Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Frank Tieri
Art by Mauricet and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 is the very definition of a doublee-dged sword. On one side, its a silly tale starring one of DC’s most bankable leading ladies and cast with an eye toward diversity and representation. However, he other side reveals what this debut truly is; a tone-deaf and jumbled collection of half-formed jokes and problematic characterizations. While other Harley Quinn books have run the gamut from clever send-ups of team-up books to gag-a-minute comedy stories, this first issue doesn’t come anywhere close to touching those book’s charm and wit, ultimately delivering a very wrong-headed direction for our favorite mallet-packing jokester. I went into Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 expecting a pleasant surprise, but what I found instead was anything but.
Stemming from recent developments in Harley’s Little Black Book, this new #1 casts Harley as the leader of a Harley-themed group of misfits who have taken to protecting their home in the only way they know how — with baseball bats and extreme prejudice. This aspect of Jimmy Palmiotti and Frank Tieri’s script is truly great. To see Harley playing den mother to a group of women (and one very handsome man), and ethnically and ably diverse women at that, is a breath of fresh air into the stuffy, slow to update DC Comics universe. Unfortunately, Palimotti and Tieri squander this goodwill almost instantly.
As they move into their plot in earnest, one that involves a fake kidnapping/team-building attempt that turns all-too-real at the hands of a brand-new villain (who also comes with an overt Harley theme), Palimotti and Tieri fumble the ball and transform this issue into a silly distraction into a truly weird and troublesome first issue. As Harley languishes in fake captivity, the Harleys set out across New York to find her and in doing so, become one-note stereotypes that betray Mauricet and Hi-Fi’s beautiful renderings of them. Harvey Quinn, the team’s only male member, becomes increasingly more fey as the story progresses, Harlem Harley (try and guess what race she is) stops just short of speaking jive throughout the mission, and Bolly Quinn openly wonders if her family could set up an Indian food kiosk at a local farmer’s market. As someone who was excited to see this group of Harleys mix it up it in the DCU and crack wise while doing it, it’s hard to understate my disappointment at the characterizations provided by Palimotti and Tieri. They go from slightly exaggerated joke machines to downright gross straw women and men in the span of just a few pages. As if that wasn’t enough, Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 goes a step further by abandoning comedy all together and attempting a serious, blood-soaked finale.
And that just proves to be the horrible icing on this very bad cake. As the Harleys finally suss out the real kidnappers, their team-building exercise is co-opted by new villain Harley Sinn, who looks like a Day of the Dead version of the original flavor Harley just with less clothes and sugar skull face paint. Before Sinn’s introduction, this first issue at least attempted to be a comedy, but the sudden burst of blood and violence makes it seem like Palimotti and Tieri wanted to pull some kind of grand tonal shift, but it just fails on every level, making the issue read as if they didn’t really know what kind of story that they wanted to tell. Sinn’s bloody involvement might not be the worst element of this debut issue, but it’s certainly bad enough to further alienate an audience that was expecting much, much more from this debut.
If Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 has a saving grace, it’s the artwork of Mauricet and the sumptuous colors of Hi-Fi. While not nearly enough to distract from the lunkheaded script, Mauricet’s lusciously rounded pencils fit in perfectly with Harley’s wacky world and make the gang itself look incredible from top to bottom. Mauricet and Hi-Fi go out of their way to give each member a distinct visual personality and unique Harley-themed costume that further distinguish them apart from one another. Making the action pop from the page are the almost fluorescent colors of Hi-Fi that keep the visual energy of the title up throughout its page count, despite a dip into grim territory toward the end. Though the work of Mauricet and Hi-Fi is tremendous, it still isn’t enough to make Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 a worthwhile experience.
Lacking a better way to describe it, the most I can say is that first issue is a mess. It’s messy in its execution, messy in tone, and worst of all, extremely messy in its characterization. Though delivered by recognizably talented creatives, Harley Quinn and the Gang of Harleys #1 is a profound misstep after a string of witty, low-key satires and adventures starring the Clown Princess of Crime. I wanted to like this book. I wanted to meet this book on its own terms. But, there is only so much a reader can do with a book as ill-conceived as this one. Harley’s fans deserve more than this, and more than that, readers in general do, too.