HARLEY QUINN Volume 1: HOT IN THE CITY
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Chad Hardin, Stephane Roux, Alex Sinclair, and Paul Mounts
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: October 22, 2014
I have a confession to make. I’ve never liked Harley Quinn.
Not on the TV show. Not in the comics. Not as a Gotham City Siren. Not in the Suicide Squad. Not ever. To me, Harley was always that also-ran, running after her “Mr. J”, and pulling silly gags. The codependence and abusive cycle she played into with her love for the Joker was hard to stomach, particularly with so many well-written female characters developing over the past decade.
And then came Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.
To say I was skeptical is an understatement. But to claim I wasn’t immediately bowled over by this series would be a flat-out lie. Palmiotti and Conner have redefined the character of Harley Quinn as a smart, self-assured woman who is every bit as funny and outrageous as she ever was before, but without the questionable esteem issues. Freed from the influence of the Joker, Batman, Catwoman, or any other overbearing headliner, Harley shines as DC Comics’ newest leading lady who I want to root for more than any of her former colleagues.
Of course, Harley Quinn isn’t without friends, family, frenemies, and fracas in these pages — the most perfect relationship we see on repeat being that with Poison Ivy. Are they best friends? Lovers? Both? It’s almost beside the point, as we get one of the strongest female partnerships in comics since the original run of Birds of Prey. Ivy is no more “evil” than Harley, and both exhibit a range of compassion and care for the people around them that makes you wonder why they’re considered psychotic. And then one of them will catapult feces across town and you remember, with tears of laughter in your eyes.
The cast of this first volume — mostly freak show purveyors and renters from the newly acquired building left to Harley — bring out the best in dear Harley, surrounding her with folks who can be the oddest collection of straight men ever for this comedienne. But none measure up to Bernie. Oh, Bernie the Beaver! Are you for real? Do you really talk? And if not, why are you the absolute funniest character in comics today? I imagine Conner and Palmiotti sitting in their office scribbling jokes furiously, papers flying. One pencil breaks, toss it in the air and grab another. No time to stop. And I hope they never do.
Artist Chad Hardin illustrates the majority of this volume, aside from the big zero issue jam (with such luminaries as Darwyn Cooke, Jim Lee, Tony Daniel, Adam Hughes, and Walt Simonson). His work hits its absolute stride with issue #2 — featuring Harley’s first team-up with Ivy and the rescue of dozens of pets from the ASCPA — and continues to soar right through the entire book. The brushwork inking Hardin employs gives every character a much more three-dimensional look than we normally see in monthly comics, but it doesn’t aim for photorealism in the least. It’s a strong balance of technique that feels like it never abandons its roots in comic art, but elevates the presentation just enough to flesh Harley out as a character we can truly feel empathy for.
Ultimately, though, it’s the constant change of Hardin’s facial expressions for Harley Quinn that makes the book the visual romp it has become. There are a million things happening in word balloon and from one corner of the panel to another on every page, but Harley’s hilarious grimaces and smiles take me by surprise every time. She’s not right in the head, for sure, but I love her just the same.
A stark break from today’s standard super-hero(ine) fare that will hopefully inspire a revolution in what we look for in underperforming characters, Harley Quinn Volume 1 is a must-grab for any fan of the genre who wants to know just how much fun you can pack into a single book. It’s amazing the transformation Conner, Palmiotti, and Hardin have affected in Harley, but what’s more fantastic is the change they’ve affected in me as a reader. Brava to all!
The Verdict: 9.5/10