Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Harley Quinn 3, originally released February 19th, 2014.
Drew: When someone accuses a joke of “going too far,” they tend to mean that it is offensive — that it has left the concept of good taste behind in the pursuit of a bigger laugh. But offensiveness isn’t the only metric of taste. Indeed, I would argue that even the most family-friendly humor can take its core concepts “too far,” neglecting to cultivate the expectations that jokes are designed to subvert. Taken too far, scenarios become unrecognizable, characters become unrelatable, and irony curdles into nihilism. It’s the reason I can’t really get into Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — I’m unable to form a frame of reference for why it’s even supposed to be funny, making the experience little more than a parade of one-note awkwardness. I found myself feeling the same things as I read Harley Quinn 3, as the series continues to stretch its own rules to the breaking point. When absolutely anything is possible, it’s hard to be surprised by a punchline.
It’s Valentines Day on Coney Island, and Harley is feeling kind of lonely. She decides to head out for a night on the town, but first decides to randomly eat a couple berries from the mysterious plants Ivy left her, because why the fuck not? It causes her to release irresistible pheromones, and comic high jinks ensue. Honestly, I’m not bothered by the arbitrariness of the premise — it’s basically that scene from the Pepé Le Pew cartoon where (in a case of mistaken identity) he’s madly pursued by the cat — but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. My biggest beef lies in Harley’s pursuers — a group of conveniently just-escaped convicts who all arrive with their one-note joke horses already dead and beaten.
Get it? That last guy’s a stoner, so he says DOOB-alicious instead of delicious! Actually, it doesn’t matter if you got that or any of the other “jokes” in this panel — they’ll all be repeated throughout the issue (often in this order). I’m not sure what’s to be gained out of repeating these weird-for-the-sake-of-weird quirks, other than testing my patience. Not that it’s a hard test — Harley makes quick work of the convicts, killing them all before walking away from the crime scene Scot-free.
I don’t want to begrudge this series the leeway it gives Harley in terms of getting away with violence — as I mentioned, it has more in common with a Loony Toons short than anything else in DCs publishing line — but I have a hard time reconciling all of the madcap action with the issue’s conclusion. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner wrap up the story a little too neatly, with Harley concluding that she’s “over” Valentines Day. Only, her adventure here has nothing to do with the expectations of Valentines Day. I could understand her declaring that she’s “over” eating pheromone berries and being chased by still only quasi-amorous escaped convicts, but her conclusions about romance feel totally unearned.
Moreover, the thought that this issue could achieve emotional immediacy after the events that preceded it is beyond tone-deaf. This issue isn’t the kind of character-based humor that can turn warm and fuzzy on a dime, this is mostly about pushing the envelope of over-the-top violence, meaning we have basically no emotional investment by the time the heads stop rolling. In fact, the thought that Harley is ruminating on why Valentines Day is icky so immediately after beating a guy to death with a pipe wrench only emphasizes how crazy she is, making it even harder to relate to her in those closing moments.
Ultimately, the aesthetic of this series may just not be my cup of tea — beyond its tin ear for humor, I can’t really get behind the way Harley is drawn by artist Chad Hardin. I get that the empowered pin-up girl is Conner’s forte, but a lot of the sexualization — from Harley’s towel flapping open to the kiss with the female cop — feels totally gratuitous. I get that this issue is kind of about Harley’s sexual power, but when that power also has nothing to do with how she dresses or acts, and everything to do with what kind of weirdo berries she just ate, it seems kind of unnecessary to make sure she’s barely clothed. Isn’t Coney Island cold in the middle of February?
I was charmed by the cartoony attitude this series had early on, but as the groans to gags ratio continues to tick upwards, I’m starting to lose patience. I could excuse the series lack of heart as long as it made me laugh, but Harley’s total unrelatability is starting to alienate me. Spencer, it feels like I’m always bitching to you about series lately. Am I just being a killjoy here? Was there fun to be had, or did these jokes fizzle for you, too? I think this issue may have convinced me that this series isn’t for me, and I’m curious how you’re feeling about it after four issues.
