Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 1: No Good Deed hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Stephanie Phillips' Harley Quinn Vol. 1: No Good Deed is the Harley Quinn book that DC Comics has always wanted, and with art by Riley Rossmo, a darn good-looking book, too. But I feel maybe DC’s gain is our loss; the continuity wonk in me is pleased but the seasoned Harley reader is not.

[Review contains spoilers]

James Tynion and company have talked about a concerted effort to create carryover between the Bat-family books in the wake of Infinite Frontier, and that sure is apparently in No Good Deed. Where once upon a time it was hard to even get acknowledgment that the Harley Quinn who appeared in Suicide Squad was even the same character as the one who appeared in her eponymous series, this Harley is specifically, effervescently straight from the pages of Tynion’s Batman Vol. 2: Joker War. It all happened, and then some — Harley’s tangle with Clown-Hunter, her fight with Punchline, the revenge she took on the Joker.

Just like DC has come around to the idea that mainstream and Black Label iterations of their characters can coexist, so too does Phillips' Harley Quinn seem to have found a balance that eluded DC previously. Harley is a zany character, intrinsically, but where DC seemed to feel the need to play her serious in the larger DCU, she’s now zany amidst the seriousness in her prominent role in Tynion’s Batman and zany among the zaniness in her own title. That seems sensible, and it works.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

On one hand, I’m thrilled to be able to pretty closely track where this Harley Quinn volume takes place against Batman Vol. 4: The Cowardly Lot and also Catwoman Vol. 5: Valley of the Shadow of Death. What is “shared continuity” between all the Bat-books now is really overarching villain Simon Saint in Tynion’s Batman that the others can interpret and reinterpret however they want — and so hence we have Saint and the Wight Witch in Catwoman, and now Saint and Hugo Strange in Harley Quinn. Reasonably one might think Saint seems spread a little thin or wonder why Strange’s SAFE program isn’t ever mentioned in Batman, but that’s the fiat of hub and spoke crossover comics.

But on the other hand, when we take away Harley Quinn, landlord; Harley Quinn and situation comedy; even Harley Quinn and crime drama, what we’re left with is just another Bat-family comic. Worryingly, the first chapter has a five-page Batman sequence where Harley’s absent entirely; there is an action scene in every single issue, including a rather Daredevil-esque elevator fight. We’ve seen the Harley title be more, and so it’s disappointing to see it devolve to rather generic superhero antics.

Phillips does preserve Harley’s fourth wall-breaking aesthetic, as would-be hero Harley opines on faux superheroic narration (a parody that’s pretty on-point in view of The Batman) and her own place in the book’s rising action. But it never quite feels like Phillips lands the effect — “That’s called a cliffhanger,” Harley narrates, but it’s not really a cliffhanger because it’s just a silly revelation of a silly antagonist with a silly name, Keepsake.

The motions are right — Harley’s got a bumbling normal sidekick, she tries to counsel Joker War survivors — but it doesn’t amount to greater than what we’ve seen before. (When Harley snuggles with a stuffed Solomon Grundy plush, it’s only cute insofar as it’s also a reminder this book used to be so daring as to do Bernie the Beaver jokes on the regular.) Notably, I think once upon a time DC would have fixed for the trade that part three of the “No Good Deed” three-parter was originally labeled as a second “Part 2,” but they didn’t. It’s kind of representative of the level to which this book rises as a whole.

But again, in the absence of an Amanda Conner/Jimmy Palmiotti Harley book — or, at the point in which Harley’s movie appearances created unprecedented public interest in the character — it’s only natural DC would want to leverage that as a gateway into the DCU as a whole. Sam Humphries' run beginning with Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Harley vs. Apokolips was specifically billed as hewing closer to the DCU, though in a mostly tentative way until the near-end. Phillips' Infinite Frontier-era Harley ties in more than it ever has before — up to and including Harley’s inclusion next volume in the “Fear State” Bat-crossover. We’ve been headed this way for a while.

Without a doubt, No Good Deed is elevated considerably by its art. Artist Rossmo first caught my eye with the Rebirth Batman: Night of the Monster Men crossover, and it feels full circle that he’s back again on another Bat-family Hugo Strange story. Rossmo’s wibbly-wobbly style seems an easy fit for Harley Quinn, and a late sequence where Harley is everywhere at once with a bat around Strange seems positively cut from Looney Tunes. Rossmo draws a pretty effective Batman, too, including when Batman’s stock-still, silhouetted figure frames a violent fight within. There are ancillary stories included here, including one from Batman: Urban Legends, drawn by other artists in a more DC house style, and if all of No Good Deed looked like that it would have really brought the book down.



Harley Quinn Vol. 1: No Good Deed mulls the question of who is and isn’t a hero — Hugo Strange, a self-fashioned hero, ostensibly but not actually on the side of angels as he helps Simon Saint; Catwoman, late in the book, who disavows the label even as she’s probably the closest one to it; and Harley Quinn, trying with difficulty now to be a hero after so many past bad deeds. It is certainly a take on Harley, perhaps even one the greater audience wants these days, though I find Harley worriying over these things tiring in great quantities. Roller derby, leading the Gang of Harleys, not worrying so much about doing good as just doing what seems right and letting the chips fall where they may — I’d like to hope we’ll get back to that Harley Quinn one of these days.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]


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