Review: Harley's Little Black Book hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

At 48 pages per issue (when it had ads), the chapters of Harley's Little Black Book feel rightly stuffed. Each one is a kind of mini graphic novel on its own, reminiscent even of the ye olde Prestige Format "graphic novels," and I found I could read about one a night and then I felt "done." That's backhanded praise, but the point is you won't breeze through this one and that's often a good thing.

Finding a plot in this book, to paraphrase, is a tricky endeavor. There's a thread that binds the first three chapters and one that binds the last three, but neither binding is particularly strong nor do they necessarily come of anything — it's best, I found, to think of each of these as happenstance Harley Quinn team-up stories rather than an actual miniseries. Said split between the first and last half also marks where the book changes from traditional team-ups to stories more esoteric; though there's gems throughout, for my tastes the book was stronger at the beginning than the end (put another way, the book weakens as one goes on, though it bounces back toward the finish).

Increasingly, at this point in time, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's Harley Quinn stories seem to take place in their own independent corner of the universe. That's as much a shame in general as it is here, because again we see Harley shaking the shackles of both the Joker and the Batman franchise in these pages, though one has no expectation that means anything in the grand scheme.

[Review contains spoilers]

Again, strongest for me were the first couple of stories. I'd as soon read a whole series of stories like this, in-continuity (or at least faithful to the characters' present depictions) and logical team-ups between Harley Quinn and the DCU's finest (begs, perhaps, for a The Brave and the Crazy title). As such, Harley going from the Gang of Harleys in Brooklyn to the New 52 Wonder Woman in London, flashing back to Harleen's childhood fandom of the Amazon princess, and then battling a pseudo-believable threat on Wonder Woman's life (especially with art by Conner and Harley Quinn regular John Timms) is just about perfect. Ditto Green Lantern Hal Jordan having to talk down Harley after she gets uncontrollable powers from a rogue ring.

Through these two and into the Zatanna story is a subplot where Harley encounters the so-called London Legion of Super-Heroes and they follow her back to Brooklyn for a visit. They're the most farcical part of the stories, including for instance a hero who has to be drunk to use his powers and whose vomit melts metal. In the third part, Conner and Palmiotti seem to be zeroing in on some emotional resolution for the team, as Nigel "Pub Crawler" Niven seeks out his estranged daughter, but apparently instead he falls asleep on her doorway and never meets her.

It's a strange kind of non-ending to the subplot, and the same kind of thing in the book's second half, where Harley meets the DC Bombshells and Lobo after encountering Superman and stealing his, ahem, "magic balls" from the Fortress of Solitude. One expects, perhaps, a little something — Superman showing up at the end to take his "balls" back or the like, but nothing comes of it. The final chapter, Harley vs. Lobo, is a highlight of the book, but its ending just ends that chapter, not really the series as a whole. That's why I recommend not expecting connectivity between these stories, even though it exists; ultimately it's so slight that it's better to think of these as independent one-shots.

The Zatanna story is also good (and it's more likely Zatanna's going to be palling around with Harley than Wonder Woman would), though there's a five-page flashback about halfway through involving a trio of ghosts that felt very long. It's in that way that these chapters remind me of prestige graphic novels; Conner and Palmiotti, to their credit, don't skimp on the details, but often these chapters come off so detailed and so long that it's tough to read more than one in a sitting. That's not a particularly bad problem to have, but it's one we don't encounter all that often.

The Bombshells story is enjoyable and certainly a worthy acknowledgment of Marguerite Bennett's series. It feels it goes a little off the rails in a five-page dream sequence in which Harley imagines she's fighting a vampiric, Jokerized Hitler, a digression that doesn't quite work with the tone of the story. Equally, though it's clear in the Superman story that Conner and Palmiotti, with Neal Adams, are trying to map to Dennis O'Neil and Adams' Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as best as possible, the gags sometimes feel forced, and Superman's early Rebirth costume is weird to see against old timey depictions of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley's Little Black Book

But again, despite some hits and misses in Harley's Little Black Book, I would unquestionably read a sequel. The temptation's probably to team Harley with characters like Space Cabbie and Jonah Hex next time around (though Jimmy Palmiotti on Harley and Hex would be pretty cool), but I'd as soon see Harley teamed with recognizable modern characters, Harley and the Teen Titans or Harley and Justice League Odyssey or such. Who knows?

[Includes original and variant covers, line art]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Harley's Little Black Book
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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