Spencer: Y’know Drew, if you had asked me how I felt about Harley Quinn after the first three issues I would have told you that I absolutely loved it, that it was one of my favorite books on the stands, and I’d have essentially spent the next 900 words or so telling you why you were wrong, but the truth of the matter is that this issue’s a bit of a dud.
Harley Quinn is a humor book; it lives or dies on how good the jokes are, and the jokes this month just aren’t up to par. You already hit on the main reason why, Drew — those one-note convicts and their constant repetition of their one unfunny joke. Two whole pages of this issue consist of almost nothing but the convicts saying “yum” over and over — nine times total on both pages — and somehow that’s supposed to be funny? Or is it one of those gags that’s just so bizarre that it’s supposed to become funny because of the sheer lunacy of it, like one of those Tim and Eric sketches you mentioned? (By the way Drew, I’m with ya’ on that show; it grosses me out so much that I’ve nearly vomited almost every time I’ve watched it).
I also had a problem with the violence in this issue, but not the same problem you had, Drew. I’m not really bothered by Conner and Palmiotti’s decision to make Harley so murderous and violent, and I think violence can be funny. In fact, making violence funny is something Harley Quinn‘s excelled at up to this point, and that largely has to do with discretion. If issue two had actually shown Harley feeding that mercenary to her dogs, for example, it would have just been dark or horrifying, but skipping over that scene entirely and just showing this sunny, serene moment of the dogs chewing on his skeleton with their noses caked in blood? Now that’s comedy!
This issue could have really benefited from some of that discretion. The entire fight scene in the hardware store was a little too violent even by this book’s standards, and the worst part was that, while it felt like Conner and Palmiotti were going for laughs, the violence just came across too straight to actually be funny. I know I can be a twelve-year-old at heart sometimes — I’m still laughing at those beaver jokes from last issue, for example — but I’m not twelve enough to sit there and guffaw at a guy getting a screwdriver shoved through his head or at that poor shopkeeper getting his neck snapped. “Going too far” has always been a part of Harley Quinn‘s charm, but this scene kind of went past “going too far” and skipped straight to gratuitous.
Connor and Palmiotti can usually let Harley get away with doing horrible things by making sure her victims are even worse than she is; her victims in the first few issues were animal abusers and mercenaries out to kill her, and this issue ups the ante by pitting her against a bus full of serial killers (and a peeping tom!). The thing is, just this once, I feel like this kind of works against the story because it gives Harley carte blanche to be as gratuitously violent as she pleases. This book is already basically Looney Toons, this issue specifically is already a Pepe Le Pew story, why not embrace that and make her suitors somebody she can’t dispatch so easily? It feels like a missed opportunity.
That said, Drew, the rest of this issue worked a lot better for me than it did for you; if you removed the pages with the convicts this would be a quite good, albeit short, comic book. You mentioned that Harley’s insanity makes her unrelateable to you, Drew, and while I admit that Conner and Palmiotti are very much playing up Harley’s lunacy in this book, I still feel like Harley’s one of the more human of Batman’s rogues, and a lot of that comes down to her tragic romance with the Joker. It’s no surprise, then, that the most effective moments in this issue play off that relationship, even though Mr. J never shows his face.
I’m rather fond of the more obvious joke here that the kind of love Harley’s describing is exactly the kind of love you receive from a pet, not a significant other, but here’s the thing: Harley’s also describing the way she loves the Joker. I don’t think Harley’s cognizant of this — in fact, she seems to be specifically referring to the Joker when she describes someone who who worships the very ground she walks on, which is, of course, preposterous — but whether she knows it or not, her words perfectly describe how she acts around Joker, and the fact that this statement is at the same time describing the affection between a pet and its owner certainly doesn’t speak well of Harley. That’s why the ending of this plot is all the more effective.
