Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Who Killed Harley Quinn? hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

May 22, 2024

Though Stephanie Phillips' Harley Quinn hit its high mark some time ago, Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Who Killed Harley Quinn? is still an improvement over the previous volume, which is a good note to go out on.

There is much meta-talk here of bringing Harley’s arc full circle. At least the book is self-aware enough to recognize what good endings are made of — something that less fourth-wall-breaking books still struggle with — though it all felt somewhat contradictory. Much of what Harley’s seeking, it rather seems she gained under Phillips' pen two books ago, and it feels as though Phillips wants us to ignore some of that progress so that that Harley has something to fret over into the conclusion.

Sharp work by artist Matteo Lolli, at the very least. Who Killed Harley Quinn is sometimes on point, sometimes seems to be spinning its wheels. Some of the concepts here, if I’m not mistaken, will continue into Tini Howard’s run to come; I’ll be interested to see what Howard does different than Phillips and others.

[Review contains spoilers]

Stephanie Phillip’s 27-issue run has been a redemption arc for Harley Quinn. Though in the course of her recent series we’ve seen Harley do good-ish, with Phillips' run (and a momentarily more unified family of Bat-titles under James Tynion), Harley returned to Gotham to become more a part of the Bat-family than we’ve ever seen. This has spanned defeating a Bat-rogue, Hugo Strange, and starting a support group for former Joker acolytes, to defeating villains tied to Harley’s past (Keepsake) and even her own former bad acts (Verdict). Even Harley’s most recent stint in Harley Quinn Vol. 4: Task Force XX with a kinder, gentler Suicide Squad seems an exercise in integrating Harley’s rough past with her new normal.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Indeed, Harley’s successes in both Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Verdict and in Task Force XX are what make the conflict in Who Killed befuddling. Verdict concludes with Harley receiving both praise and the promise of a public apology from Gotham Mayor Nakamo, and in Task Force she saves the universe. But seemingly an attempt on Harley’s life in Who Killed sends her spiraling, insofar as for all that Harley’s done, people are still out to get her. There’s no concrete reason to think the attack is personal or even sane — this is Gotham after all — but a good part of the book involves Harley dealing with supposed blame that seems all in her and the other characters' heads.

For me, part of what confused things was the early-book sequence in which the Harley Who Laughs murders our Harley Quinn, and sidekick Kevin takes her body on a sled to the Lazarus Pits to resurrect her. Kevin is warned of the pits' strange behavior, and indeed when Harley emerges she seems initially crazed, with certain ominous hints at dark behavior following. The reader can’t be blamed for thinking Harley’s hard-luck attitude might be related to her resurrection, but it all comes to naught in the end. Not only does Harley’s resurrection not explain this regressive arc, Harley could have easily have been wounded and not killed and the story would hardly be different.

I was thrilled to see Frank Tieri’s Old Lady Harley here, and these moments when Harley interacts with her Mad Max counterpart are the best of the book. So good were those pages that they even balanced out what seemed a lot of thumb-twiddling early on, Phillips perhaps needing to get to issue #25 or make some other mark. See 11 pages of Harley sparring and chatting with Damian Wayne all about the Lazarus Pits storyline that never manifests (including a splash page, plus two more in that same issue) or 15 pages of Harley and crew capturing and questioning Zsasz for only a tiny bit of payoff. (Phillips sudden introduction of Harley’s alien pal Parry, who then has almost no role in the story, equally suggests the run cut short or having to be reconfigured in some way.)

In all Tieri’s recent Multiversity: Harley Screws Up the DCU is a better book than this — less thumb-twiddling and far funnier — but both suffer from thin use of DC’s multiverse. Here at least Phillips uses the Multiverse with Old Lady Harley — Tieri’s book was arguably more about time travel than universe-hopping — but neither really delved into the creative potential of infinite Harleys. It seems for a moment as though Phillips is going that direction with a robot Harley and “Harley classic” and a kid Harley and so on, but those Harleys are sent immediately off-page and never seen in such detail again. My general sense is that Tini Howard’s Harley will also deal with the multiverse — DC clearly thinks they’ve found a vein to mine — and I’m curious if hers will be more detailed than these.

This run, you’ll recall, kicked off with Riley Rossmo on art, wonderfully animated and chaotic. Matteo Lolli’s more normalized figures are far from the same thing, but there’s something in the sincere facial expressions that feels of a piece; perhaps too there’s a throughway from Rossmo to Jorge Jimenez drawing Harley in James Tynion’s Batman to Lolli here. If I’m spotting it all right, I think David Baldeon draws a lot of the Old Lady Harley pages in Harley Quinn Vol. 5: Who Killed Harley Quinn?, and these very much evoke Mauricet on Old Lady Harley’s debut issue, if not also Amanda Conner herself.

As I’ve speculated before, I think Stephanie Phillips' Harley Quinn run is the one DC always wanted — the really tied in, can-make-it-a-part-of-crossovers-and-sell-books-that-way run. That said and done, do they back off or double down on that? What role does DC’s multiverse play? I’ll be curious to see.

[Includes original and variant covers, Kevin Conroy tribute page]

Rating 2.5


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