Review: Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 hardcover (DC Comics)

Harley Quinn enters the DC Rebirth with Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1, collecting the Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Die Laughing and Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Joker Loves Harley paperbacks. The stories are not a significant departure from the New 52 era, featuring essentially the same cast of characters and the same vein of humor, though writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have gotten sharper as this series has gone on. In general, despite the book's trademark meandering, if anything this book seems a bit more focused in Rebirth in terms of the supporting cast and reoccurring characters. This is, to an extent, Conner and Palmiotti's second chance at a first start with this series, and one definitely sees here a stronger launch than ye olde Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City.

I spot two throughways that might be considered a semblance of a plot in the first 13 issues collected here — one, the build up and momentary resolution of Harley and Poison Ivy's (clearly) romantic relationship, and two, that Harley adopts a life coach in the Nate-Man's hot dog guy. These tent poles draw us through the story and I'm interested to see how they continue to unfold through the rest of the writers' run.

[Review contains spoilers]

The book speeds out of the gate with a bloody three-part zombie apocalypse story by way of Harley Quinn. We start off though, perhaps surprisingly, almost exactly where we left off in the New 52 series, with the spa trip that Harley promised Poison Ivy and, even before the title page, the pressing question of whether Ivy will accept Harley's invitation to move in. Ivy departs, but returns again the next issue in the midst of the zombie attack, and when Harley ultimately makes her invitation again, the two return to the idea of a week-long Bahamas trip (mentioned in past volumes) as a trial run.

That trip doesn't manifest until three chapters later, Harley Quinn #8 — if there's ever a collection of Harley and Ivy stories through the ages (and there should be), this issue should be in it. Conner and Palmiotti show rather than tell really well here; it is not as though the issue deconstructs in detail Harley and Ivy's relationship, but rather — while they negotiate their friend Sy Borgman and his island of nudist alter kockers — we're simply treated to Harley and Ivy's romantic getaway, how they flirt and talk and generally enjoy being around one another. It makes it all the more tragic then when Ivy finally dispels the idea of moving in with Harley for good, and Ivy's disappearance from the last half of the book is startling given her usual ubiquity. I'm sure she'll be back, but the writers do well making Ivy's departure feel very final.

I wish I'd engaged with the Harley Quinn series prior to reading Heroes in Crisis. I knew, of course, that readers "shipped" Harley and Ivy, and that early in the New 52 series the writers were heavy with innuendo — but as the Harley series have continued, we've seen their romantic relationship move more overtly to the forefront. That culminates here from the first page, in which we find that Harley (in an understated attempt at maturity) wants to take their relationship from casual to serious, but that Ivy isn't sure — perhaps, also understated, an indication Ivy doesn't think Harley is as ready as Harley thinks she is. All of this makes Ivy's "death" in Heroes in Crisis much, much more loaded than I experienced it just thinking the two were friends or partners in crime; thinking now of Harley's reactions makes those Crisis scenes much more poignant (and hopefully Ram V can do their relationship justice in the Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy miniseries).

Also prominent this time around is Red Tool, Harley's not-Deadpool pal. Red Tool was a late addition to the New 52 series, coming at the tail end in Harley Quinn Vol. 6: Black, White and Red All Over, and so it was not definite he'd reappear so soon; as it turns out, Red Tool is in about every adventure and takes a particular lead for a time when it seems Harley is facing off against the Joker. Red Tool, a vigilante with madcap adventures in his own right, brings a certain superheroic aesthetic to the title; he is not "regular people" like Big Tony, which I might not have favored, but the writers have done a heck of a job making the one-joke Red Tool likable and fitting him in with Harley's crew (would a Red Tool miniseries be taking things too far?). We certainly see how Red Tool can serve a bunch of different situations here, from spelunking for goo monsters to taking on the Joker to joining Harley undercover in a faux punk band.

I was pleased to see a couple of issues in the Seinfeld vein, with Harley Quinn wandering around Brooklyn doing "nothing." Issue #9 is especially strong, with Harley consulting Nate-Man, getting knocked around at the skating rink, hallucinating, going to the doctor, and finally — after foiling a slice joint robbery — sharing a pie with a homeless man whose wife died (just after Ivy has left Harley). It's reminiscent of the final New 52 issue, in which the writers interrupted the Harley Quinn shenanigans for five pages of Dr. Harleen Quinzel counseling a nursing home patient. It is mind-boggling that a one-off character from an animated series has traversed so far through comics portrayals of villain, anti-hero, and finally to everyman, at one point in this volume shrunk down microscopic and romping through Santa Claus' brain, and at another point curled around a grieving man on a city street. All of its irreverence makes Harley Quinn all the more effective in its poignance.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1

There is, to be sure, a lot in the 13 issues collected in Harley Quinn: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 — zombies and ancient tunnels, giant robots protecting telemarketing centers, murderous punk bands and murderous roller skaters, the Penguin's own cosplay club and a Joker who's not what he seems. There is blood, torture, and murder, and also romance and acceptance. I'm biased having read these issues all together, but it seems to me stronger than reading them apart; specifically, putting the first seven issues in one volume and issue #8 in a separate volume would seem the wrong way to go (I'd as soon see issue #8 cap off the Ivy issues than have it lead in to the Joker issues). So again, I don't have reference otherwise, but this bigger volume worked well for me.

[Includes original and 50+ (!) variant covers]

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


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