Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Harley Quinn 0, originally released November 20th, 2013
Patrick: My buddy Andrew and I once went halfsies on a copy of the game Catherine. If you’ve never played it, the game is half puzzle game, half infidelity simulator. You’re barely even in control of the main character as he blushes his way through an affair with a blonde sex nymph. Those portions of the game when you’re sitting in the bar, trying to non-suspiciously excuse yourself to the bathroom so you can read the sexy tests your new lady is sending you are novel as shit. I don’t know that it was an engaging gameplay experience, but it was addictive and unique – an “experience” devoid of any qualifiers like “game” or “storytelling.” Harley Quinn 0 manages the same feat, simultaneously throwing out and embracing everything you’ve ever known about visual storytelling. The result is a manic experience.
There’s no way to summarize this issue. BUT HERE I GO ANYWAY: Harley’s hanging out in a storage unit — one that she appears to have broken into — eating pizza and junk food and drinking copious amounts of soda and booze. She starts to hear voices, first from the stuffed animals in the unit — which she seems totally cool with, by the way — and then from the series’ writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. Guided by the writers of her own comic books, she fantasizes about getting… her own comic book. The rest of the issue is a veritable who’s-who of comic artists, drawing Harley doing a fun mix of whatever the artist wants, whatever Palmiotti and Conner want and what Harley herself wants.
Okay, so, take anything you know about storytelling and ignore it. There is no story here. There are moments, there are gags, but if there’s anything that holds the issue together, it’s gleeful irreverence for the creative folks involved. It’s like the opposite of an episode of Robot Chicken, which gets by on the creator’s irreverent love for the characters. Harley’s a wonderful vehicle for this sort of thing – the character hasn’t been around for very long, but she’s been through more redesigns than just about any other character. I love the idea that the character can be just as enamored with her creators as they are with her.
God, the issue is almost too nuts to have any one coherent thing to say about it. I think my favorite thing is how Harley herself gradually becomes less and less important as the issue progresses, until it gets to the point where Darwyn Cooke starts drawing and inserts the physical presence of Palmiotti and Conner — who really are a couple — into the narrative. Hell, Conner herself throws the most heroic punch in the whole issue. Naturally, she’s wearing a wedding dress that pays homage to Power Girl.
So much of their real life makes it on to the page – right down to the detail that they were recently married. Catwoman and Harley even make a joke about how poorly All-Star Western and Batwing are selling, suggesting that they should go easy on Palmiotti. It’s a meta joke, but it’s also incredibly inside. Like 90% of the jokes in this issue require a near encyclopedic knowledge of the behind-the-scenes world of DC Comics. Early on, there’s a joke about Jim Lee re-printing a page he had previously drawn. Having been immersed in Lee’s work for years, I recognize the page – it’s page 15 from Batman 613 – part of the Hush story line. Because it’s fun, here’s a quick comparison:
And then there’s Adam Hughes’ page, which simultaneously celebrates the artist’s uncanny ability to beautifully render characters while slamming his inability to stay on a monthly schedule. The first four panels of the page are done up as a blue pencil roughs, so we really only get half a page of impeccably realized Harley Quinn, but holy hell, is it worth it.
Note that Amanda seems to be excited that Adam drew their cat in the book. Yes, it’s a stunning drawing of Harley, but look look looook! It’s Amanda Conner’s kitty!
The issue is totally self-indulgent — I haven’t come close to cataloging all the in jokes in the issue — but, like, come on: where else on earth are you going to encounter these kinds of jokes? I’ve talked to both Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner at cons, and they’re both absolutely delightful people. This issue does its damnedest to simulate a conversation with them. Actually comes pretty close.
Shelby, were you as charmed by this “experience” as I was? What are some of your favorite pages? Are you almost a little bit bummed that the last couple of pages introduced an actual story that Harley can follow as the series continues forward?
Shelby: I talked with Patrick after he read this issue, and he told me it was, quote, “bonkers.” Knowing Harley Quinn (and Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner) like I do, I thought I had a pretty good idea what that would entail. I now know that I never could have possibly prepared myself for this issue. As soon as the creators started “talking” to Harley, I threw my wildest expectations out the window and prepared to sit back and enjoy the ride.
And that’s really the only way to enjoy this issue; you have to just sit back and let it take you where it’s gonna go. As I was reading it, I thought I shouldn’t have been enjoying it as much as I was. I felt like I should think it was too meta, too self-aware, too much nonsense. But it’s such heartfelt nonsense that I told that part of me to stop being dumb and just have a good time. That’s why I think this issue worked as well as it did; Conner and Palmiotti went no holds barred as they gleefully demolished the fourth wall. If they had held back, contained themselves to a wink and a nod to the audience here and there, this would have been nothing spectacular. Because there was no real story, because it was a mash-up of artists, because it was mostly just insider jokes, it landed perfectly as a fun-as-hell-and-totally-charming introduction to this series. That being said, I’m glad we saw the glimpse of an actual story in the last couple pages. As fun as this was, this constant, over-the-top nonsense would not be substance enough for a regular monthly series. The gimmick would become tired, and people would lose interest, which is absolutely the last thing I want to happen to this title. This is so unlike anything DC is putting out right now, and I love it for that. One of my biggest complaints about DC as a whole is they take themselves too seriously. Marvel is completely the opposite; as a publisher, Marvel takes itself seriously enough to produce quality work, but not so much so that it gets bogged down in editorial bureaucracy. DC can’t seem to dig itself out of that mire, making this title a refreshing change of pace.
I don’t worry too much that a monthly storyline will totally override the wackiness Palmiotti and Conner have established here. As much as I adore the Hughes page (because I have eyes and a soul), my favorite pages are the last two when series regular (presumably) Chad Hardin takes over. As Harley digs through her exploded storage unit, she picks up a comic book and what does she find?
Yep, she’s looking at the next page of the issue; she’s holding Harley Quinn 0 in her hands and admiring the art. If that meta tomfoolery is how Conner and Palmiotti introduce the actual story of this title, I have no worries this will turn into a serious book. While I imagine it will calm down considerably from what we see here, I feel confident the title will keep that winking tone, and I’m excited for it. Also, did you notice that issue of the Flash lying there? It’s the one where he first meets Reverse Flash, I recognize the cover. And I can’t be sure, but I think Brian Azzarello is officiating at their wedding in the Darwin Cooke section. Man, this issue is totally bonkers.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?