By Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair & Dave Sharpe
Harley Quinn #1 is a peculiar book as it doesn’t read as much of a relaunch at all. This is one of the odder rebirth titles, as there is no real element of change or evolution. The status quo continues almost exactly as before. For all intents and purposes, this is New 52 Harley Quinn issue #31. Were you to present it to a novice reader with the No.1 on the cover obscured, they would most likely think it were exactly that, with no confusion on their part. It’s business as usual here.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. New 52 Harley Quinn was one of the better titles coming out of the second to most recent overhaul of the DCU and, as the classic adage goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken. But branding something as a relaunch and slapping a great big number 1 on the cover gives the reader a sense of “things are going to change”, so there’s inevitably a little sense of disappointment with this issue. Not because it’s bad, but because it does not deliver on its branding. The problem here is with marketing, not with the book. You go in expecting something different to what you get, making this, initially, a negative read. But when re-read, with the correct mindset, this issues showcases itself as a stellar installment of Harley Quinn from a team who know exactly what they’re doing with this character.
The context in which this book works best is when you acknowledge its role within the overall DCU at large. As all other titles push more and more into darker, political, complex terrain- Harley Quinn is a playful, lighthearted romp that gives DC readers something a little more Marvel-y to get their teeth into thanks to the wit and whimsy of Connor and Palmiotti. This book is not a sophisticated black coffee, or suave neat whiskey. This book is a pint of e-number riddled juice and a stick of bubblegum. But it knows it. This is a title that embraces that it will never be Watchmen, and accepts its role as a lovely bit of 22 page fun. And fun is the keyword. The plot is silly, bonkers & an awful lot of colourful nonsense.
The only real negative story wise is a peculiar few pages devoted to re-capping Harley’s origin: used as a little character taster. This intrusive inclusion is also the only real hint that this is an issue 1. It seems that old readers sticking around post rebirth would find these pages a little patronizing, and new readers will find it all a little too much at once: A great big block of exposition dropped on them. But apart from this side note, this is trademark Harley playfulness, and once you get over the bad branding of not getting much of a change, this is a fun continuation of what we enjoyed in the prior run. The exact same creative team from the New 52 survived Rebirth, so what we’ve got here is a team who know the character inside out and that extends from the story over to the visuals as well.
The art is strong from Hardin and Sinclair, if a little by the numbers. What you get here is exactly what you would expect from a Harley book. The characters are larger-than-life and expressive to the point of being near to manga and the colors bold and brash to the point that each page is initially disorienting to look at whist you slowly let the bombastic imagery sink in. It’s certainly dynamic, with the panel layouts changing up style quicker than you can say “Puddin.” It can be a little messy to look at. But then again, so can Harley herself. What could have been read as ‘a little manic to look at’ is a perfect fit for Harley and everything the character is about is perfectly captured within the visual presentation. We alluded that it was a ‘little by the numbers’. By this we mean it’s a touch “House DC”, but it’s through these crazy page layouts and aggressive colors that it escapes the trap of being too generic.
For the many Harley Quinn obsessives in the world, this is exactly what they want and more: a checklist of everything you need to make a great comic about Mister J’s favourite squeeze. But for the unconverted, this won’t sway them over to sticking with the series. If you consider yourself one of those obsessives, add an extra star onto the rating.