As I’ve been easing myself back into the world of comic books for the third or fourth time in my life, I forgot that there are some protagonists who are malleable, vessels for a writer to explore their own issues and fixations.
This won’t quite happen to iconic characters like Batman — who will always be a self-serious, but angsty, vigilante — but it happens often with other peripheral characters.
Harley Quinn is one of those characters. The Harley I love from the Harley Quinn animated series is far removed from the one I first saw on the animated Batman show, and also quite different from the one I saw in BIRDS OF PREY, and also a bit skewed in the first HARLEY QUINN: HOT IN THE CITY collection I picked up, not to mention the BATMAN / HARLEY & IVY deluxe collection I just read.
Granted, it makes sense; Harley is mercurial and impetuous. Her flights of fancy will always work from a character perspective because she’s goddamn manic and easily influenced, but still smart enough to shut shit down when necessary.
At least, that’s the Harley I like most. That’s the Harley I identify most with.
The opening salvo in HOT IN THE CITY underscores her versatility: it features a litany of different artists given two or so pages to detail their own specific take on Harley, although it was all penned by writer/artist Amanda Conner and writer/inker Jimmy Palmiotti. (I’ll note that they’re married, so a perfect creative team!)
Reader: it gave me whiplash.
I realize that was the intent, but this was the first Harley Quinn book for me, and it felt like I was reading Keith Giffen’s AMBUSH BUG. (Yeah, I realize I’m doing no favors with that deep cut.)
Thankfully, the remaining issues fall into something closer to the Harley I’m familiar with: she’s coupled up with Ivy and they meet Sy and matters delightfully escalate in violent, but amusing ways. I can see how much the animated show leaned on Conner & Palmiotti’s groundwork, however, they still managed to make it their own by digging into more interpersonal dynamics.
While I do grouse about the introductory issue — I just wish they’d just moved it to the end of the collection, because it does feel like self-indulgent back-matter — this is a great way to dip your toes into this world and I don’t regret it.