to wonder where she received this rather hard to miss head injury, as I thought it might've been from the opening action sequence, but her mask looked untouched, so it had to happen sometime afterward. Also while the scene shown doesn't play out inside, I have to make mention of this issue's wonderful cover, as it's a great action shot, that left me eager to read the story inside.
It's a pretty solid bit of crime-fiction that I feel could use a little more meat on its bones, as while there's a nice high energy feel to the material, the simple fact of the matter is that there's not all that much happening. Now I will concede that the question of what is driving Harley's actions makes for a pretty interesting examination of what motives the character, and while I would prefer she remain a chaos loving villain, the book is doing a pretty fair job of showing her indecision. However, the book is moving forward with all the momentum of a train starting up with greased wheels, and given this was a problem that I found I was having with the opening arc, I have to say that I'm starting to become a little concerned that A.J. Lieberman simply isn't putting enough plot to support the number of issues that he's using to tell the story. Still, the closing bit of action does leave me extremely hopeful for the next issue.
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