Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego #1

I generally loathe the very concept of having issue numbers with decimal points in them, something Marvel has indulged in quite a bit over the past few years and DC flirted with during their weird "Villains Month" last September, but this book actually seems like one in which an issue number with a decimal point in it would actually work. That's because in its format, style, tone and even some of its marketing, Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego #1 reads a lot like Harley Quinn #0; think of this as Harley Quinn #0.1.

As such, it promises many of the same pleasures, but also many of the same pitfalls and, unfortunately, there are fewer pleasures here than in the #0 issue, but much more time spent in the pitfalls, as the book becomes quite quickly overtaken by weird in-jokes, many of which feature various DC comics executives and creators, appearing in scenes in which the jokes are sometimes at the expense of the people who buy and read DC comics. That's sort of weird, right?

As with every issue of the New 52 version of the Harley Quinn solo comic, it is written by the husband and wife team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with the former providing the cover: Here a wraparound cover in which we see Harley running past a line of DC cosplayers and stereotypes (Because this is a DC comic, all of the comics characters represented by cosplayers, merchandise and background noise—note the Kaley Cuoco Power Girl movie poster between Harley's pigtails on the cover—are either DC characters, or generic character-types. Similar to the way that Warner Bros' direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo: Mask of The Blue Falcon was set at a comics convention where the only superheroes in existence seemed to be ones from Hanna-Barbera cartoons, a gag that worked a bit better for the Scooby movie, given its higher level of ridiculousness).

The artwork, as that in the #0 issue, comes courtesy of a sort of all-star jam line-up, although it's worth noting that, despite a higher page count, there are fewer stars involved in this issue, and many of them boast a much lower wattage. Paul Pope kicks everything off with a four-panel first page in which Harley leaps into a two-page splash title page, laughing "HA HA!!" in Pope's hand-writing in a little, Pope-shaped dialogue bubble. It's only a page, but yeah, he certainly qualifies as one of "the GREATEST ARTISTS of ALL TIME!" mentioned on the cover (What? No "comics" qualifier between "greatest" and "artists"...?).
From there, though, the caliber of creator slips. EDILW favorite Damion Scott and Robert Campanella contribute five pages, Amanda Conner herself draws three and Stephane Roux two and from there the line-up consists of creators I'm much less familiar with: Javier Garron, John Timms, Marco Failla and Dave Johnson (plus four different colorists!).

The premise is that Harley has traveled to SDCC with some of the characters that live in the building he runs in Coney Island; I'm not sure what exactly their business is, but I think it has something to do with old-school carnie folk, and they're here to sell merchandise of some kind (I didn't make it very far past the #0 issue of the Harley Quinn monthly, before the mixture of poor humor and aggressive, desperate joke-making turned me off; it's fine to tell lame jokes and to fail to be funny constantly—I'd be a hypocrite to suggest otherwise!—but in Harley Quinn those lame jokes are always delivered with an off-putting confidence bordering on arrogance, a sort of wackiness or zaniness produced by writers who crack their knuckles, sit down at the keyboard and announce, "Okay, let's write some wacky and zany stuff!").

Harley's con invasion is broken up into days, so under the banner of "Day One: Tuesday" she and friends arrive, and we get the first instance of a running gag that will be repeated every few pages. Harley will see someone in the crowd and say, "Oh my God! It's that--" and in a string of off-center, no-spaces verbiage she will rattle off some long, complicated back-story to the person's career or stuff they are famous for, before ending with, "I love that guy!"
If you're reading the comic, and not just this review of it, then I hope you liked that gag. Because you'll be seeing a lot more of it. A lot more.

It's in the hotel that night that she shows her friend Queenie her portfolio, which features her own superhero creation, "Hurl Girl," who is "a superhero that up-chucks her way out of any situation." This accounts for Conner's interior work, three pages of black-and-white comics featuring the character; turns out Harley draws a lot like Conner, only slightly rougher.

Later, she hijacks a truck of DC Comics clothes and gives them away to the homeless, and beats up and nearly murders a waitress at "Rude Rick's Hateful Hideaway," one of those mean-on-purpose places.

On Day Two, John Timms takes over the art (I really like his sharp lines and angles, and he's got a great style, but oh boy does his Harley costume suddenly shrink dramatic, compared to what Scott had her wearing in the previous sequences).

Here we get our first DC Comics cameos, as Harley approaches "Katie Kubert, DC Editor," who Timms draws in a more illustrative style (ditto the other real people). She suggests Harley talk to Bob Harras, DC's Editor-In-Chief regarding a portfolio review, and when Harley asks how she can ever thank Kubert, the editor responds "When you are rich and famous, hire me out of this soul-sucking job."

  • Ha ha it's funny because...working for DC is horrible...?

  • To illustrate how terrible the job is, she's show to be surrounded by three fans asking innocent if inane questions about DC Comics plot points, scheduling and creators.

    Gross! DC fans! Is there anything a DC Editor hates more?

