Batman: The Animated Series came out on September 5th 1992 and one of the biggest characters to come from it made her first appearance before the end of its first week on the air. Of course, I am talking about Harley Quinn. To celebrate twenty-five years of Harley Quinn, DC put out the Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special with four stories that all showcase a different side of our beloved psychologist turned villain turned antihero. Two of the stories are quite good and represent the character and the relationships she has quite thoughtfully with attention to her various complexities. The other two give us a simplified version focusing more on her impulsive and violent nature. This issue is a mixed bag for sure, but, regardless of what Harley you are a fan of, you will get what you are looking for here.
Because the issue starts with what I consider the worse story of the bunch, I will start with the two that weren’t as successful in my opinion. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s “Diva Las Vegas” is a side story from the current Harley Quinn run. It features a story line about Harley, Ivy, and Selina going for a Vegas Adventure prompted by a game of truth or dare. As I said, this was not my favorite story. It is the typical “ and things get crazy!” kind of story that Harley Quinn writers have been showing far too strong of a reliance on recently. Worse, there is also a pervasive sense of male gaze throughout, which is also an unfortunate problem for the character. Whereas, Harley Quinn & Friends in “Somewhere that’s Green” is just plain fun and it was great to see Swamp Thing note that does have its place. Writer Dale Kibblesmith perfectly captures the personality of each character with Ivy and her justifiably pessimistic understanding of humanity standing out in a very good way. How believable it is for Swamp Thing, Ivy and Harley to go into the green to try to prevent a hurricane from decimating New York is another matter. While different, David LaFuente’s art feels modern and casual in this issue which shows what stories set in the present could be like instead of just the Suicide Squad based art styles. Additionally, the greenish blue tint John Rauch adds works well in this environmentally themed story.
“Birthday Blues” is set during the time that Harley Quinn and Joker are still together, but this is really a Harley and Ivy story. Not only do the women share with far word words than Joker and Harley do, we see Ivy pulling Joker’s strings the whole time. Paul Dini’s characterization is very much in line with the Batman: The Animated Series style Ivy where she sees Joker for what he is while at the same time tolerating his existence because Harley still loves him. She is willing to play dirty to make him be decent to her though. This story also gives us a bit more information on Harley Quinn’s childhood. We see that her father was in and out of prison and her brothers treated her terribly. This is where Chad Hardin’s art sings with swirling blue filling the gutter during the scenes depicting Harley’s memories. The scenes with Harley and her babies also stand out with very crisp lines and the emotional expression he gives her face is exceptional. Hardin’s art is easily the best in the issue. Dave Sharpe’s letters are also great. I particularly loved when Killer Croc gave Catwoman, Ivy, and Harely a hug and the letters used to express their reactions to it matched their primary costume color. As much as I loved “Birthday Blues,” “Bird Psychology” is the best story from the issue, as far as writing, by far. Chip Zdarsky writes Harley like the psychologist that she is and even uses this background to elucidate another facet of her relationship with Joker. We see Joker being very aware of the similar psychosis between himself and Batman though his open pondering about if Batman is preparing for him just as he is preparing for the Bat. He then turns to make fun of Harley for reading a phycology journal, even going as far as to call her a nerd for it, but she quickly calls him out and reminds him of the science books that he reads in order to make his murder toys. These little moments exploring the connections between the characters appear throughout the story. Another example is Robin saying that he is getting an inferiority complex because nobody places bets him knocking people out like they frequently do when facing down Batman. This is a part of Harley Quinn that still has plenty of room to explore and I hope that Zdarsky will get a chance to work on the character again. Joe Quinones’ art isn’t the most dynamic, but the rough shading that he employs works very well with the clean lines and makes for a very atmospheric read. This story is also the one that most feels like a classic superhero story with its strong Bronze Age aesthetic including the overall color pallet and the costume design. When it comes to the good, these stories were really good!
Overall, this issue is a great way of celebrating the character in all her forms and shows what kinds of stories are possible with her. The pin-up art between the stories shows this diversity too with some amazing work from Bengal, Babs Tarr, and an image I literally want to put on my wall from Dustin Nguyen. I will admit that I went into this issue not expecting it to be successful because a lot of things people are doing with the character right now are just not enjoyable for me, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really encourage people to pick this one up and give it a chance. Especially if you think you hate Harley Quinn, because, for at least some of the stories in this issue, “Yes! She shoots, she scores!”
(W) Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paul Dini, Chip Zdarsky (A) Chad Hardin, Joe Quinones (A/CA) Amanda Conner