Batman: Harley Quinn
by Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet, Aaron Sowd, Don Kramer, Wayne Faucher, Joe Quinones and Neil Googe.
Collects Batman: Harley Quinn #1, Batman Gotham Knights #14 and 30, Detective Comics # 831 and 837, Joker’s Asylum II: Harley Quinn, Batman: Black and White #1 and 3, Legends of the Dark Knight 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 and Detective Comics (vol 2) #23.2
Why I Bought This: Because as mentioned before Harley is my favorite Batman villain and this is an anthology of stories about her. With the Suicide Squad film out this seemed like a good choice to review now.
The Plot: Key stories of Harley Quinn as a villain before she became an anti-hero.
Chapter 1 – During the No Man’s Land crossover Poison Ivy is riding a stage coach in the park when she comes across Harley buried in wreckage. This is the duo’s first meetings as villains though Ivy remembers Harley as an Arkham doctor. Ivy takes Quinn to her hideout to recover and listens to Harley’s tale of woe: recapping Quinn’s origin as doctor who falls for the Joker, helps him escape Arkham, and then gets caught and committed herself. In this version Joker leaves her to rot for months until the earthquake frees her. She then creates her costume and tracks Joker down while he is bargaining with Penguin for weapons. Quinn extorts the weapons from Penguin on Mr. J’s behalf by force. She then finds an abandoned tunnel of love amusement ride and redecorates it into a hideout for them. We see Harley’s first fight with Batman, wherein Joker abandons her to escape only to be surprised when she also escapes from Batman. They bed down in the lair but the next morning Joker leaves her a note to meet him and imprisons her in a rocket claiming she made him care about another person again and he can’t have that so he launches the rocket intending to kill her. She manages to smash the control console inside, and rewire it so that it crashes in the park where Ivy found her.
Ivy then gives Harley a potion that makes her immune to poison and gives her super-enhanced agility and strength. Ivy then sets Harley loose to get revenge on both Joker and Batman. Harley arranges a meeting with Bats and informs him of how Joker tried to kill her and of his upcoming plan to place bombs in emergency medical supplies for the earthquake victims. Batman follows her to Joker’s hideout and while Bats takes out the henchmen, Harley takes on Joker. She’s winning until Batman intervenes so he can arrest Joker causing Harley to fight him and Joker to make a run for it. Bats downs Harley with ease and then catches up to Joker but when he questions Joker on the bomb plot Joker has no idea what he’s talking about. Cue Harley to reappear and sledgehammer Batman from behind for the KO. She then corners Joker on an elevator and is about to drop him to his death when he say’s “would it help if I said sorry.” At this Harley swoons and they kiss. Batman awakes to a note telling of the couple’s reconciliation and a ticking bomb that he narrowly escapes from.
Chapter 2 – In what was clearly a back-up story originally and uses the animation style art, Ivy and Harley are both in Arkham and Harley complains she misses men. Ivy responds she doesn’t have that problem and bets Harley she can get every man in the Asylum to kiss her. Using her love powers she proceeds to do just that with guards, doctors and inmates. Cut to Batman defeating the Joker. He drags him into Arkham and once Bats leaves, Ivy begins to work her charms much to Harley’s chagrin. However when Joker is in Ivy’s clutches all he can do is mumble about how much he missed Harley while he was on the outside. Ivy forfeits the bet, only for the last page to reveal Joker was a puppet designed by Ventriloquist on Harley’s behalf.
Chapter 3 – a silent chapter in which a goggled thief gets misled by Harley using a Batman flashlight only for the real Batman to show up to spoil her fun.
Chapter 4 – Harley is denied is parole in part due to Bruce Wayne’s vote. She is subsequently taken hostage and broken out of Arkham by a female version of Ventriloquist and her henchwomen. She wants Harley to break into the office of a stock broker with mob ties for a heist. Harley does it but tips off Comm. Gordon (and by extension Batman). She then teams up with Batman to take down the other criminals before surrendering herself to go back to Arkham. On the trip back she explains the original Ventriloquist was always nice to her when they were locked up. On her next parole hearing Bruce votes for her release.
Chapter 5 – Riddler is reformed and working as a PI. Bruce Wayne hires him to track down a female employee that stole an experimental drug from Wayne Tech and the trail leads to woman’s shelter in Metropolis run by one of Wonder Woman’s amazons where Harley is also staying. Riddler and Harley compare notes on being reformed and Harley agrees to talk to the suspect for him (as men are not allowed in the shelter). The girl confesses that she intends to sell the drug (basically a version of the super soldier serum to Lex Luthor) and then starts a fight using the drug on herself. Harley kicks her into a magical pool and the drug and magic react transforming the suspect into an amphibian woman called Scylla. Riddler emerges from hiding to clunk Scylla with a barbell and arrests her. In the end we learn the clinic is actually being run by Dessad; and that Batman watched the whole thing to test if Riddler and Harley are really reformed.
Chapter 6 – Harley escapes from Arkham on Valentine’s Day so she can be with Joker but when she gets to their hideout she learns Joker’s been kidnapped by Falcone (a mobster). This leads to her going on a rampage to get him back shooting various mobsters, mercenaries and police officers who get in her way. Finally she is confronted by Batman who says arrested Joker and taken him back to Arkham since that was easier than fighting Harley directly in her current pissed off state. Harley then surrenders peacefully as long as she can have a joint cell with Joker for Valentine’s Day night.
