A character like Harley Quinn should certainly be in good hands with writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who have proven their prowess with funny comics in the past, and yet she’s far less funny, clever, or off-the-wall than expected in “Harley Quinn” #1. This is a book that tries to be too many things at once and thus doesn’t succeed at being any of them.
While Chad Hardin’s art is more than capable, and is sometimes gorgeous and occasionally humorous, it’s a too-realistic look for the direction the book seems to want to go. While Hardin is a talented artist and draws a beautiful Harley, he doesn’t have the cartooning chops of someone like Amanda Conner who can find the funny in every panel and highlight it to best serve the soul of a “funny” book. A scene in which Harley auditions for roller derby is paint-by-numbers violence with laughs that never land because the visuals don’t deliver. In the hands of an artist more adept at “finding the funny” in a script, this scene might have been hilarious. This is a problem with the book from the opening splash page, where the execution is so realistic and literal that the joke falls flat. Clearly, Palmiotti and Conner intended to set an over-the-top tone from the outset, and that’s laudable, but with the wrong artist on board, the message ultimately gets lost.
Similarly, though Palmiotti and Conner clearly try to set a clear vision for the book early on, it’s not funny enough to quite work and the plotting takes odd detours that feel anything but humorous. A lot of the story in this issue revolves around the extremely detailed set up of Harley’s new living quarters on Coney Island. Palmiotti and Conner go into such detail that even Harley’s upcoming taxes are discussed. While these details are clearly there as a device to get her looking for a job, talking about taxes in a Harley Quinn book feels so at odds, it’s like someone else’s script accidentally got lettered onto these pages.
At the same time, Harley’s “job hunt” should be something played for huge laughs — how many jobs is Harley Quinn really suited for? And yet the job hunt is played absolutely straight with Quinn immediately securing two jobs she is qualified for — a roller derby job and a therapist job. Again, a huge opportunity for fun, played straight, and leaves me at a complete loss as to what this book is supposed to be about, and not in a good or surprising way.
In the end, “Harley Quinn” #1 zigs when it should zag and falls asleep at the wheel when it should be driving laps around the track. Even if there’s room in the current DC for a true off-the-wall Harley Quinn title, “Harley Quinn” #1 isn’t it.