Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker's Last Laugh hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

March 11, 2020

As has been the case before, there's a lot going on in the New 52/DC You Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker's Last Laugh. Silly as all the comedy is, it probably goes unrecognized just what skilled plotters Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are; from a bird's eye view, of the four issues collected here, two are ostensibly about Harley foiling the revenge of old enemy Zena Bendemova and two are about Harley trying to rescue friend Mason from Arkham Asylum, but the two arcs are so well interspersed that the split isn't as apparent mid-read. Instead, there's a great sense of everything happening all at once, the stakes being raised just as this run nears its finale, and notably, the violence and gore ratchets up as the roller coaster nears the top, too.

[Review contains spoilers]

There's probably a lot to make of the significant beat-down that Harley gives the Joker in this series' 25th issue. In all of comics lore, there's surely not enough of Harley delivering the Joker his just deserts, so it's not that I have complaints per se, and Conner and Palmiotti do manage to write the Joker such to sound like Mark Hamill, something that isn't always the case in the Joker's more mainstream appearances. But — forgive me — it's one thing when Harley's just hanging out in Brooklyn, and who cares what's going on in the rest of the DC Universe, but when the writers go so far as to drop Harley in Arkham with the Joker, in the same month where a de-Jokered Joker is palling around with an amnesic Bruce Wayne (see Batman Vol. 9: Bloom), I start to get that "when did this happen?" itch.

And that's not because I want a world where people fly around in their leotards to make second-by-second sense, but because it's a shame for this to be an imaginary story. We see real character growth here for Harley — including, in the end, getting the nod from Batman — but that's all for naught if the story isn't "big" enough that it permeates to the Bat-books as something that actually happened, and not lining up with exterior events is a suggestion that it "didn't." I've been particularly paying attention to the progression of Harley and the Joker's relationship in this series, and ultimately, sadly, it seems like the throughway is that there just isn't a throughway — they were separated but not necessarily on the outs in the beginning, through to Harley finishing with the Joker once and for all here, but I'm not sure we saw the progression so much as the writers took this 25th-issue opportunity when they had it.

For me, I was more gripped by — in the first two chapters, when Harley is otherwise saving alter kocker Sy Bergman from Bendemova, only to find them in a compromising position — the half-dozen pages across two issues of Mason getting brutally beaten in prison. I'm reminded of that line — was it Peter David's Young Justice, Impulse gets hurt or something, and he says, "This isn't funny," and it was the demarcation that often it's all fun and games, but every once in a while someone gets hurt? That — that all of a sudden in this volume, Harley Quinn gets kind of serious, and bloodier, to boot. There's coughing up blood and great spurting knives in eyes and heads exploding; artist Chad Hardin has clearly been given more leeway as this series has gone on, to the point where what was once PG-13 is now definitely R (and in much more suggested nudity in this one, too).

Narratively, it's a little strange that Harley Quinn seems to come to something of a definite conclusion at the end of the book. Yes, in terms of "cliffhangers," Harley owns a wax museum now, and also she's about to don a more movie-friendly look, but that's the stuff of new series, not necessarily "to be continueds" — and we've still got five issues left. I remember reading about something tragic, but I'm not sure if it's in this book or the next ... basically, I'm wondering if the final volume will be a story tacked on, maybe because of the give-and-take scheduling of the then-forthcoming Rebirth, or if there's a hammer still to drop and the story that's seemingly over here actually isn't.

Finishing this book is the Harley Quinn: Be Careful What You Wish For special, via Loot Crate, which I remember being much ballyhooed at the time and now, here it is in the collection. It's among the better of these side specials, to be sure, drawn by Amanda Conner and with plenty of jokes that land when Harley's magic wishes go awry. Conner and Palmiotti manage to use a lot of Harley's "cast" in this book, from Bernie the beaver to her menagerie of animals and so on (plus Power Girl!), such that story even feels more like an anniversary book than the 25th issue itself. I genuinely felt bad for the genie when he's personally affected by Harley's hijinks, and hope the writers keep him as part of the Brooklyn gang, a la other latecomers like Eggy.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker's Last Laugh

So, another good one, and again, Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker's Last Laugh leans in to its mature rating pretty hard this time, comparatively, in terms of sex and violence. It shouldn't be a surprise that the Deadpool movie was rattling around about the time these came out, too. One more volume of the New 52 Harley to go, and then on to a couple of miniseries and then to Rebirth.

[Includes original and variant covers, Chad Hardin's layouts and line art for issue #25]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker's Last Laugh
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

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