Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 4: A Call to Arms hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Among the daffiest things in Harley Quinn Vol. 4: A Call to Arms is that Harley and her "gang of Harleys" battle Popeye, but really that's a drop in the bucket in terms of everything that happens here. Among the admirable things about Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's Harley Quinn is their willingness to spend a bunch of pages on a joke, even if it doesn't otherwise have anything to do with the plot, and it nearly always pays off; issues collected here that I was sure were oversized turned out just to be 22 pages, but nearly every chapter feels longer because of how much is packed in.

Harley becomes something of a "hero for hire" in this volume and it wasn't necessarily a change I was thrilled with. Speaking of this series' glut of stuff, there's Harley's job at the retirement home and her roller derby team and the apartment building she manages and Harley's burgeoning pet rescue operation; I like the Seinfeld-ian way in which this book has been about Harley's misadventures going about her daily life, and I'm not sure we need to add vigilante to that, too. Becoming a crimefighter makes Harley Quinn a bit more like every other title on the stands, a Red Hood or Deathstroke-type figure, and I hope this is a temporary turn of events and not the standard for the rest of the series.

[Review contains spoilers]

So I admit it took me a little longer than it should have — at least until sea captain Horatio Strong comes bursting out of a lavatory, muscled and with a corncob pipe cocked in his mouth — to realize the first three-issue arc of this book was essentially Harley Quinn versus Popeye. That's fun and funny, the flip side of the Popeye legend as Strong finds himself addicted to irradiated, not-spinach seaweed. And the writers do well buffering the joke with so much other stuff — the interactions of the various "gang of Harleys" members, Harley breaking bad with the New York mayor, Harley's boyfriend Mason arrested, Harley adopting a flock of parakeets, a tussle with a street gang, and on and on — that having Popeye on the scene never gets too old.

A "supervillain," of sorts, is likely what's needed here to show off Harley's new team of henchmen, a collection of character traits and stereotypes hand-picked for peak comedic value. Beyond their initial introduction (in the DC You preview short that starts the book), I had some trouble keeping all of the Harleys straight and more than a few disappear into the background before all is said and done. Ultimately we lose like five of them, so maybe that will help. I soured a bit on the concept of the Harleys by the book's end — I like them, I just don't necessarily like the superheroic direction they pull this book in. That's an argument in favor of the fact that they spin-off into their own "Gang of Harleys" miniseries; I'm hopeful, however, that means less of them here because they've got their own place somewhere else.

The second, two-issue arc sees Harley shaking up Hollywood, foiling the robbery of a movie mogul, kidnapping a socialite, palling around with apparent serial killers, and slipping in and out of police custody. Look, I liked Aquarius and thought it should've gotten another season, but all of this plus Harley shaking down the mayor seemed also to take the book into sunny noir territory; that has its place but I think it makes Harley more common, not less.

But moreover, that arc sees Harley trading fisticuffs with Suicide Squad cohort Deadshot. I didn't mind that bit so much — I'm of the opinion that the Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad series should be explicitly set at the same time, with a wink-nod understanding that Harley is able to escape Amanda Waller and go to Brooklyn whenever she pleases, so I liked this hint of continuity-ness and that Harley and Deadshot did indeed seem to know one another. There's an overt reference to the Suicide Squad movie toward the end of the book, so that might explain some of this, too — movie fans picking up Harley getting to see something they might recognize.

The book finishes with the Harley Quinn Road Trip Special, which can't be faulted for being what it is, 40 pages of Bret Blevins and company drawing Harley/Poison Ivy/Catwoman cheesecake. The story is as weird and rambling as, well, a road trip, though among understated high points is that I think this is the first time we see Harley Quinn's mother (!) and that there's a great undercurrent of normalcy to the whole thing — Harley's uncle has died and Harley has to drive his ashes cross-country. Also, while Harley and Ivy's relationship has been clear throughout this series, the Road Trip special offers some particularly sweet moments in how Ivy navigates Harley-in-mourning, knowing when to give her space and when to get closer.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley Quinn Vol. 4: A Call to Arms

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's Harley Quinn maintains its quality; I guess I could say that Harley Quinn Vol. 4: A Call to Arms is "better" than Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab just in the fact that there's five regular issues here over the earlier volume's three. I think I still like better the days when Harley's biggest problems were balancing her job, skating practice, and a date — or, what to do with all the "refuse" from a kennel of dogs she liberated — and hopefully some of that is on the way.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Harley Quinn Vol. 4: A Call to Arms
Author Rating
3.5 (scale of 1 to 5)


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