Determined to help Gotham City heal from wounds inflicted by The Joker War, Harley Quinn has decided to offer her services to those afflicted by the clown prince of crime. This time, with 75% less mallet to the temporal fossa. (That’s fancy talk for the side of your skull!) But when Mayor Nakano introduces the new Secure and Fearless Engagement Program and its leader, the sinister Hugo Strange, to help the clowns, Harley finds her newfound resolve shaken. The maid of mischief wasn’t expecting a shining Harley signal for her role in saving the city, but what the heck does the titan of tiny glasses have that she doesn’t?
“Guy’s got funding, a full staff, a facility, the adoration of the entire city.. and I bet he’s not using a flamingo-shaped pool floatie as a couch in his living room.”
Overflowing with excellent character exploration, wonderfully written dialogue, and gorgeous artwork, Harley Quinn #2 presents a conflict not far removed from our own society. Stephanie Phillips’ success with this issue involves her use of Harley as the reader’s voice and her exploration of Kevin’s tragic backstory. Phillips also does an excellent job grounding her story’s conflict with issues reflected in the real world. However, none of this story would work as well without Riley Rossmo’s gorgeous artwork.
One of the things that I love the most about Stephanie Phillips’ take on Harley Quinn in this issue is how she uses the character as the reader’s voice. As Mayor Nakano introduces the city’s new S.A.F.E program, Harley mocks the program’s name by asking, “What does that even mean?” Throughout this sequence, I found myself asking the same question as I felt the name was more nefarious than comforting. Additionally, Harley’s reaction to Hugo’s so-called apology echoed my own as I found myself shouting, “That’s not even an apology!” I think it’s perfect how Stephanie uses Harley to reflect the reader’s problems with these story elements.
Despite Phillips’ excellent work with Harley’s characterization in this issue, it is her exploration of Kevin’s tragic backstory that steals the spotlight. With Harley Quinn #2, we witness Kevin’s dissociative episode as he remembers the night that he burned down a storefront with a group of clowns. Ultimately, his conscience kicked in once he discovered that someone was still inside the building and attempted to rescue them. As a result, the Joker and the rest of the clowns abandoned him.
This work with characterization helps us empathize with the character as it illustrates that he is not entirely evil. Even his poignant question, “How do you become good?” evokes empathy. As humans, we have all made mistakes that we regret. Kevin’s desire to “become good” or, more accurately, atone for his mistakes is something that resonates with everyone. As Kevin’s struggle is similar to Harley’s, it only fits that Kevin becomes her new sidekick. Moreover, Stephanie Phillips’ grounding the story thematically in Kevin’s question makes this story relatable to the reader.
Stephanie Phillips also manages to draw parallels to the real world in Harley Quinn’s conflict with Hugo Strange. Because Hugo Strange put out a call for individuals to report clown activity, it is only natural that people would eventually abuse the system. In one sequence, a man swears that his neighbor had reported him to the S.A.F.E. program as a means of getting revenge. It’s a moment that evokes memories of news stories in which people have called the police for various petty, hateful, and sometimes evil reasons. As a result, the abuse of this system feels like a natural extension of this plot point. Additionally, the involvement of Hugo Strange means things won’t resolve peacefully for anyone falsely reported.
“But I guess it doesn’t matter how many degrees a girl’s got… she could still end up fighting’ a couple’a angry psychiatric orderlies while wearing furry boots and scuba gear.”
Riley Rossmo’s artwork continues to be a highlight of the series. His action sequences are dynamic and perfectly capture the chaotic nature of our heroine. I particularly love the panels during Harley’s battle with Hugo’s orderlies in which he uses the onomatopoeia to frame the action. Additionally, I love how his iteration of Harley Quinn has hair with personality. Rossmo and Phillips construct a wonderful visual gag and punchline after Harley drinks the black coffee with her hair taking on a lightning bolt effect followed by the line, “Only psychopaths drink coffee without sugar.”
However, one of the best visuals throughout the entire issue involves Kevin’s dissociative episode. In the panel when he remembers his sin, Kevin is completely blacked out aside from his red joker tattoo, while Harley Quinn is beautifully rendered with Ivan Plascencia’s colors. It’s a moment that perfectly captures the character’s emotions and that feeling of detachment. I would be remiss if I did not mention that in addition to this, Ivan Plascencia’s colors are perfect throughout the entire issue.
Ultimately, Harley Quinn #2 is overflowing with excellent character exploration, wonderfully written dialogue, and gorgeous artwork. Additionally, Stephanie Phillips presents a conflict not far removed from our society. A large portion of this issue’s success involves the use of Harley as the reader’s voice and the exploration of Kevin’s tragic backstory. However, none of this story would work as well without Riley Rossmo’s wonderful artwork and Ivan Plascencia’s beautiful colors.
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