Harley Quinn went from being a notorious criminal as the Joker’s girlfriend in Gotham to being a well-intentioned, but not exactly law-abiding, anti-hero when she got a fresh start in Jersey. Now, in her newest reboot from writer Stephanie Phillips, Harley’s looking to become…a hero?!?
In March’s Harley Quinn #1, everyone’s favorite psychiatrist-turned-delinquent clown finally returns to Gotham with an aim to make amends for her past misdeeds. This is not the same Gotham as the one she left, however. This Gotham is still shook from the Joker War, the aftermath of which has left the good people of Gotham with a real hatred of both clowns and vigilantes. Harley hopes to help the city recover, a task which may prove to be a bit of a high order. Especially when there are plenty of people who want the city to remain broken for their own nefarious purposes.
The comic opens with Harley down in the Gotham sewers, where her attempts to make amends with Killer Croc by presenting him with a homemade, gluten free cake with the words “I’m sorry” written in pink icing have not been well received. A fight ensues between them, after which Harley drags herself out of the sewers into the pouring rain of Gotham while she reflects on the nature of the city itself. She also bemoans the fact that, “no matter how much you change…the past still lingers like gas in a crowded elevator.” Which is a very Harley way of saying that, no matter how much she changes her image and no matter how many rights she wrongs, the characters of Gotham will only ever see her as her criminal past self and the Joker’s former accomplice.
This is set to be the theme of this new Harley relaunch. Harley’s personal path to redemption appears that it will be a long and bumpy one as she fights to change everyone’s opinions of her. Even Batman himself is skeptical of Harley’s newfound desire to do good, but begrudgingly allows her to tag along and prove herself, just so long as she doesn’t make a mess.
Phillips’ writing in this issue hits all the right notes. Harley’s trademark frankness and humor come through throughout the comic just as well as her sorrow at realizing how much Gotham has changed does. Although often brushed off as zany, silly, and perhaps a little ditzy, Harley has never been as one-dimensional as that, and it’s clear that Phillips understands that. She has Harley utilizing both her past as a psychiatrist and her insider info as a former member of Joker’s gang to help Batman settle the unrest that the Joker War has wrought in Gotham.
As part of this relaunch, artist Riley Rossmo has designed a new outfit for Harley that hails back to the iconic red and black outfit that she first appeared it, but with a more mature look to it. It’s sexy, but not too sexy, and it looks like it might actually be comfortable. It’s also a bit of a mashup with Harley’s more recent looks as it leaves her pig-tails long and blonde with blue and pink tips, a look first seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad movie.
Overall, however, Rossmo’s art doesn’t seem to fit the comic. It’s overly cartoonish and it’s even hard to make out details at times. Scenes that take place in the distance are overly simplistic and, although it is clear which emotions Harley is feeling based upon her expressions, the depictions of her face are uncomely. This art style feels more suited to a dark, horror comic than a Harley Quinn comic, even one that's taking place in a bleak Gotham landscape. To that note, the colors by Ivan Plascencia do an excellent job of portraying just enough darkness in a comic set at night, but still maintain pleasurable hints of brighter shades, while the letters by Deron Bennett are varied and fun.
Still, the storyline is compelling enough that one can look past the art, especially as the final page of issue one promises the return of another well-known Batman villain to the streets of Gotham.
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.