Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn trade paperback (DC Comics)

June 3, 2020

Sam Humphries' Harley Quinn Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn is a big improvement on the previous volume, back to the levels where I'd say Harley's in good hands after all. Humphries' locale, supporting cast, and general thrust of the Harley Quinn series is different than what came before, but all of these are perfectly workable. Away from some of the character difficulties of Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Harley Destroys the Universe, and with the eight issues collected here all loosely connected under the "Trials of Harley Quinn" moniker — flitting self-referentially in, out, and around DC continuity — this volume flows smoothly; this is plenty fine Harley entertainment.

[Review contains spoilers]

The Christmas issue that begins this book, something of a prologue to the "Trials of Harley" stories, solidifies the break with what came before. Gathered around the table toward the end of the issue are Harley; her mother, father, and brothers; Catwoman (as an awkward stand-in for Poison Ivy); Coach; the Apokoliptian Tina; continuity cop Jonni DC; and prescient young comics artist Meredith Clatterbuck. These final three have been newly introduced to this title by Humphries over the last dozen or so issues; notably, nowhere pictured are Harley's stalwart companions from the Amanda Conner/Jimmy Palmiotti run like Big Tony, Eggy, or Red Tool.

That is, as I mentioned in my review of Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Harley vs. Apokolips, fine with me. I don't mind Humphries populating this book with his own characters so long as Harley acts like Harley, which is what I felt we lost in Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Harley Destroys the Universe but regained here. But that this pivotal crowd scene should not even include cameos of the old cast makes stark the switchover (at least for two more trades); this is Harley's cast for the foreseeable future.

For what are a number then of very disparate stories, at least part of the fun is seeing how Humphries will work this cast in. Their appearances are never assured; everyone steps back for Harley's team-up with Batman, but then Tina returns when Harley's transformed to a cockroach, and Humphries continues to pepper the stories with Meredith's faux one-off comics pages. Catwoman (and her jilting of Batman) gets referenced even when Selina isn't on the page, and Jonni returns when least expected late in the book. As well, Humphries' internal continuity is strong, bringing back two sets of villains from earlier volumes, preserving that trademark sense of a Harley universe in and of itself.

Humphries keeps up the fine job of fulfilling the new Harley Quinn-title mission statement of hewing closer to DC continuity while still keeping the book its own madcap entity. Part of that, again, is Harley teasing both Batman and Catwoman about their failed nuptials, a light lift all things considered but that orients Harley in the here and now. Humphries continues to include overt references to Harley's time with the Suicide Squad (previously, if not currently, so it's not to say everything fits together perfectly — or needs to); this time, Humphries is actually tying up a dangling plot thread from Rob Williams' Suicide Squad. And this is all accomplished because Harley, as Jonni says, is "simultaneously inside and outside continuity," making the fourth wall-breaking more than just a gag but rather something inherent in Harley's character, not unlike her predecessor Ambush Bug (not coincidentally, see also Harley using a bunch of Lobo's favorite curses here, too).

Again, under the auspices of the "Trials" — Harley completing self-referential quests in order to become an agent of the Lords of Order and Chaos — Humphries is able to tell a variety of different stories. These range from the traditional — a fine two-part team-up with Batman — to the ludicrous — an equally fine take on Kafka's Metamorphosis a la Harley Quinn, plus everything from aliens to Dungeons & Dragons. The whole book is buoyed by especially fine art, from series regular John Timms drawing Gotham to Green Arrow's Otto Schmidt doing medieval takes on the Bat-family (talk about a far better artist than this book could have ever hoped to deserve), and Sami Basri also looks good on two issues that play to his wide-eyed strengths. Humphries keeps hopping — one- or two-issue arcs, continually different aesthetics — and that prevents the book from ever getting stale.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Harley Quinn Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn

It's clear what's coming with Harley's mom following Harley Quinn Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn — it's good that Sam Humphries is injecting some seriousness into the humor, and the best parts of this book are when Harley worries quietly over her mother's illness — though I have to say that emotionally this feels similar to the climax of the previous run; I'm not sure "Harley deals with another death" will have the same weight. We'll see how it goes. Humphries sets the stage cleverly here for "Year of the Villain," presenting Lex's ubiquitous visit as a story-in-a-story; I'll be curious to see if that keeps up next time around or if Humphries will find a way to merge story and in-story.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Harley Quinn Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

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