Review: Harley Quinn Volume 1: Hot in the City

The influence of Deadpool comics is really quite apparent in DC’s current Harley Quinn series; she’s a nutty killer who doesn’t take anything seriously and finds herself talking to both the reader and to herself. Thankfully, however, Harley Quinn, a comic co-written by couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner and primarily drawn by Chad Hardin, doesn’t feel overly derivative. There is enough uniqueness to the way this book operates that the Deadpool comparison is easy to forget while reading. It’s also important to note that having something like this, shining a silly light in a cave of grim and gritty darkness, taking place in a modern DC comic is special. The first nine issues of this comic, collected in Harley Quinn Volume 1: Hot in the City, form a great read that offers loads of funny, simple fun, even though it isn’t very consistent in quality.

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While not without the rare instance of groan-worthy, juvenile humor that vaguely objectifies particularly attractive women, Harley Quinn is largely sex-positive and empowering when it comes to its portrayal of sexuality. The titular main character, along with Poison Ivy, a reoccurring character used to pal around with Harley, is sexually playful, but the sense that they are in control and comfortable is always clear. The characters are also ethically complex, but this dynamic is handled with intelligent care; for example, when Harley takes up a part-time therapy gig, she doesn’t do anything offensive that will upset those emotionally invested in issues of mental health.

Fortunately, Harley Quinn’s first volume treads careful ground and offers light-hearted entertainment that is easy-to-read. The characterization of Harley works incredibly well, embodying an infectious, care-free brand of goofy sociopathic behavior with some heart. Harley just wants to have fun, which for her means loads of violence, loads of food, and loads of cute animals. Every now and then that quest for a good time is interrupted by an impassioned tangent from Harley. Often, these little bits manage to be more touching than what one would expect.

The book is all over the place in terms of plot, but this is rarely a cause for concern. Various plot threads are touched upon for just a little while before the book moves on, but at the end of the day, no subplot is particularly substantial enough to need that much attention. A lot is built in this series in terms of supporting cast and activities for Harley to partake in, all carried along with another simple, overarching plot point that ties every issue together. Most issues more or less work on their own, all the while crafting a bigger narrative that is fun in its totality.

To the book’s detriment, the quality isn’t linear either. The first issue, featuring a ton of fourth-wall breaking comedy that ends up incorporating a cavalcade of big name DC artists, is fantastic fun that is never exactly matched by later efforts. Sometimes, a particular issue isn’t as solid as the average attempt, dragging down the pacing. Towards the middle, particularly in a two-issue arc found in issues five and six, certain sequences come off as rushed and to a certain extent, dull. The comedy is usually sound, but every now and then it gets a bit uncomfortable; the most striking example is in the fourth issue, featuring some violence towards a young boy that proves unnerving.

The art style of Harley Quinn is largely safe, but still compelling in its technical proficiency and emotive sense of style. Page layouts are standard, but the sense of movement and display of facial emotion works as good as one would want. While not remarkable in this regard, the book manages to look and feel exciting and energetic. There is plenty of color and detail, with solid background work as well. The medium of sequential art is also put to great work here when it comes to comedy; panels bereft of dialogue that work mainly to get across a character’s facial reaction to something ridiculous are plentiful and end up being hilarious.

All in all, Hot in the City is a load of fun that is easy to enjoy. It doesn’t maintain a consistent quality, but it’s always enjoyable to some extent: generally a great extent. Anyone looking to get a laugh out of something in DC’s lineup would be hard-pressed to find something better.

Story: Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner Art: Chad Hardin
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

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DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review