With each strategically placed step down the abandoned corridor, Harley’s heart hammers her ribcage. Fearing that the volume of this biological bass drum might finally reach audible decibels, the former Clown Princess of Crime promptly locates the nearest exit. She can’t help but think that if this were some old, western movie, a well-timed tumbleweed might roll across the path to punctuate her isolation. Unfortunately, this time, Harley has found herself trapped in a very different type of film. Her footsteps’ tempo hastens, forsaking all elements of stealth, as a screech rapidly crescendos from the abyss. Using her back to open her next chance for salvation, Harley quickly turns around with both of her high-tech guns cocked, locked and ready to rock. A million glowing, red eyes peer at her from the darkness.
“I’m an American Death Machine! RAAAAAAGH!”
After exonerating herself of murder, with a little help from the World’s Greatest Detective (Harley Quinn #58), and discovering her inner Kafka after transforming into a bug, what conquest could possibly be left for Harley to crush on the path to becoming the Angel of Retribution? How about a little bit of Sci-Fi Horror via alien invasion? Running on empty and surrounded by the unwavering alien horde, Harley is going to have to dig deep to survive the latest trial. Thankfully, Humphries’ humorous scripting and Basri’s wonderful artwork make Harley Quinn #60 a trial worth enduring.
One of the best things about a title like Harley Quinn is that it never takes itself too seriously despite some of the meatier themes explored. As a result, the success of the issue hinges largely on the author’s use of humor to explore these themes. Humphries’ take on Harley’s voice, as well as his use of humor, have always been one of my favorite parts of each issue. In spite of the severity of Harley’s situation, it is no surprise that the dialogue still has me smiling. Humphries nails the humor, tempo and rhythm of Harley’s speech in such a way that makes her character feel genuine and enjoyable to read. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dave Sharpe on lettering here, as the changes in font size give the reader a sense of Harley’s cadence and volume when reading. Additionally, lines like, “I’m an American Death Machine!” are instantly quotable. It is especially fun to spout it off when you’re scarfing down a triple-cheeseburger while cutting people off in your Ford F-150 during rush hour. Not that I would know from experience.
“… I didn’t realize that to help myself I had to help someone else!”
I think one of my favorite elements of this issue is how Humphries frames the entire narrative as a flashback. This provides ample opportunity for comedy as Harley’s narration is given a chance to shine as she recounts this harrowing adventure to her mother. Additionally, the titles and subtitles that Humphries gives to each sequence are additional comedic touches that make the issue more entertaining.
I also love how Humphries has subverted the expectations of the genre in this issue. When the issue begins as a straightforward alien invasion story, it is easy to make assumptions about where you think the narrative is going. (Unfortunately, it’s not with someone getting sucked out of a hole into the far reaches of space.) It is only after the appearance of a friendlier Joker, an overconfident Batman with a New York accent, and Kafka’s interpretation of Harley’s mother, that we begin to understand things are not what they seem. We discover that the aliens are a self-defense mechanism of a much larger alien that only wishes to go home. It is this revelation, and Harley’s subsequent actions to save this creature, that give this issue heart.
“You’re the man now, dog!”
Sami Basri’s art is beautiful and with Alex Sinclair’s colors does an excellent job telling all of the narrative beats this issue has to offer. Their work does a great job conveying the tone of a horror movie in the opening sequences without ever betraying Harley’s comedic nature. Additionally, Basri’s pencil work does an excellent job conveying the range of emotions Harley experiences throughout the story. These facial expressions sell the story to the reader, and allow us to invest in their struggle.
One of my favorite sequences in the entire book involves Harley taking on the alien horde with her high-guns. Basri’s panels convey this sense of fluidity in Harley’s actions as she spins in circles while firing at the aliens. The worsening look of desperation on Harley’s face sells the story as she realizes she cannot fight off the entire horde. Additionally, my favorite page from the entire book, and perhaps the entire story-arc so far, involves Harley meeting the source of the alien horde. Alex Sinclair’s use of a starry night to color this page colors elevate it to perfection.
“Well, let’s just say old dogs die hard. Or is it, ya can’t teach a new habit old tricks?
With the other trials, Humphries has always managed to tie a lesson into one of Harley’s fears. Harley Quinn #60 takes a step backward in this regard as I think the overarching message becomes a little muddied. I love how the overall message addresses the fact that she, “… didn’t realize to help herself she needed to help someone else.” However, I do not necessarily see how this trial capitalizes on one of her fears. It does connect back to her actions during the first trial when saving the family with Batman. However, there is a slight disconnect between her fears and the current trial. That doesn’t mean that the issue isn’t fun or well done, just that this lack of narrative connection is holding the story back.
Despite the lack of connection here, Humphries does continue to play with the overall structure of each issue. With this trial, Mirand’r does come into the story to provide Harley with a pep talk when she needs it most. Unfortunately, she changes tactics following a tongue-lashing from the upset anti-hero, and merely uses reverse psychology to obtain the desired results. This change in structure allows the formula to feel fresh as we go into the next trial.
Ultimately, Harley Quinn #60 is a trial worth enduring. This is due in large part to Sam Humphries’ humorous scripting, Sami Basri’s wonderful art and Alex Sinclair’s beautiful colors. Although the issue does not make a connection between Harley’s fears and the current trial, Humphries’ humorous scripting remains a huge draw for the book. With the Enchantress’ return teased at issue’s end, I am excited to see what the next trial has in store for Harley.
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