Review: Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 2 hardcover (DC Comics)

April 12, 2020

The overarching plot of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's Rebirth Harley Quinn series comes much more into focus with Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 2 (collecting the Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Red Meat and Harley Quinn Vol. 4: Surprise, Surprise trade paperbacks). The first volume saw Harley doing one crime-stopping favor for Chief of Police Spoonsdale; that continues here to a second job, and then the significant amount of fallout that comes with it.

In the 13 issues (and a special) collected here, I count no less than a half-dozen major plotlines going on, often simultaneously. Though a "comedy book" at its most basic, Conner and Palmiotti don't cut corners in their plotting, with what seems like the lost art of A, B, and C plots exchanging places throughout. Whereas the first 13 issues were more random and disconnected, these 13 issues (are still random but) by and large lead in to one another, through to the final cliffhanger, which sets up the climactic showdown between Harley, Spoonsdale, and the corrupt New York City Mayor DePerto in the next volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

This volume of Harley's first three issues are an excuse for the writers to re-team Harley, Power Girl, and their "Terra" Atlee (continuity altogether be damned), but from there, we're on almost completely into "mayor-ville." Harley foils the DePerto plan to use cannibals to wipe out the city's homeless, and DePerto and Spoonsdale spar over it until finally DePerto resolves to get rid of Harley -- explosively. Though DePerto conflicted with Harley in the New 52 series too, here we see him seemingly emerging as this run's "big bad," especially as Harley readies to oppose him for office.

In Harley going to run for mayor, this book threatens to become slightly more realistic than I think works comfortably for it. As it is, I don't totally buy Harley as New York City's new hometown hero -- surely enough people know Harley as the sidekick of the extremely murderous Joker for her to become a trusted figure. That is perhaps the disconnect in Conner and Palmiotti's Harley Quinn series that I've never quite gotten over, that the New 52 series started with Harley pining for the Joker and then morphed, largely without explanation, to Harley having gotten over and resenting the Joker. Now we see a Harley who in large part doesn't even seem to be associated with the Joker in the DCU in-universe zeitgeist; good for Harley, maybe, but at times it feels like Conner and Palmiotti write a character who shares a name with Harley Quinn and not Harley Quinn herself -- though, of course, I'm still interested to see this Harley's foray into politics.

While things heat up with DePerto behind the scenes, Harley contends with a "Bat-fan" from the future come to kill her. This leads to the most surprising (and convoluted) revelation of the book, that breakout character Red Tool was also sent from the future to kill Harley, but instead fell in love and became her friend. But the convoluted part (if all of it is even true) is that Red Tool came back from the future, discerned Harley wasn't a threat, and began a normal life working at a hardware store -- at which point he was attacked by Harley-crazed zombies, subjected to medical experiments that gave him enhanced powers, and only then got involved with Harley again.

It's as if Red Tool has two origins grafted on to one another -- which, indeed, he does -- that each make sense on their own but are awfully coincidental tied together. Again, there's some suggestion that Red Tool isn't telling the whole truth, but the hardware store bit, at least, tracks, and that incident took place in the third issue of the New 52 series, a relative four years prior. That's exceptional planning on the writers' part, or at least a good use of dangling threads.

One of the book's other standout moments comes in the series' anniversary 25th issue, in which a hail of bullets interrupts Harley's surprise birthday party. It is, in the best way, like something out of Grey's Anatomy (with shades of West Wing's "who's been hit?"), just the right mix of sitcom and melodrama for a book like this. That no one is actually killed is disappointing drama-wise (the attack, for as startling as it is, has little consequence beside setting Harley firmly against the mayor), though I believe something like that is coming. It's a curious choice to set the second half of that story in flashback rather than keep the immediacy of the present, though it's made up for in some of the book's goriest of gory moments.

Though I believe the "Harley Loves Joker" backups were cut from the trade paperbacks, they're included here, except for the two-issue Harley Loves Joker miniseries when the backups were moved to their own book. That seems to me the wrong way to go; I wouldn't have missed the backups if they weren't here, and since they are, I'd have much preferred the whole story (I'm hardly inclined to buy the Harley Loves Joker collection for just two new issues along with all the backups again).

I recognize having Paul Dini write Harley again is significant and that these stories will appeal especially to a subset of Batman: The Animated Series fans, but I found them tiresome (especially since they're interspersed with the issues instead of shunted to their own section, so they break up the main action). I think the idea of "Harley Loves Joker" is to present a kind of screwball comedy take on Joker and Harley's relationship, as innocuous as it was perhaps first envisioned, something like I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners. Problem is, Harley and Joker's relationship has been so far reinterpreted for all its abusiveness (not to mention our greater awareness in general) that it's hard to take pleasure in what we know is wrong, even when presented innocently, so it was hard to find these funny per se.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 2

As before, Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 2 is filled with blood, shocking violence, sex humor, and an inspired team-up with Swamp Thing — basically, there's something for everyone. One can definitely sense Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti ramping up toward their conclusion here, which is good. Again, this book is funny, but it's not just one thing, and a throughline — actions, consequences, fallout — give it depth underneath the humor.

[Includes original covers and 25 variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 2
Author Rating
4.25 (scale of 1 to 5)

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