With the Jade Feather recovered and Alicia’s murderer revealed, Harley Quinn is ready for the main event: a no-holds-barred rematch with Granny Goodness. Unfortunately, she can smell what Granny is cooking, and it’s not cookies in that fire pit. Even as the odds continue to stack against her, Harley will stop at nothing to avenge her friend’s death, and that’s the bottom line.
“Keep your eyes on the stars but always pack protection.”
One of my favorite elements of “California or Death” has been Humphries’ exploration of grief. With this storyline, we witness Harley engage in all manner of self-destructive behavior as a means of coping with her mother’s death. Humphries’ work has made Harley relatable because grief is a process that we all stumble through. Thankfully, this theme remains a strength of Harley Quinn #74 as it is worked expertly into the final battle with Granny Goodness. Unfortunately, there are a few narrative choices that prevent this issue from taking home the title.
I love Sam Humphries’ work with dialogue and humor. Not only does he do an excellent job of giving each character a distinct voice, but Humphries manages to naturally weave humor into a narrative. As a result, the first few panels stood out to me because George’s dialogue feels awkward. It’s not that the sentences are poorly constructed, but their source that makes this feel off. We have never met George before this issue, and the delivery of these lines reads as though he was present when Harley Quinn first fought Granny.
Understandably, this dialogue intends to give readers some background on their relationship. However, this awkwardness is exacerbated by the fact that Charity XO’s narration does a superior job explaining this relationship on the next page. As a result, I think some minimal editing to the first few pages could have strengthened the book.
“Let me assure you: your friend will not even rank a footnote in the inevitability of my dominion. She was nothing.”
As Harley Quinn #74 transitioned into the final battle with Granny Goodness, I began to experience some cognitive dissonance. There are a few elements to this battle that I feel weaken the entire storyline. Yet, Humphries does a great job of recovering by thematically returning to grief for the final pages.
Upon being confronted by Harley about Alicia’s death, Granny Goodness does not remember committing this murder. Granny even goes so far to say that Alicia was nothing and that revenge on Harley Quinn would be garish. Although it makes total sense that a New God would not place any value on one human’s life, I think this lessens the impact of the character’s death. Certainly, Wittleson puts a hit on Alicia to sow hopelessness and despair among the citizens. However, I think the coincidental nature of her death lessens the impact of the Granny’s involvement. Moreover, this narrative choice makes the investigation feel impersonal throughout Harley’s very personal journey.
However, Granny’s perception of Alicia provides the necessary impetus for Harley Quinn to take down the New God. I love how Harley takes what she has learned about grief and weaponizes it against Granny. Humphries uses this to provide us with a laugh-out-loud moment that is punctuated by the power of Petite Tina’s toy gun.
Additionally, the moments following this exchange are perfectly illustrated by Sami Basri as Harley Quinn unleashes a series of attacks on Granny. Basri’s artwork remains a highlight of this series. Sami does an excellent job, rendering dynamic action sequences as well as the quieter moments. I love the opening page that depicts Harley as she descends into Granny’s lair. The way that Basri uses the panels for Harley to climb down is engaging. Additionally, the page in which she tosses t-shirts to all of Alicia’s fans is fantastic.
Ultimately, Harley Quinn #74 is a satisfying conclusion to “California or Death”, but will not take home the title belt. Despite some awkward dialogue and a few questionable storytelling choices, Humphries does an excellent job weaving the concept of grief into the final battle. Moreover, Sami Basri is a versatile artist whose work is a highlight of this series.
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