Following an attack on her inaugural meeting of former Joker clowns, Harley Quinn finds herself plagued with self-doubt and trapped in the sewers with Solomon Grundy. Making matters worse, Kevin is now in the clutches of the horrible Hugo Strange. Will Harley’s encounter with the rhyming zombie give her the confidence she needs to rescue her new sidekick, or will Strange’s latest concoction shatter his psyche?
“Point is… I can’t be them, but I can be me… and me can still save Kevin and the others… I think. I just need to do it my way.”
A pleasure to read from cover to cover, Harley Quinn #4 represents the perfect union between writer and artist as Stephanie Phillips, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia are firing on all cylinders. Phillips’ exploration of the title character continues to impress as her ability to weave compelling themes into the narrative is second-to-none. Although Rossmo’s art is always a huge selling point for this series, his work reaches new heights with impressive visuals, dynamic action sequences, and innovative panel layouts.
Opening in the sewers with a sequence straight out of a horror movie, Harley Quinn #4 instantly grabs your attention and never lets you go. Phillips and Rossmo’s work here is impeccable as they perfectly capture the tension of a tussle with Solomon Grundy from the perspective of a sewer rat. Rossmo’s slanted panels expertly elicit this unease as Harley pleads with the zombie to stop. However, it is quickly revealed that the entire page is a setup for Phillips’ first punchline: Harley and Grundy are playing chess with trash instead of fighting. This subversion of my expectations is hilarious and eventually leads to a moment of vulnerability for the Mistress of Mayhem.
In this moment, Phillips is using Solomon Grundy to teach Harley the adage, “to thine own self be true.” Essentially, Grundy is saying that Quinn needs to stop trying to solve problems like Batman and be herself. If she continues to measure herself up against someone else, she will never find happiness or confidence. This message is relevant for everyone, as we have all fallen into this trap in our own lives.
Phillips’ use of Grundy to deliver this message is powerful because of his concise language. His words drive home the concept for anyone reading without confusion. As a result, Solomon Grundy’s appearance in this issue has meaning beyond a simple cameo.
It is important to note that Phillips never sacrifices humor for the sake of exploring these themes, and her use of Solomon Grundy allows her to weave humor into the issue. The interaction between these two characters is spot-on, and I love that Stephanie Phillips has Grundy correct Harley Quinn’s grammar. The banter between these two helps their conversation feel genuine.
Harley Quinn #4 then transitions to a sequence in which Hugo Strange tortures Kevin. In this sequence, Phillips does an excellent job weaving Grundy’s lesson into this sequence. Strange questions whether it is possible to clear the slate and start over. I believe Stephanie Phillips answered his query in previous pages with Harley’s discussion of returning to Gotham. This conversation suggests that instead of clearing the slate by acting like someone else, you can improve yourself and remain true to your convictions.
“If someone is irrevocably bad, it makes you wonder if there’s any way to clear the slate… find a way to start over… reprogram.”
From here, Rossmo’s artwork takes center stage for this book. Throughout Hugo’s torture of Harley’s sidekick, Rossmo’s panels effectively convey the tension between the characters. Additionally, the artist’s two-page spread depicts the effects of the drug on Kevin’s psyche as a twisted wave. The cleverly numbered panels help the reader follow Kevin’s descent into madness. Additionally, Ivan Plascencia’s colors do an excellent job conveying the tone for this sequence.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my favorite pages throughout the book. Once the drug has Harley set off to confront Hugo Strange and rescue Kevin, she encounters Strange’s henchmen in an elevator. On this page, Phillips, Rossmo, and Plascencia create one of the best elevator fight scenes since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Phillips wonderfully injects Harley’s humor into this sequence as Rossmo perfectly depicts the chaos of this fight in each panel.
A perfect union between writer and artist, Harley Quinn #4 is a pleasure to read from cover to cover. With this entry, Stephanie Phillips, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia are firing on all cylinders. Phillips’ exploration of the title character is impressive as she continues to weave compelling themes into the narrative. Rossmo’s art remains a huge selling point for this series. However, with this issue, his work reaches new heights with impressive visuals, dynamic action sequences, and innovative panel layouts.
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