    Unfortunately for Harley, Bob Harras is talking to Batman, which is...weird. I don't know if this is meant to be the "real" Batman or just someone dressed like Batman, but Harley, who is, remember, the "real" Harley, says it's Batman, and while she is an unreliable narrator, this Batman is drawn like Batman might be drawn—big, muscular, square jaw, cool suit—so...I don't know.

    Harley pantses Batman in order to make Batman look bad and show her portfolio to Harras (who, luckily, doesn't get any dialogue, so he doesn't come across like an asshole, like a lot of the other folks Palmiotti and Conner include). It doesn't work, but we do see that Batman–or a guy who dresses like Batman—wears boxers with Harley Quinn on them under the suit (apparently the utility belt doesn't actually hold his pants up?).
    How one wears boxers with skin-tight spandex pants, I don't know, but there's got a be a lot of bunching and chafing going on in Batman's nether regions. Explains the scowl, I guess.

    Thrown out for that, Harley tries a variety of hijinx to get back in, and eventually stumbles into a room of guys dressed up like The Joker, at which point she breaks the fourth wall...
    ...and comes out of the room on the next page, her hair a mess, saying "Yeah, yeah, I know none of them was the real Mistah J... ...But I hadda make sure."

    The fake Jokers, meanwhile, are all drawn with their lipstick smeared al over their faces and their hair tousled—so she apparently just smooched them all. Don't use that much imagination!

    Day Three, drawn by Marco Failla, finds Harley partying with a limo full of Harley cosplayers, all of whom are dressed as different versions of her. They say they want to go out for a night of mayhem, but, not realizing that Harley's the real Harley, they turn out not to be ready for her brand of mayhem.

    Day Four brings us more DC cameos and in-jokes, including the bizarre one I ranted and raved about the other day. Dan DiDio is being interviewed in front of a television camera, and the interview consists of him rambling a bunch of jokes that seem to be at his own expense...
    ...but then there's that weird bit about editorial oversight, and I'm not even sure I get it. In the previous panel, they were taking something absolutely real and true—DC's dumb September events with gimmick covers that proved hard and expensive to create, according to DC—and exaggerating it for comedic effect.

    But then, in the next panel, he's talking about how they're launching a new line with no editorial input, just creators going crazy and doing what they want (that is, how most of the comics that aren't produced by DC, Marvel and some part of a few other publishers' lines are produced), but that's not an exaggeration of something true, but the exact opposite of the current situation.

    So while the sequence starts out by making fun of DiDio, it then seems to pivot to having DiDio making fun of...DC Comics readers? Again?

    And then there's the weird swipe at Marvel, in which Harley Quinn, currently starring in a book that is basically just DC's answer to Deadpool's recent success, laments that they "aren't looking for anything new or original."
    And then the day closes with a brief, un-embarrassing cameo by Geoff Johns...
    What's with the hat, I wonder? Has Johns got a little bald spot going? If so, just shave your head, man! Embrace baldness! It's very freeing!

    Day Five, and it's time for a Jim Lee joke! Jim Lee—also wearing a baseball cap!—reviews Harley's portfolio in a six-panel sequence, in which thoughts race through her head in very wordy thought bubbles, as Lee silently looks at her work and she tries to guess what he's thinking, growing angrier and angrier until he says something nice at the end, and she skips away, overjoyed.

    This lead to my favorite gag in the comic, a reference to Stan Lee: "I could give a crap his dad created all those other comic characters for that other company!"
    Doesn't hurt to kiss the boss' ass now and then, I guess.

    And then we finally, finally get to the final pair of gags, on Day Six. Handsome actor Steve Amell is talking to a group of fans—I don't watch Arrow, so I didn't recognize him with his shirt on until the dialogue offered a clue as to who he was—while a security detail that looks like Secret Service keep them at bay. Harley charges through the crowd, screaming about how she simply has to get this guy to sign her autograph book and when Amell offers, she pushes him aside to approach, "Bruce Timm! My hero!" She fawns over Timm and Paul Dini, her creators, before trying to get her hands on a copy of Batman Adventures #12, her own first comic book appearance.

    The dealer will sell it to her for "about three hundred bucks," which, wait, is that how much those are going for? Because I'm pretty sure I've got one in a long box in the tomb-like structure of longboxes in my ancestral home. Do I really have a comic book that might actually be worth some amount of money?

    I hope so. This Harley Quinn special, on the other hand? I wouldn't all it "worthless," as there are a few gags that land, there's some great art, and it offers the always welcome opportunity to see Paul Pope and Damion Scott in action, but it's not what I'd call a fine comic book.

    Or even a Very Good or Good one. Maybe Fair/Good...? Or Fair? Let's go with Fair/Good.

    1 comment:

    Bram said...

    I'm … I'm not gonna get into the meta-meta-ness of this all, which I'm totally not following.

    Just going to note that Dave Johnson is colorist extraordinaire (Hellboy, etc.) and amazing cover artist (100 Bullets etc, and Coffin Hill, which I have an odd fondness for).