Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Verdict hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Ultimately what we want is for books to get better with each successive volume, and Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Verdict is an improvement on what came before. In its fourth-wall-breaking way, Verdict touts itself as the start of year two for Stephanie Phillips' Harley run; I’m not sure anyone’s clocking it so closely, but it does indeed feel like a fresh start.

Notably, with the “Fear State” crossover having passed and the era of James Tynion’s super-connected Bat-titles ending with that writer’s departure, Verdict is Phillips' volume least-encumbered by others' storylines, and also her best so far. DC has seemed to want a continuity-connected Harley Quinn title for a while now, and Verdict is another repudiation of that goal.

There’s a move in Verdict, I perceive, to soften some of Harley Quinn’s rough edges, which wouldn’t be my preference; frankly, I’m not sure the character could survive. At the same time, Phillips looks in the eye some of the often-sidestepped, darker aspects of the Harley Quinn character, and I thought that was a positive thing among this book’s strong content.

[Review contains spoilers]

If we’re a long way from Harley Quinn being a Brooklyn landlord surrounded by a funhouse full of tenants, Phillips continues to do a nice job with Harley and plucky sidekick Kevin. We’re two more volumes from the end of Phillips' run, and not that there’s not still more to come, but Verdict feels strongly like the culmination ahead of the denoument.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

In Harley Quinn Vol. 1: No Good Deed, Harley met Kevin and inspired him to a new lease on life; in Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Keepsake, Kevin acted the hero based on Harley’s example, and sparked a romance in the process; and here, Kevin’s new girlfriend Sam turns out to be the vigilante Verdict, with a grudge against Harley and other former clowns. There’s a nice connectivity to these three volumes, connected while still standing alone, and bringing Harley and Kevin full circle. Artist Riley Rossmo leaves with this book’s final issue, and it seems to me Phillips and Rossmo’s first three Harley volumes would make a fine omnibus all together.

As I alluded, I’m not entirely sold on Phillips' conception of Harley as a bona fide hero on the straight-and-narrow. Despite that Harley plays Robin Hood in the beginning, stealing a truck full of food (but not, confusingly, a food truck) to donate to a food bank, by the end Harley has saved Gotham twice (including previously from Keepsake) and even received a nod from Mayor Nakano. Exotic locales amongst the Suicide Squad is one thing, but beating up Gotham crazies alongside Batwoman is another; enough other characters can take that role that it seems an awfully generic place to stick Harley Quinn.

That said, there’s a wonderful number of layers to the conflict that Phillips creates here. Harley and Kevin are each in their own way former henchmen — former villains, in essence, trying to atone — while Sam is a former police officer gone to murderous vigilante tactics. There’s a fascinating moment where Kevin expresses shock at Sam’s actions and she calls him a hypocrite; we have bad guys trying to do good and good guys doing bad with good-ish intentions, and it’s all a matter of degrees and who did what today versus yesterday. Verdict is an altogether darker villain than Keepsake and Hugo Strange previous, and all of this contributed to my enjoyment of Verdict more than those earlier books.

And further, in conveying Verdict’s origin story, Phillips presents something we don’t see all that often: Harley Quinn killing people in her Joker’s moll days. All of that’s rather murky in terms of the day-to-day of the DCU (most of Harley’s time in mainstream comics is post-Joker, with the with-Joker period retconned into existence), but inasmuch as we might imagine Harley was innocent bystander, we might also imagine she was, like Punchline, savage participant.

That hasn’t been something Harley’s comics have given too much attention — certainly not the sitcom Conner/Palmiotti days — but it’s wholly relevant and interesting to see here. Harley and Kevin (who, it’s suggested, might have burned people to death) are our protagonists and peace-makers for the moment, and so we root for them, while Verdict takes out corrupt officials with an ice cream scoop, which we frown on. But atonement is in the eye of the beholder, and we can imagine Harley and Kevin’s victims' families might not accept their good turns so readily. Though Phillips keeps a lot of this under the surface, it’s there, and offers more nuance to Harley’s past than we usually see.

Rossmo’s weird bendy figures have been a delight throughout these three volumes, particularly Kevin and his outsized pompadour. Here Rossmo offers his take on two established Bat-figures, Batwoman and the animated-type Harley Quinn, and they’re as unusual as one might hope. Kate Kane is all angles, her bat-eyes tilting up into an impossible cowl that seems part of her head (and kudos to colorist Ivan Plascencia for making Kate appropriately pale). Early in the book, Rossmo draws Verdict-as-Harley with giant eye holes on her face that I thought indicated Verdict’s disguise, but his classic Harley proper is not so far off, more suggesting a person in a mask than a person in clown white paint. It’s an unexpected reinterpretation, and I wouldn’t balk at some sort of “Riley Rossmo draws the DCU” book some time.



Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Verdict has its stumbles sometimes — a Batwoman who’s supposedly never heard of Oedipus Rex and who calls Barbara Gordon “Babs”; the suggestion that the Gotham police, including a captain, were on the Joker’s payroll (plausible, but seems a little far-fetched). It’s also very methodical — an issue for Verdict to attack, an issue for Harley to be in jail, an issue to look for clues, etc. — such to feel like maybe we’ve got a three-issue story expanded to five. But again, in tone and plot, this is trending up, and I’m interested to see how new artists and, I suspect, getting out of Gotham treats the book.

[Includes original and variant covers, story from the Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special special]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. AnonymousJune 29, 2023

    For me, this is where the Phillips era should've have ended. This was the last enjoyable arc from her run.

    The final two arcs -- between loosely tying into Dark Crisis and trying to spin wheels with Tynion's departure and his multi-year Bat Books' plan off the board -- everything just goes off the wheels.


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