Maybe the way Harley reached this conclusion isn’t all that solid — nothing about the convicts really works, we’ve established this — but the fact that Harley freaking Quinn of all people made a sensible decision about love is not only amazingly sweet, but a surprisingly significant moment for the character.
I’m also fonder of Hardin’s art than you are, Drew. While he still occasionally has issues with Harley’s face fluctuating between being soft and being angular, he’s shown tremendous improvement with this issue, imbuing Harley’s face with a remarkable amount of personality while also keeping her much more consistent.
Just look at the impressive range Hardin gives Harley here! I’m also a huge fan of the way Hardin sometime stretches reality; Harley’s visible pheromone trail is another touch straight out of Looney Toons, and the way the panel borders become increasingly wavy and unstable as the convicts fall prey to the berries’ effects perfectly captures the hazy spell they’re under. My favorite touch, though, is the raincloud that follows Harley in her sorrows; it would be out of place in any other book, but for Harley Quinn, it’s just life.
This issue was ultimately a rather disappointing step down in quality from the ones that came before, but I see plenty of signs that the series I fell in love with is still alive and well, even if it’s buried beneath a billion word balloons saying “yum,” so I’m not giving up on it yet. And hey, look on the bright side: all those convicts are dead, so we’ll never see them again!
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“I’m not twelve enough” is the best thing Spencer has ever written.
I always love the diplomacy of suggesting that not liking a work of art lies in some kind of shortcoming of the audience. We might all have liked this issue more if we were twelve.
Regardless of who‘s fault it is, I can‘t say I enjoyed this issue much. Aside from the problems you guys already pointed out, I thougt the use of Harley‘s habit of deforming words (i.e. tagging syllables on the end) was overused and eventually became cumbersome. Overall, I‘m not insulted by this book‘s treatment of the character like I was with early Suicide Squad, but at the same time I don‘t find that it‘s doing anything particularly interesting with her. I guess I‘ll just have to pour more energy into tracking down the Gotham City Sirens trades to get my Harley fix.
Hey, so the issue ends with Harley giving Big Tony one of the berries (I guess she wasn’t so over the plant that she bothered to look if any of them had fallen off the bush before launching it into the seal habitat) – this way, he’ll have an “edge” with his ladyfriend. But, like, it’s not an edge, it’s a magic pheromone berry. Tony might not make it much past Harley’s front stoop, but it makes me uncomfortable how Harley might just be enabling some non-consentual sex here. Anybody made uneasy by that?
I’m not sure how interested I am in debating the morality of magic pheromone berries, but I would like to point out that Tony wasn’t trying to get in his lady’s pants, but was trying to get her back. In that way, the short-term nature of the pheromones could only hope to get his foot in the door, which strikes me as no more of a false pretense then dressing up or promising to change or whatever.
More importantly, the pheromones ultimately only sort of make people want to have sex with the berry-eater: the convicts wanted to shear, eat, imprison, and smoke Harley, respectively. It seems, then, that the pheromones simply exaggerate the one personality trait we know about the character. In that case, the pheromones would likely only make Big Tony’s ladyfriend break up with him harder.
Not to mention that the berries wouldn’t change his own morality, and we’re talking about a guy whose problem is stemming from having taken things too slow instead of too fast. I give this book a lot of currency when it comes to gender perspective since it’s co-written by a very charming, real-life couple that I love to chat with at cons.
So I didnt have room to mention it in the article, but my favorite moment in this issue is the panel where Harley complains about how sick she is of all this constant love stuff while watching Superman and Wonder Woman make out on TV. Its a deliciously meta joke (shes obviously watching Channel 52)
It really is a shame those convicts were so aggressively horrible cause everything in this issue that came before and after really worked for me, but they just stopped the entire middle section of the book cold
Yeah, I LOVED the personal rain cloud, because who hasn’t felt like that before? And while I loved seeing tarted-up Harley in her hardware store battle gear, the bulk of the issue just dragged. Every “holee [fill in the blank with nonsense words]” just grated.
