This week from DC Comics we get the latest Harley issue in her rebooted series, Harley Quinn 4. Way back when the first issue released, I was torn. There were so many problems with the new title, but the story continued the arc from her previous title. I held hope that it could redeem itself and become what it once was. Nope. Hope is gone. This title is positively terrible! As a former Star Wars fan, I really hate this phrase, but in this case it rings true. Bring back our Harley!
Bring Back Our Harley – Cover2Cover
Let’s start with the artwork. Like most of the Gotham titles (and much of DC) each issue releases with a main cover and a certain number of variants, depending on how popular they think the issue will be. Harley regularly releases with two covers. If we jump to Cover B, we get a pretty solid cover. It sometimes comes across as a bit too cartoony in flavor, but overall it caries with it the realistic design that usually makes it the better cover. A great example of this is Catwoman’s covers. Her Cover B is usually astoundingly executed. Harley’s Cover B still looks amazing. Great artwork and dynamic poses. Any of these generally make wonderful display pieces…but then we back up to the main cover.
The main cover uses the same artwork from inside the issue and this generates the biggest negative by far! This new artwork sucks. Every one of the other Gotham titles use a generally realistic and dynamic artwork. A couple of the outliers change it up just a bit, but it generally works with the story being told. I would say the new artwork in this title looks like it was made for kids, but even they don’t like it. In all honesty the change in titles feels very much like when Cartoon Network changed Teen Titans. Sure, the original did a lot of the anime overacting, over animating but it told a story and was quality work. When things switched over to Teen Titans Go!, a large number of fans became irate at the cheap animation and lack of story. This new Harley title is the same.
Now I get trying to take chances and varying the artwork, but this feels like just a cheap out. A great example of gambling on a different style of art comes from Supergirl. Both her Future State title and her new 8 part series from Tom King went outside the box, but with the stories being told it totally works! They told unconventional stories and the artwork really added to this. This sets up the next big problem – story.
Bring Back Our Harley – In the Story Versus Experiencing the Story
When I read issue 1, I saw many of the threads from her old title and threads from her appearances in the other Gotham titles. I hoped this might redeem the struggling series. Now after 4 issues it has gone nowhere. For Star Wars fans there is an easy parallel. The new Harley versus the old Harley is the same as comparing Star Wars done by JJ Abrams to Star Wars done by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. The former tinkers in the universe, but fails to capture the magic or understanding that endeared it to fans. The latter recreated everything that made Star Wars great and stand out. This new Harley title uses signature points to try and make it a Harley title, but it fails to capture pure Harley and what made her previous title so good.
I can feel the core of the story wanting to be there, but its execution through the first four issues has failed on every level. The humor is subpar. The characters are all very two dimensional, and it lacks any type of meaning. I can see Harley is still trying to find herself, but she currently lacks any meaningful direction, story wise.
Here is my best example. In her previous series I enjoyed the story and the new direction they were trying to take Harley in, but then they introduced the story thread about her mother having cancer. My first thought was “this is a serious subject. Please don’t let them botch this up.” Not only did they not botch it, they sold me harder than ever. My wife has been battling cancer, so this really caught my attention. The way they executed this story arc and kept using it to reverberate through the rest of the issues really struck home. It gave me a love of Harley, and the writers at the time, few can understand. It created a connection and passion for the character beyond her being the latest DC hottie. This new series feels cold as ice. There is no passion. There is no depth.
Bring Back Our Harley – Chasing Shadows
There is a difference between using a character in a story and understanding the character. In the previous series, every time I read Harley’s lines the voice inside my head automatically jumped an octave to match the styles of Arleen Sorkin or Kaley Cuoco. The trademark New York accent dripped from every line. The old series embodied every aspect of Harley that fans have come to love since her creation in Batman: The Animated Series.
Then you come to what really makes Harley, Harley. Harleen Quinzel was a psychiatrist. She was incredibly intelligent until Joker manipulated her into Harley Quinn. Her brain power became somewhat questionable after that, but it didn’t leave. In the right circumstances, Harley is actually the smartest person in the room, especially when it comes to people. The old title used the wonderfully. Harley connected with all sorts of weird characters.
Put Harley in the wrong places, or let her improvise, and the opposite looks to be true. She acts like a total dim wit with no common sense at all, but thankfully for her she always had one hell of an instinctive nature that bails her out of the worst circumstances. Through four issues the new series fails to capture any of Harley’s trademark qualities. The new Harley comes across very two dimensional and feels like the writers fail to truly know the character.
Her supporting staff is equally flat, or at least what there is of a support staff. Right now it has been nothing more than her dealing with mental giants like Killer Croc and Grundy, so she has had little to play off of, but it really make me miss the Coney Island crew.
Bring Back Our Harley – Everyone Else Gets It
If this were a stand alone series, if Harley only showed up here things might not feel as vexing, but that isn’t the case. Harley continues to show up in other Gotham titles and plays huge roles in the story arcs. OF course the artwork there will fit the title it’s in, but the other writers are nailing Harley. They get her language, her personality and how she deals with Gotham. So why can’t the crew of her own title produce the quality that shows up in the other titles?
I am not trying to lay blame because I do not know where the fault lies. Often execs interfere and derail projects because they want something different. Perhaps the old crew simply moved on, or perhaps the current creative crew pitched an idea and new direction they wanted to try. I do not care about the reasons. All I care about is returning Harley Quinn back to her former self. In talking to my local comic shop even they are seeing its sales plummet and bad word of mouth spread.
It used to be a quality title. Okay, it was a bit hokey in places. The final Angel of Retribution seemed to stretch things a bit, but in the end hit hit several key points in Harley’s life, including revisiting her mother’s death. It also created a new character in Mirand’r that I’d like to see pop up again. Forget the withertoos and whyfors. This new series is not working, and it is failing a very major character in the DC Universe. Please bring Harley Quinn back to her former glory and abandon this series as is. (I hear dream sequences do wonders for reboots)