HARLEY QUINN #6 (Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Chad Hardin) is totally meshuga.
But you know what? Maybe that’s just what the New 52 needs. One of the most common critiques lobbed at DC since their 2011 relaunch is that so many of its books were overcast with the same brooding dark cloud shaped by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. DC made great efforts to streamline their titles, and some would say they paid too heavy a price: when 52 books are made to fit within each other, they all begin to sound alike.
That’s why I can’t tell you just how relieving it is to see a book like HARLEY QUINN on the stands. Conner and Palmiotti are on a mission to provide the goofiness we’ve largely lost since IDENTITY CRISIS darkened the DC Universe back in 2004. And even if some of the jokes in HARLEY QUINN #6 fall flat, it feels good to laugh again.
Amanda Conner isn’t just the writer who brought us the cult classic POWER GIRL series in 2009- to which it would not be unfair to say HARLEY QUINN is the spiritual successor. She’s also renowned as one of the best cover artists in the comics business today. So when you’re coming to draw for her, you bring your a-game or she’ll tell you to pack up your easel. And while not its equal (after all, what could be), the crisp lines of Chad Hardin and the popping colors of Alex Sinclair prove worthy successors to Conner’s self-drawn POWER GIRL run.
Moreover, Harley herself is a delight to be around. When this series began, many predicted Harley Quinn becoming DC’s answer to Marvel’s Deadpool, the mouthy merc who often breaks the fourth wall and provides humorous meta-commentary. While Harley could never be described as “subtle,” she’s certainly less metafictional than Deadpool. A comparison to Bugs Bunny would a be a lot closer.
At any rate, it’s an enormous divergence from your typical New 52 protagonist. It’s like getting to hang out with that one friend of yours who doesn’t fit in with the rest of your social group, but who you always have the most fun with. Carrying HARLEY QUINN #6 on her personality, Harley shows you every month exactly what The Joker sees in her.
Sometimes, HARLEY QUINN gives us great comic moments. Stuff with loads of animals, accidental crime sprees, incompetent hitmen, and cartoonish roller derbies. But in HARLEY QUINN #6, it’s all broad Jewish stereotypes and Russian spies who could have been pulled out of Rocky & Bullwinkle (including aging bombshell “Zena Bendemova”). The story of “Sy Borgman” at the center of the comic had pretty much strip mined its own premise for jokes by the third page he appeared in, and has long overstayed its welcome.
At its best, HARLEY QUINN feels like reading MAD Magazine when you’re 12. At its worst, HARLEY QUINN feels like reading MAD Magazine when you’re 45. This issue largely falls into the latter category.
Thick coat of dad-jokes aside, there’s a very good reason HARLEY QUINN keeps cracking the top ten best selling books every month. It’s the reason Marvel movies keep outgrossing DC’s, and the reason all the kids who were nice to me in grade school had Spider-Man lunch boxes. Dark heroes can be interesting, but it’s okay to have fun!
Earlier this week, DC announced the cancelation of some once popular books to be effective this August, including BIRDS OF PREY. Before The New 52, BIRDS OF PREY was a book about girls in the superhero community making jokes, having fun, and loving their jobs. But when it relaunched in 2011, it became just another Batman book.
In the same press release, we learned that the wildly popular HARLEY QUINN would be increasing its run from once to twice a month that very August. Why? Because HARLEY QUINN has that spark of levity which has eluded so many other once fun titles, and DC is learning that audiences crave it.
If you’re looking for that spark too, HARLEY QUINN #6 is not the best place to find it. But if you’re already on board, you might as well stick around until the next punchline.