Review: HARLEY QUINN 2021 ANNUAL #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Colours: Miqel Muerto
Letters: Andworld Design
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Harley Quinn 2021 Annual #1: Kevin here! You know, Harley’s sidekick, and your favorite new character? I know Harley usually does these solicits, but she’s a little tied up at the moment. Like, literally. See, there’s a new villain in Gotham calling himself Keepsake, and you know how Gotham villains are: definite psychological issues. So Keepsake kidnapped Harley, while trying to convince her to be his partner and help take over the city. Now, I don’t mean to imply that Harley’s not capable all on her own, but this time she needs a little help. Which means I’m teaming up with Solomon Grundy so we can visit Gotham’s worst criminals and figure out where Harley might be. Plus, a major new Bat-villain!
The Harley Quinn 2021 Annual starts in the middle of the story, with Harley’s friends Kevin and Solomon Grundy fighting Batman villain Mister Freeze. They are quickly defeated, but explain to Freeze that Harley has been abducted by a villain named Keepsake. Kevin then begins narrating the story from the beginning.
Keepsake is a villain that has been hovering on the periphery of Harley’s regular title. Up to this point, we knew little about him other than his association with Hugo Strange. And that his gimmick appears to be a collection of weaponry and other gear from various villains in Batman’s rogues gallery.
It turns out that Keepsake had previously been a henchman many of Batman’s foes who had delusions of being a partner to his various employers. But, he was really only a mere underling below their notice. But Keepsake has now struck out on his own. And he has become obsessed with Harley Quinn. He feels that the Joker has left a void as Gotham’s greatest villain. And Keepsake feels that having the Joker’s old sidekick as his partner, he can fill that void.
Kevin is proving to be a more interesting character than I first thought. He seemed to be little more than comic relief at first. But this story shows that there seems to be some small amount of competence to the character. He comes up with a plan to find Harley that actually succeeds despite his bumbling. He goes to the Penguin seeking information about Keepsake. And the Penguin sends him to Cheshire. So, Kevin and Grundy visit a succession of villains until they get to Mister Freeze.
Each villain reacts to Kevin and Grundy with hostility. So, it is rather surprising that Kevin manages to survive each encounter. But he manages to talk each villain around to giving him a lead to find Keepsake and Harley. This shows some degree of persuasiveness and intelligence on his part – or just an astounding amount of good luck.
Perhaps there is more to Kevin that is being held back by a lack of confidence. And we do see Kevin grappling with his worries about whether he can find redemption. That level of introspection is a sign of intelligence. It would be interesting to see if Harley’s skills as a psychologist could nurture Kevin into a formidable force for good.
There are also some hints at what’s coming up in the regular title. Harley learned from Keepsake that he and Hugo Strange have set some nefarious plan in motion. And Keepsake reveals to the readers that his gimmick is more than just stolen weaponry. It will be interesting to see if this is merely exaggeration or not. Given his mental state, it could be either, but it sounds like he has something in mind that makes him more menacing than he has let on up to now.
I also love that the ominous favour Kevin promised Grundy turned out to be to provide the entertainment for his niece’s birthday party. It sounded like Kevin had struck a deal with the devil that would have lasting repercussions for him. But this expectation was hilariously undercut by the rather banal nature of the favour.
I also quite enjoyed the artwork in this issue by David Lafuente, Marco Failla, and Jon Sommariva. While the style is a bit different than we’ve seen from Riley Rossmo, it still has something of a cartoony feel that suits the offbeat of Harley and her friends. It’s somewhat more grounded in realism than Rossmo’s but still not quite the full realism of most of DC’s superhero titles.
I find there is very little to complain about in this issue. Stephanie Phillips is managing to give us a story that has a deeper level behind Harley’s signature antics. But she’s not stinting on any of the zaniness that is associated with the character.
The Harley Quinn 2021 Annual gives us an an interesting look at Harley’s sidekick Kevin, while filling us in on Keepsake’s backstory. It’s an amusing tale that offers both laughs, but with an introspective undertone. Stephanie Phillips’ take on Harley has made this a much more interesting and enjoyable title than I expected at first.