Review: Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


We’re rapidly approaching a place where maybe we can’t call DC Black Label so “new” any more, though we’re still exploring the extent to which, thankfully, DC is willing to push the limits with these books. After (at least as far as I’ve read) a couple Batman and Wonder Woman stories that were maybe a little darker, a little bloodier than your normal DC fare, in saunters Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley to push the limits wonderfully near to the breaking.

If ever there was a concern you can’t go home again, creative team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti put that to lie. The tone feels spot on, even from moments of characteristic mundanity to the humor and surprising drama that the team manages to evoke in the space of just four issues. This is just about everything one could want from Conner and Palmiotti’s return to Harley, and they get a bunch of their greatest hits in (short really only of not being able get a Vartox cameo).

There is kind-of, sort-of a bit of alternate-Harley-ing going on here, with Conner and Palmiotti picking up specifically from the end of their run rather than some unspecified point in the future. I’d be happy to see more short-run returns to the Harley-verse of this type by Conner and Palmiotti, keeping a “Harley in Brooklyn” sub-continuity even as the rest of the DC Universe pulls her elsewhere.

[Review contains spoilers]

Striking in Hunt for Harley (which is not, mind you, objectionable, just notable) is the language, with DC freeing the team to use every expletive imaginable, often and loudly. That feels like a change, where the other Black Label titles have been slightly more violent but haven’t cursed like TV’s Cliff Steele. The violence here is really only mildly stronger than, especially, Conner and Palmiotti’s later issues of Harley (notwithstanding a specific moment at the end). If anything, the “Black Label” is not so much the existence of the violence as what the creators are allowed to do with it — see sometime-Batgirl Cassandra Cain shooting a cold gun up Clayface’s rear and pantsing the Penguin with a sword. Equally the “nudity” doesn’t seem much different than those Harley issues, with modesty preserved in the Austin Powers vein by well-placed scenery (and, in one case, heavenly cloud cover), excepting perhaps there’s more of it.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Here again, then, what I want is a “director’s cut” edition of Conner and Palmiotti’s 100+ issues of the Harley Quinn series with the swearing and other attributes put “back” in. Failing that, a mature readers Harley series (or series of annual miniseries) seems distinctly what the world needs; while I’m eager to start Stephanie Phillips and Riley Rossmo’s new Harley Quinn run, clearly anything outside Black Label Harley must be considered watered down.

I admit I’m coming to Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey as a fan of Conner and Palmiotti’s series and not as someone who’s had a chance to see Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). I notice for instance a lot of emphasis on Huntress Helena Bertinelli in this story — or rather, after Harley and detective Renee Montoya, I felt Helena and Cassandra get more screen time than Black Canary Dinah Lance, who often appears more prominently as the “leader” of the Birds of Prey. To that end, I’m not sure if the team favoring Helena over Dinah is reflective of the characters' roles in the movie or just the writers' fiat.

I did appreciate small Easter eggs in the story, such as mention of Dinah’s (DC You-era) singing career, reference to Renee’s long history with Two-Face via Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central, or Cassandra living above the Gotham ballet a la James Tynion’s Detective Comics. Nicely, Conner and Palmiotti even cameo Barbara Gordon before the end in pseudo-Batgirl/Oracle roles. Even Atlee, Conner and Palmiotti’s one-time Terra character, makes the scene, as do any number of other Harley favorites.

About three-fourths of the way through this book, I had the thought that while the climactic give-and-take between Harley and the Joker was interesting, we lacked for sufficient suspense given that we knew Harley and the captive Poison Ivy would make it out OK (even given the possibilities of an alt-continuity). No sooner did I think that, however, than the Joker begins carving his name into Harley’s chest. It’s a shocking act of sadism, even despite outs aplenty, that reminds of the equally brutal end of Conner and Palmiotti’s Harley run. In this once again we’re reminded of the power of the Harley series that wasn’t a sure thing when it premiered in the New 52 — a mostly silly satire book that became a silly satire book with effective crime drama that gets you just when you least expect it.

What follows (after God and the devil argue over who’ll eventually have to take Harley in) is an extended sequence where Harley recuperates from her injuries with each successively beleaguered Bird passing her off to the next. It is quite a bit of wisdom on Conner and Palmiotti’s part that Harley ultimately finds her respite with Cassandra Cain — part childlike innocent, part brutal warrior. If Conner and Palmiotti’s next miniseries was simply a Harley/Cassandra team-up, I don’t think anyone would argue.



Completing old home week, Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley wraps up with a Harley Quinn Black + Red + White story by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by longtime Harley artist Chad Hardin. I thought the "get" here was simply the writers and the old team back together, but it turns out this is actually already a mini-sequel to Hunt, so it’s right that it’s collected here. It’s just a week or so till Sam Humphries' final Harley Quinn book comes out — we’re not even done with the last run, even as the new run is on the rise — and I know that ties in to Batman: Joker War; it will be interesting to see how Humphries handles that, given what we’ve seen here.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I'm glad DC Black Label is starting to push boundaries. A lot of their stuff has been good but feels somewhat safe.

    Now all I still want is one thing: Gail Simone, Black Label, Secret Six. Make it happen DC!

    1. I do need to read the second Secret Six series. Kind of astounding I haven't. 'Course that probably means I need to go back and re-read Simone's first Secret Six series ...


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