Armed with her trusty bat, a five-pound package of gluten-free flour, and a brand-new creative team, Harley Quinn returns to Gotham to atone for her sins. Unfortunately, after the events of The Joker War, the city’s welcoming committee is less than, well, welcoming. Will Harley be able to convince everyone that she has finally turned over a new leaf? Or will her face get smashed into every apology cake she bakes, because…
“…the past still lingers like gas in a crowded elevator.”
Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated, Harley Quinn #1 is an excellent introduction to the series and the character’s new status quo. This issue’s success is largely due to Stephanie Phillips’ expert approach to Harley’s characterization. Phillips manages to perfectly illustrate that Harley has matured as a character, yet retains her trademark wit. The writer’s use of humor throughout the narrative is a huge selling point for this book. However, none of this story would be as successful without Riley Rossmo’s gorgeous artwork.
From the opening sequence involving Harley’s botched apology to Killer Croc to her eventual team-up with Batman against a group of clowns, Phillips’ approach to the character is pitch-perfect. In this issue, Phillips’ presents a version of Harley Quinn that is reminiscent of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s original iteration in Batman: The Animated Series. Here, Harley is never too modest to punctuate a poignant moment with a fart anecdote or even ask her brand-new teammate for cash. The writer allows Harley’s humor to adapt situationally without devolving into a parody of a certain red-pants-wearing, katana-wielding mercenary. In this regard, Stephanie Phillips’ take on the Clown Princess of Crime is a breath of fresh air that remains true to her character.
Yet, for all the humor that Stephanie Phillips injects into Harley Quinn’s dialogue, she also does an excellent job showing the character’s growth. At one point in the issue, Harley and Batman have teamed up to stop an altercation at Amusement Mile between some civilians and a group of clowns. As Batman attacks one of the clowns in the Hall of Mirrors, Harley smashes through the maze to prevent any further bodily harm to the man. Upon reaching Batman, she says, “Bashing his face in won’t fix this.” Harley’s inclination to reason with the Caped Crusader is in direct opposition to her traditional strategy of charging in with guns blazing. Moments like this have me excited for the series’ future.
During this sequence, Phillips’ also presents the concept that Harley will be using her psychiatry skills to help the clowns in Gotham City. Unfortunately, we don’t witness more than that in Harley Quinn #1, as the story cuts to introduce the first arc’s antagonist. Although I will not spoil the antagonist’s identity here, I will say that I am excited by Phillips’ choice because it will potentially challenge Harley to lean into her skills as a doctor. This new direction for Harley Quinn has me excited to pick up the next month’s issue.
“Gotham sure does have its charms. And despite everything that has happened here…I’m ready to call it home.”
Despite all of Stephanie Phillips’ excellent character work, Riley Rossmo’s art is the true star of Harley Quinn #1. As demonstrated by Dark Nights Death Metal: Robin King #1 last year, Rossmo’s work is perfect for capturing the kinetic energy and brutality of every battle, as well as a character’s chaotic nature. This makes him the perfect match for Harley Quinn. Rossmo captures the wide range of Harley’s expressions wonderfully throughout this issue. Additionally, Ivan Plascencia’s colors and Deron Bennett’s inks beautifully complement Rossmo’s artwork by perfectly capturing each sequence’s tone. My favorite page throughout the entire issue is where the creative team uses Batman’s silhouette as the big battle’s panels.
Unfortunately, so much of Harley Quinn #1 is devoted to establishing the title character’s new status quo so we don’t get into too much of the overarching story. This is only a slight detractor to the overall issue as the entire creative team is otherwise firing on all cylinders. Thankfully, Phillips layers in enough of a mystery at the end of the issue to provide a glimpse at where the rest of the story may be heading.
Ultimately, Harley Quinn #1 is an excellent introduction to the series and its new status quo. This issue’s success is due to Stephanie Phillips’ expert approach to Harley’s characterization and Riley Rossmo’s beautiful artwork. With such an excellent first issue, we can only hope that, like Harley, the entire creative team is ready to call Gotham home.
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