“Detective Comics #23.2: Harley Quinn” by Matt Kindt and Neil Googe is an odd book with a surprising amount going for it, despite its boring origin story confines. Ultimately, despite very strong tonally on point art, Kindt’s writing and plotting fails to deliver the nuance and details needed for a convincing Harley Quinn origin story.
Some of the writing in “Detective Comics” #23.2 is really lovely — thoughtful and nuanced — and exactly what I have come to expect from Kindt’s more independent work — but it’s also disjointed and repetitive in “Detective Comics” 23.2. The disjointed and contradictory nature could almost work for this book, since the character featured is Harley Quinn, but it’s not contradictory in the right ways or with enough consistency, so it ends up just feeling like a monotonous mess. While Harley Quinn as a mess isn’t that far off, the angle of the book as an origin story and yet nothing actually being sufficiently explored or explained ultimately feels like a waste of time and money.
I can accept that it’s far too much to expect a comic featuring Harley Quinn to deal seriously or even smartly with mental illness, but by focusing on Harley’s origin, and specifically how she came to be the “crazy Harley Quinn,” the book falls on its own face with its quick and tidy summary of how such a complicated idea came to pass. Many readers that appreciate Harley Quinn willingly overlook some of the glaring problems in her character and conceit, in part because she can be such an engaging and fun female lead. However, by focusing this issue on how she came to be, it’s impossible to ignore how poorly conceived and shallow the character really is. As portrayed here, despite the focus on her origin, her relationship with Joker is utterly unbelievable and given no emotional root or explanation. In fact, that part of her story is especially glossed over and lacking in any clarity. Perhaps because even Kindt can’t find a way to explain that relationship. Her leap from therapist to therapist-trying-to-seek-common-ground-with-patients to super villain is similarly unbelievable. It’s given a fresh coat of paint basically, but it’s shockingly cliche ridden.
Kindt’s idea to tell some of Harley’s origin by showing her literally assembling her costume is not a bad idea and somewhat fun, but because the current costume is so ugly, it ends up feeling like a story told entirely to justify a costume change from two years ago. That said, in Googe’s hands the costume easily looks the best it has looked since its debut, so that’s a silver lining at least.
Googe’s art is fun and a very good fit for a Harley book. It’s expressive and sexy, and tonally on point without feeling unnecessarily exploitative. Though Harley is presented as curvy and barely clothed, Googe draws the female figure with a cartoonish realism that works well for the character and offsets the annoying costume. Her body language is exceptional and that, paired with the excellent acting, makes for very strong visuals overall. There is at least one place where the backgrounds drop out giving it an unfinished thin feeling, but on the whole the art is very cool. The final splash page of Harley and Deadshot is so good it almost makes me want to read “Suicide Squad.” Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner should shortlist Googe as an artist for the new “Harley Quinn” series — this is a home run of an audition for that book.
Wil Quintana’s colors are a surprisingly subtle mixture for a book featuring Harley Quinn and a great fit for Googe’s style. The blue and red that dominate Harley’s look are not particularly garish and go a long way toward making the costume more tolerable. Similarly, the balance of the book has a realistic but slightly subdued palette that allows Harley to still pop without everything feeling too loud.
The art is the star in “Detective Comics” #23.2, an otherwise useless origin story that brings little to no real insight into Harley Quinn. That said, tackling Harley Quinn’s origin is a thankless and near impossible task and it’s unsurprising that Kindt was unable to deliver a fantastic one-shot with all of that working against him.