Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Hollywood or Die trade paperback (DC Comics)

We’ve been doubly blessed that in a decade, we’re two for two for good Harley Quinn runs. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s original, from the New 52 down through Rebirth, remains the gold standard, but Sam Humphries has also done well, a run decidedly different from what came before but still enjoyable and moving enough to hold its own. With a new run by Stephanie Phillips and Riley Rossmo on the rise, let’s hope this embarrassment of riches keeps on.

Humphries' finale, Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Hollywood or Die, is a bit of a left turn; though events of the previous books weigh heavily here, Humphries pulls Harley out of familiar locales and leaves behind the new supporting cast he’s set up. Coming as it does after the new Harley team has been announced, Hollywood has a slightly tacked-on feel, a continuation but also an odd afterthought.

That might be detrimental were Hollywood not good; the fact that it is good helps squelch that awkwardness. What the book itself describes as a “new Harley Quinn epic” is part crime drama, part rom-com, with a touch of politics, and it arrives full circle at a superheroic ending. That’s epic indeed, a pseudo-self-contained Harley Quinn graphic novel, and the next team up has big shoes to fill.

[Review contains spoilers]

We’ve seen now a couple of Harley stories (including the recent Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic) that start out light but get into some real heavy material by the end; that goes for Humphries first four Harley volumes, too, culminating with the death of Harley’s mother and its aftermath. Hollywood takes a different tack, kicking off almost right away with the bloody murder of Harley’s wrestler friend Alicia and then following Harley’s misadventures as she tries to solve it. I’m reminded of the crime drama of the New 52 Catwoman series; Harley never remains quite that dark and dour for long, though I do think any writer approaching a Harley series has to consider how to make another series about a Gotham villain-gone-good more than just a Catwoman clone.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Part indeed of how that’s accomplished is Harley tripping her way through every door trying to solve the mystery, and also teaming her with unlikely partner Booster Gold. Arguably among the best things to come out of the somewhat ill-conceived Heroes in Crisis was pairing Harley and Booster (two not-quite-heroes being not-quite-heroes together). Humphries posits it all as having happened — which in past Harley runs would not have been a sure thing — even suggesting Harley was at Sanctuary because of the death of her mother in Humphries' run. I doubt we’ll ever see or hear again of the romance that develops between the two, but this was a fun take and good use of Booster, largely out of costume and mostly without powers, too.

Though far from Brooklyn and catapulting poop on the hipsters, the Harley Quinn series hasn’t lost its strain of social justice. In Hollywood, Humphries offers a great swath of societal ills for Harley to battle, from racists to gentrification to cults to “online hoaxers.” It’s fitting then that when it comes down to it, Harley’s actual enemy is Granny Goodness, come to spread the ultimate evil of Darkseid’s anti-life. That’s a rematch, of course, that follows Humphries' Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Harley vs. Apokolips; there’s no Petite Tina or Meredith Clatterbuck in this story, but in the end Hollywood is not so disconnected as it seems at the outset.

Fortunately, what we might consider the true end of Humphries' Harley Quinn run finishes so strongly, because the final issue, #75, seems to get away from him. It is an imagined roast, not wholly disconnected from the rest of the story, but featuring a variety of dream sequences by guest artists — Harley in the Super Friends, Harley with the Suicide Squad, Joe Quinones drawing a faux Batman: The Animated Series tale, a long gag about “butt nuggets” and Harley’s Brooklyn crew. I didn’t find these particularly funny, and at times, as with the Suicide Squad story, I wasn’t sure if the other characters were making fun of Harley or Humphries was making fun of Harley’s various alt-portrayals or where exactly the satire was.



Following that is Harley’s ostensible “Joker War” tie-in, though for all the hype about Harley vs. Punchline, this story actually takes place between the pages in the aftermath of their fight. It’s a nice appetizer for Riley Rossmo’s upcoming work, but ultimately the point of the story seems to be what a poor replacement Punchline is for Harley Quinn. There’s a weird disconnect, as I’ve mentioned before, in that Punchline is so objectionable on the page — a character representing fandom’s worst impulses — and yet the rampant speculation for Punchline appearances and the bevy of variant covers here touting (yet another) Harley/Punchline fight feel like the powers-that-be aren’t in on the joke. I’m reminded of the grim-and-gritty takes that followed Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns without the requisite substance, and my hope is this either dies down or someone figures out a way to give Punchline some depth.

It’s one of those weird facts of comics that I can say the next volume of Harley Quinn by a new team is due out in December; one door does not even close before the other door opens, though I guess it could be worse. I was unsure at the start, but Sam Humphries did a nice job with his Harley Quinn run, and he stuck the landing with Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Hollywood or Die; this run is worth an omnibus one of these days to go with the Amanda Conner/Jimmy Palmiotti ones. Here we go on to the next.


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