“I think I may have found a project I’d actually enjoy doing: helping these cats and dogs. They should be rewarded for not being people. I hate people.”
April Ludgate, Parks and Recreation
Spencer: So far, both issues of Harley Quinn have featured its heroine rescuing animals from oppressive environments. Harley being an animal lover isn’t really a surprise—she’s basically a big kid, plus she’s canonically owned and raised laughing hyenas in the past—but it still seemed a bit odd to me at first that this book was hitting this point so hard. I suppose it ultimately makes sense, though; when writing a book featuring a villain protagonist you’ve got to make sure the antagonists are even more loathsome, and everybody hates animal abuse—even supervillains—right?
In her latest misadventure, Harley runs across a group of protesters trying to stop an animal shelter from euthanatizing over fifty animals. When her attempt to adopt them meets with failure, she calls in her BFF (and maybe something more?) Poison Ivy; together they free the animals, all of which promptly escape into the night. As they chase down the pets, Harley runs across another assassin out to collect the bounty on her head; she handedly defeats him and uses him as bait to find the other dogs. Together Harley and Ivy create a paradise for the animals in Harley’s building, but all the while, whoever placed the hit on Harley is watching her ominously (while eating Jell-O in gruesome detail, of course).
Books starring villains can be tough to pull off, if only because it can be quite hard to root for a psychotic killer, but Harley has an advantage in the fact that she’s generally a pretty funny and amicable person, even as she’s choking you with bolt-cutters and feeding you to a pack of dogs. Writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti remind us from the very first scene of the issue—where Harley humps a wax replica of her one-and-only, the psychotic mass-murderer the Joker, and discovers that she too will one day have a place in Madame Macabre’s House of Wax and Murder—that Harley is a villain and a murderer, but they handle the character with such dark humor that I just can’t dislike her.
Still, it absolutely helps Harley’s image to give her a mission as noble as helping doomed animals. It also gives Conner and Palmiotti a chance to lampoon the ridiculously overcomplicated and ever-so-slightly counterproductive process of adopting an animal from a shelter.
Yeah, sure, the shelter was absolutely right to tear up Harley’s application—as the later scene featuring the blood-soaked animals gnawing at the corpse of the mercenary Harley fed them proves, she should in no way be responsible for animals—but it doesn’t change the fact that some of these shelters that are trying to protect animals can make it practically impossible to actually adopt one. I also adore the little detail of the photos of the “animal-loving” shelter-lady fishing and big-game hunting, all framed beneath the antlers of the moose or elk she no doubt killed. It’s a delicious irony.
Besides the animals, though, the centerpiece of the issue is Poison Ivy. Ever since Paul Dini first paired these two in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley and Ivy’s relationship has been not only extremely popular, but also full-to-the-brim with homoerotic subtext. In this issue, Conner and Palmiotti have decided to drop the subtext altogether.
There is something absolutely adorable about the friendship between these two villains. The affection Ivy has for Harley is especially endearing considering that Ivy cares about plants far more than people; Harley is the one person who slips past her defenses and really gets to her, it seems. I have no problem with any of this—in fact, I find it rather sweet—but it does chafe a little against how I’m used to seeing these two portrayed. I mean, Ivy and Harley have always been friends, but Ivy has also always viewed Harley through a veil of pity at best and annoyance at worst, so Ivy becoming the one nursing an unrequited crush feels a little off to me. That said, it’s sweet and it’s funny, so I certainly haven’t got a problem with it. Plus, it opens the door for a lot of fantastically filthy jokes.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Harley’s beaver for a second. Seriously though, what’s the deal with that thing? I suppose it says a lot about Harley as a character that we don’t even bat an eyelash about her friendship with a stuffed, burnt beaver that talks to her, but what’s actually going on here? All signs point towards everything just being in Harley’s head, yet there’s a panel in this issue where Ivy (while pranking Harley by controlling a corpse lying around in her apartment) actually responds to something Bernie says.
So, can other people hear Bernie? Is Harley speaking his lines out-loud? Is there something more going on with Harley’s beaver than meets the eye? Am I twelve years old? Chances are that Bernie the beaver is just there to give Harley someone off-the-wall to talk to, but he still makes me slightly suspicious, even if I do like him.
There’s a surprising amount we could talk about when it comes to this book, but I think that the most important aspect of Harley Quinn is whether we’re having fun with it, and I know I sure am. Shelby, are you still having fun following the adventures of Harley Quinn?
Shelby: Hands down, my favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series is Harley and Ivy, when the two gals go on a crime spree and become roommates. As a kid, I loved seeing these two hanging out like besties would in real life; I guess my love of seeing heros and villains dealing with regular people issues started early. Needless to say, I was THRILLED to see these two team up here, and Palmiotti and Conner didn’t disappoint. I see where you get the homoerotic vibe, Spencer, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Sometimes you find a friend who is, in all the right ways, another version of you, and that’s what I see in these two gals. They remind me a lot of me and a friend of mine, actually, which is probably why this book is currently sitting so high on my list of titles. They are the friends that will drop whatever they’re doing for a crazy adventure. They are there for each other, in a twisted, homicidal, and very touching sort of way.
That’s really why I feel this book has been such a success so far. The creative team has managed to balance crazy antics and horrifying murder with a lot of heart. And humor, of course.
Here we have the touching gesture of the garden from Ivy (plants are always an appropriate house warming gift), paired with the ridiculous amount of rescued animals and the gruesome human remains. I love the little guys in front playing tug-of-war with the would-be assassin’s blood-stained jeans. It’s horrifying and really funny all at once. I am really impressed with the work done on this title. I know we’re only technically two issues in, but I’m really happy with the mixture of one-off adventure and over-arching plot thread tying everything together. I only hope Palmiotti and Conner can keep up that fun balance, and maybe deliver some more supervillainess slumber parties, because that is too much fun.
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 download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?