Is 'Harley Quinn' #1 trying to be DC's answer to Deadpool?
(CBR) It’s been about 10 years since the first ongoing series of popular "Batman: The Animated Series" export Harley Quinn published its 38th and final issue, so she was due — if not overdue — for another shot, particularly given that DC Comics’ current strategy means publishing a certain number of books each month, and the market seems to be rejecting a lot of those. Looked at in that light, then, this week’s "Harley Quinn" #1 was something of an inevitability.
The character certainly hasn’t been idle all that time, of course: She was a frequent presence in the Bat-books, shared the 2009-2011 "Gotham City Sirens" with Catwoman and Poison Ivy, briefly joined the Gail Siomone-written "Secret Six" and, with the New 52 reboot, she received a new origin story and costume in the pages of "Suicide Squad". And, of course, she appeared at least briefly in various Batman cartoons during that time, as well as in the extremely popular "Batman: Arkham" video games and the more recent "Injustice: Gods Among Us".
Certainly the character is popular, and while different fans probably like her for different reasons, the important factors seem to be that 1.) she’s a lady, 2.) she’s a sexy lady, and 3.) she offers the same sense of anarchy and dark humor as her sometimes-boyfriend The Joker, but without the depravity. More often than not — particularly in the comics and cartoons — she’s as much antihero as villain, a safer alternative to The Joker, whose evil serial killer portrayal is no so deeply embedded into the character that it can be difficult for creators to walk him back toward any more lighthearted portrayals.
But here we find a problem with the New 52 Harley Quinn, who doesn’t look or act much like the original. She doesn’t have the all-ages parameters that the cartoons — and their comics adaptations — enforced on her, nor is she the relative innocent she was in her previous series, where she was portrayed as Catwoman often is, a bad guy who’s not that bad. Her New 52 costume and portrayal seem more heavily informed by her scantily clad video game counterparts, and most of her New 52 appearances have been pretty adult in nature, even if they were portrayed in a somewhat-juvenile fashion: There was the weird sex scene with Deadshot in an early issue of "Suicide Squad", the scene where she lay the Joker’s flayed-off face over a bound Deadshot a few issues. Later, during the book’s “Death of the Family” crossover, there’s an instance in which The Joker paralyzes her and simulates fellatio with a straight razor, and then a horribly violent fight ensues in which they bite chunks out of each other.
And then in September’s Harley Quinn “Villains Month” one-shot, which was technically "Detective Comics" #23.2, she kills somewhere between dozens and hundreds of innocent children in an exploding video game/terrorism plot.
The challenge for the creative team of her new book — co-writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Chad Hardin — then is to somehow find a happy medium between the former all-ages recovering Joker moll and the sexed-up, maniacal killer from the T+-rated New "52 Suicide Squad" for a rated-T-for-Teen ongoing in which she’s to be a sympathetic protagonist. After an interesting, attention-getting start in "Harley Quinn" #0, in which a fourth wall-breaking Harley discussed who should draw her upcoming series with the disembodied voices of the writers while an all-star jam cast of artists drew a page a piece, their strategy becomes apparent in this, the first official issue of the new series: They plan on making her DC’s Deadpool.
There’s little sign of a story in this first issue, as so much of it is devoted to gags that didn’t strike me as inspired, original or funny, and to setting up the premise of the series.
As was covered in the last few pages of the zero issue, a former patient of Harley’s, from when she was still psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel, has left her a sizable piece of Coney Island property in his will. As this issue opens, she has all of her possessions packed in a gigantic sack tied to the back of her motorcycle, and is on her way to her new digs, conversing with a taxidermied beaver (which is funny because, while it’s an animal, it’s also a slang term for vagina!) that talks in a special “crazy” font, not unlike the voices in Deadpool’s head, that only she can hear. (Because she’s crazy! Get it?)
On the ride, she crosses paths with a hipster parody — thick-rimmed glasses, waxed mustache and a trucker hat, which I would assume even hipster parodies had stopped wearing at this point — talking on a cell phone, and dragging a dachshund on a leash behind him, apparently oblivious to the fact that it’s not walking (this scene was a little less clear than I would have liked, given how upsetting an issue animal cruelty is; there’s no indication whether he’s actively abusing the dog, or if the dog just doesn’t like having him for an owner or … what, exactly).
Harley administers justice by stealing his dog and then dragging the hipster behind her motorcycle with a bull-whip to an off-panel death. When an assassin targets her, she stops (resulting in the death of an innocent bystander) and savagely beats him with her prop hammer, eventually knocking off his head; it soars away like a gory comet, a tail of blood chasing it.
The mode then is ultra-violent slapstick, a character who operates on cartoon logic in the “real” world, unconcerned that those she interacts with aren’t themselves cartoon characters. Think DC’s Lobo, particularly during his 1990s heyday, or, more recently and relevantly, Marvel’s Deadpool.
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