Chapter 7 – Harley robs a fast food burger joint and brings home some burgers for her pet hyenas. This causes them to bloat into plant creatures so Harley suspects Poison Ivy poisoned the burgers as part of her latest anti-Gotham pro plant scheme. The two have words at Ivy’s headquarters but Ivy assures Harley she had nothing to do with it. Ivy cures the hyenas and then she and Harley decide to track down whoever stole her M.O. It ends up being Ivy’s old college professor; who didn’t even want to poison anyone, just use her work to mass grow cheap soy burgers in a get rich quick scheme that backfired. Still he’s more than happy to frame her if it gets him off the hook so Ivy melts him.
Chapter 8 – In a short black and white feature a young girl is kidnapped and Batman is on the case. The girl escapes on her own and happens upon Harley and Ivy whom she mistakes to be superheroes. The male kidnapper pursues the kid with a knife and when the super villains learn what he’s up to they save the kid just as Batman arrives for them to turn the child over to.
Chapter 9 – So Harley Quinn is armed and stealing ice cream when Batman arrives to stop her. She’s there to delay him so Joker can commit a larger crime. She bluffs Batman that there is a bomb so that he is to stay and let her psychoanalyze him. She starts way off base but begins to get closer to some broad truths in Batman’s origin as they talk. He conversely gets her to talk about her relationship with Joker where she denies being Joker’s victim. When the hour is up Harley celebrates thinking she’s accomplished Joker’s task and some bomb somewhere else has detonated but Batman reveals he thwarted Joker before coming to stop Harley and he’s taped their entire conversation in which she confessed to being responsible for her own actions in teaming with Joker to turn over to the D.A.
Chapter 10 – Now we’re in the New 52 redesigned Harley. We get a new origin for her: this time while working at Arkham she pretends to be an inmate, makes out with Joker in the yard, frees him and he double crosses her by dumping her in a vat of chemicals that mutates her skin and hair color; then they make out some more. Anyway cut to the present where Harley is on her own in a world without heroes (due to the Forever Evil crossover). She beats some people with a hammer, then steals a bunch of money (killing everyone in the bank in the process) to buy a handheld videogames that she donates to charity but in the finale the games were all booby trapped with bombs so she ends up killing thousands of children who had received the games.
Critical Thoughts: As always these anthologies are a mixed bag, a couple stories are very good, many are irrelevant and one is terrible. In order:
I really like the first chapter. While the Mad Love origin is better, this is close enough to it and is the story brings Harley into the main DC continuity. I like the start of Harley and Ivy’s friendship and Ivy’s motivations for giving Harley low-level super powers. I think the dynamic with Harley and Joker is spot on, with him using her at first then being pleasantly surprised by her capableness but ultimately turning his back on true love because it might compromise his criminal career.
Chapter 2 is a fun little story in the spirit and style of classic animated Harley. The playfulness of the Ivy and Harley friendship is well done; with Harley cheating to win being a nice twist. Chapter 4 is a perfectly adequate story that benefits from being in the same anthology as chapter 2 as we see the Harley and Ventriloquist connection that turns the plot for chapter 4 in action in chapter 2. Chapter 8’s short take of Harley and Ivy thwarting a kidnapping is a well done story to show another side of the girls that fits in character for both.
Chapter 3 is literally nothing, just a few pages of nonsense. I didn’t much care for the boring reformed Harley and Riddler in chapter 5. Chapter 7 also did nothing for me as we group all of the lesser, yet inoffensive, stories together.
I liked chapter 6. First of all it is really well told structurally. On first reading, the unfolding of the plot gets you to root for Harley to have her Valentine’s date with Joker even though the amount of crime and mayhem she’s committing is far different tone than the usual Harley Quinn story of this era. There’s a fun running joke in it of those opposing her underestimating her actions to be campy in the style of the Adam West show when in fact she’s deadly serious on this night. The ending is also note perfect with Batman revealing on this one night it was easier to stop the Joker than to stop her. I hope this is the kind of energy they bring to the movie interpretation as opposed to the last chapter.
Chapter 9 is also a good story, with Harley attempting to analyze Batman. I think it again has a good balance of humor when she’s way off base in the beginning and then seriousness as she and Batman beginning trading revelations in the end. I also think this is a good way to make Harley her own villain and less of victim without undermining her classic origin.
Sadly that brings us to chapter 10 which does everything wrong that chapters 1, 6 and 9 did right. I frankly hate the New 52 redesign of Harley. It throws out most of what made Harley popular originally, including the best parts of her origin. (And really Mad Love is an all time great comic book that should never be touched). And yes I know, that for whatever reason she is probably more popular than ever since the redesign but I don’t get it. You read this story and she murders thousands of children on a whim. How can you take a character that does that and make them an anti-hero? Harley can be dangerous as chapter 6 showed and a worthy foe to Batman as chapter 1 showed (or Mad Love shows) without being a mass murderer. Indeed classic Harley had a solo series in the early 2000s that lasted 60 issues that is a thoroughly enjoyable read and manages to keep her as a fun loving criminal without making her reprehensible. I really hate everything about the redesigned Harley and even the relationship with her and Joker is just way off in the new continuity.
Grade: B. The good outweighs the bad, even if the bad is the last taste in your mouth. Still three or four strong stories vs. one stinker and some filler is still worth a passing grade for an anthology that gives a look at the early tales a character ready to break big mainstream.