Harley Quinn: Vol. 4: A Call to Arms. Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Art by Chad Hardin, John Timms, Jed Dougherty, Bret Blevins, Moritat, Flaviano, Pasquale Qualano, Mike Manley, Color by Alex Sinclair, Paul Mounts, Hi-Fi.
Audience. It should come as no surprise that some books are intended for a particular audience. It’s glaringly apparent that this is true with Harley Quinn. Screwball comedy? Satire? It certainly has elements of both of these approaches. Straight Super-Hero it is not. Or perhaps it is a generation gap. Although, I’m not sure of what generation I’m out of touch with, because I can’t imagine the young people of today having a connection to Popeye. Yes, Popeye. E.C. Segar, please look away. Unfortunately, the one element that seems to be missing is character. Harley is about as bright as a sack of broken glass and as loony as a jaybird. It’s only through other characters that any sort of humanity or empathy come through.
Harley is organizing her new gang of “Harley’s” to fight crime in the streets of New York, only it comes with a price. No not for Harley and her gang, but rather their customers. Their conscience comes with a price tag. A girl’s got to make a living somehow, right?
Their first big case involves a missing person- Captain Horatio Strong- a sailor by trade. Everyone needs to quickly Google Popeye the Sailor Man. Having this information is essential to understanding the satire going on in the first part of this collection. Go on, I’ll be here when you get back.
Ok, great! Now everyone has a working knowledge of Popeye. So, there are all kinds of humorous reference to Popeye and his story tropes in this arc. Spinach, the corncob pipe, strength, etc…. Only, there are no real character moments for this sailor man.
The second arc in this collection features Harley on another missing persons case. Harley is trying to do good in these adventures, but it seems like the money and a propensity for violence often are just as important as getting the job done. I’ve never read a Deadpool comic, but I have a feeling this is what it’s like. Again, Harley seems quite superficial, and the humor is crude and simple. Perhaps, this whole sequence is a Deadpool satire.
The last part of this collection is a cross-country road trip with Poison Ivy and Catwoman. We get a little bit of humanity out of Harley as she deals with the death of an uncle which precipitates the road trip, but again the humor in the issue appeals to the lowest common denominator. It seemed like the setup with the death of her uncle would allow for some deeper moments, but it seemed more like it was only there to explain why the girls needed to go on a cross country trip.
The use of a Popeye like character is a truly surprising move. How knowledgeable are today’s readers of Popeye? It’s a great homage to a classic comic character, but the satire might be missed by today’s readers. And who but a scholar or old-timer would get the significance of a boat named the “The Murphy-Swan?” (Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson were one of the all-time great penciller/inker teams, on Superman no less.)
There is a moment in which Harley is recovering in a hospital bed and she wakes up to Poison Ivy awaiting her waking. This is a really nice moment. We get to see that Ivy really cares, and apparently so do her gang of Harley’s.
The friendship shared between Harley, Ivy and Selina is laudable. Their camaraderie comes across as genuine, but there isn’t much dramatization of why these ladies are friends. Ivy presenting Harley with a photo album that she found of Harley and her uncle was the highlight of this section of the book.
Within this book, Harley is fairly vacuous as a character. There’s very little depth to her, which make nice moments like Ivy’s fairly inexplicable. Why does Ivy care? What makes Harley endearing as a person? This approach makes it difficult for the stories to much more than joke-gag-farce-suggestive panel over and over again. Most of the time, the reference and gags are not that funny. With Popeye, it’s like “Hey that’s supposed to Popeye- isn’t that funny?!” No it’s not. The zaniness is without grounding.
Harley Quinn exists in her own world. There are some familiar characters, but they certainly don’t seem like the ones we are familiar with in the DCU. Everything is viewed through Harley colored glasses. If you’re looking to get away from it all and not be bothered by any actual emotions or deep thoughts, then Harley’s high jinx are probably for you. Sometimes, an audience is the only difference between a 2 and a 4.
Call me Sorry Quinn.