Review: HARLEY QUINN #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colours: Ivan Plascencia
Letters: Deron Bennett
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Harley Quinn #1: Ahem! You better read this closely, ’cause we’ve got a red-hot relaunch on our hands here—and I should know! Harley Quinn here to let everyone know that I got a brand-new monthly series here with a brand-new status quo. I’m coming back to Gotham City to make up for the sins of my past and help the city recover from “The Joker War”! But there’s no welcoming committee waiting for me, your favorite Maid of Mischief! And between you and me, some real creeps are working to keep the city broken. We can’t let that happen, can we? Rising-star writer Stephanie Phillips, my new partner in crime, takes me into a bold new era with her partner in artistic crime Riley Rossmo, who I gotta say designed a real nice new costume for me. You’re not gonna wanna miss this one, folks!
In recent months, James Tynion IV has brought Harley Quinn back home to Gotham City. And despite her villainous past, she has become an ally of the Batman. And Harley Quinn #1 reflects this new status quo for our heroine.
Harley has had an interesting character arc over the years. Starting as a villainess, DC has portrayed her as more of an anti-hero in recent years. But now, she is attempting to be an all-out good guy. Batman is here to express his uncertainty about working with Harley as well as a bit of grudging approval. Batman’s not in this issue just to sell more copies. His appearance is justified, as it implies that Harley’s relationship to Batman and the Bat-Family will be an important theme in this series. Will Harley become a trusted friend or end up a bitter foe?
I like that this series is rooted in the DCU. Her former title seemed to have a dubious relationship with DC’s canon. I’m pretty sure that it was outside of the regular continuity, as it wasn’t clear how she could be having adventures in Coney Island at the same time she was imprisoned in Belle Reve. There is no similar confusion in this new series.
Harley Quinn #1 reveals that Harley has an agenda in Gotham City. She tells Batman that she intends to “Everythin’ did when… back before… well, you know”, referring to her days as Joker’s partner in crime. She has made a list of people she’s “ticked off” in Gotham. In fact, the issue opens with her failed attempt to make amends with Killer Croc by baking him a gluten-free cake.
Harley’s list includes a sealed envelope labelled “Pam”. Harley tells Batman, “I’m… not ready for that one yet”. This seems to imply that Harley and Ivy had some sort of falling out. Stephanie Phillips is telling us that although Poison Ivy isn’t present in this issue, that she isn’t far from Harley’s thoughts. It might take a while, but she will inevitably appear here at some point.
As befits a Harley Quinn title, there is a lot of delightful humour. I especially liked Harley’s assumption that as an ally of Batman, she is entitled to a healthy stipend from the Batman. She asks the Dark Knight for “that sweet Bat-check”. Unfortunately, Harley is unaware of Batman’s diminished finances. However, he does give her one item on her wish list: “one of those novelty Batman toasters” that makes “Bat-toast”.
I also found it interesting that Harley intends to make use of her skills as a mental health professional. She tells Batman, “what you need is an expert…someone who’s been on the inside… and just so happens to be a licensed psychiatrist”. Of course, Batman counters that statement with, “There is no way your license is still valid”. But licenced or not, Harley still retains those skills.
And it seems she will need those skills, as it looks like she will have to contend with the other notable psychiatrist in Batman’s rogues gallery: Hugo Strange. The issue ends with Dr. Strange being enlisted by Simon Saint to help bring order to Gotham City. Strange seems a uniquely fitting arch-villain to pit against Harley.
I feel that Riley Rossmo is an ideal choice of artist for the series. His style has a slightly abstract edge to it that seems fitting, considering the title’s protagonist has a somewhat tenuous grasp of reality. The art gives us a sense of how Harley sees the world.
There isn’t much to complain about in this inaugural issue of the series. Already, Phillips seems to have a firm grasp on the character of Harley and of her strange working relationship with Batman.
Harley Quinn #1 is a promising start to a new volume of Harley’s adventures. Stephanie Phillips has already started building a fascinating story. I look forward to seeing what she has in store for Harleen Quinzel in the coming months.