Personal lightning! Like in Mario Kart!
I mostly agree with everyone on this. I didn’t like this issue, but I liked a lot of the ideas. I liked the bathtub scene, I liked the beaver joke, I liked a bunch of little things. I hated the convicts and their reactions and how the combat felt like it was written and drawn for Beavis and Butthead.
I still don’t get Harley. As in, I don’t even know if she has super powers. I assume she’s got SOMETHING, right? She murdered several hardened criminals while dressed in little more than her underwear.
Cute idea for a story. Some cool scenes. One long, terrible scene that was about half the comic. I’ll survive. But I wished I liked this one more. I certainly wouldn’t loan this to someone hoping they’d become a comic fan from it.
“I’ll survive.” High praise indeed.
Harley’s abilities to kick ass do sort of come out of nowhere, right? Like even someone like Joker would have a tough time taking on four or five criminals in a straight-up brawl. I keep going back to the idea that nothing in this series is supposed to be objective: it’s all Harley’s experience (and therefore, crazy).
Harley’s original incorporation into the DCU portrays that she’s chemically improved by a concoction Ivy makes which imbues her with slightly superhuman speed, strength, and agility. I haven’t seen this confirmed since reboot, and they certainly didn’t rework this as part of her new origin (as depicted in Suicide Squad 6 and 7), but they DID just last week reprint the issue I’m talking about as a one-shot alongside their other weekly comics so I’m guessing the story is still canon and we need to just forget the Cataclysm/No Man’s Land stuff.
I hope at some time they touch on this. I’d like to know a little bit about why she can kick so much ass. It makes sense, the Ivy thing, seeing as she has little Ivy gifts in her home. (Which was pretty adorable. I liked that Ivy labeled them as if for a 5 year old)
I’m legitimately thinking that Ivy may have left those Love Seeds around in hopes of snaring Harley’s affection herself somehow haha; but yeah, Harley basically IS five years so Ivy was smart to label them, even if Harley didn’t notice them at all.
Also, I love that we’re un-Jim Lee-ifying a lot of the costumes finally, and Harley and Cyborg were perfect candidates for it. The slip evokes classic, Dini Harley in a small way where she formerly evoked more of a Jokered-out Lara Croft.
I thought Lee had only designed the Justice Leaguers or almost in the N52, was Harley’s new suit his idea as well? I wasn’t much of a fan and I agree that this look is overall better, although frankly I’d straight up go back to the Bruce Timm costume in a heart beat. I do like the two-tone hair instead of the bonnet though, that could stay.
While this current version of Harley is obviously sexual, I feel much better about how she’s being drawn and what she’s being drawn in now than I did in earlier N52 Suicide Squad. Some of that stuff with the impossible boobs and impossible clown corset thingy that stayed up with magic invisi-tape was just embarrassing. Here I feel differently about it, even though she’s being drawn in a revealing way much of the time. I’m not sure I could pinpoint the difference. I am guessing that even when we’re seeing a lot of Harley the emphasis is on what she’s doing, saying and thinking than just looking at a pic of a pasty faced skinny girl with enormous tatas bent backwards saying something crazy.
Or something like that. Maybe my mind is babbling at me because I don’t want to face my students in 8 minutes. But even in a not so good solo Harley issue I like how she’s presented for the most part.
Yeah, like I posted earlier, I feel like Conner, Palmiotti and Hardin respect Harley, I just don‘t find the story that they‘re telling to be all that interesting. At least I don‘t have to mentally block out horrible retcons like I did with Suicide Squad, so I guess we can call that a win.
I think Conner and Palmiotti are doing a better job of giving Harley some agency. She still dresses super sexy, but it’s more about the character choosing to do so for herself, and that makes it more ok.