Review: Harley Quinn #53
In Part One of the “Minor Disasters” story arc of Harley Quinn, writer Sam Humphries takes us on a fun romp through the world of Harley as she works on maintaining her internet stardom. I wish that my previous sentence was leading somewhere awesome and that wasn’t the whole story but, unfortunately that’s it.
Harley is no longer a social justice warrior, saving the missing homeless, protecting her neighborhood, or any of the good that she’s been doing. Instead, she’s fallen in line with the rest of the basics and is solely concerned with maintaining her internet stardom.
The issue starts off with her saving Coney Island from an Orc while trying to rack up major views on her channel and ends with her being embarrassed by a video where she trashes her fans is accidentally uploaded, possibly ending her internet reign and killing her fan base.
The things that happen in between the pages of these two events is nothing short of mind boggling. The major villain in this arc is Minor Disaster, the isolated and approval seeking daughter of Major Disaster. After a series of unanswered texts and calls to her father she sets out to make her absentee dad notice her she sets her sites on the latest internet sensation, Harley Quinn. Her logic is that her dad thinks Harley is a joke so, the best way to get his (male) attention is for her to take down (another woman) Harley. So, she stalks her and waits for her chance to catch Harley at a weak point , where she is lamenting about the toll pleasing her fans and “management” team are taking on her and use that to destroy her. The big bad in this issue is a female villain who isn’t very good at being a villain and is seeking validation through a mans a approval. Harley’s big mission on this story arc is shaping up to be centered on Harley, restoring her good name with Tina’s help because, despite what the previous issues have told us, Harley’s biggest concern is what others think of her.
For Harley’s part, she finds herself at the mercy of her team who want her to get her already high numbers up, please her fan base and never ever get “real” or emotionally because that’s not what sells. It kind of hurts to see Harley in such a powerless position, especially since the Harley we had gotten used to was all about girl power and being a bad ass and not caring what other people thought. Humphries seems to think the best direction for Harley to go is down to a base level, where pleasing others and giving up herself as tribute to the will others is her biggest concern and only course of action. It’s such a step backwards that, I can only assume that this episode will turn out to be some elaborate dream sequence that we will all laugh at when the arc is over. The issue seems to take pleasure in showing all of the surface boiler plate women in comics tropes and none of the breaking out of the box assigned to us empowerment stories that we had become so accustomed to and rooted for. We got a total of four pages of Harley having agency in a 32 page issue and both times, she was put back into her place by either her handlers or her fear of “exposure” to her fans. The disturbing part was that in her realist and most honest points in the issue, she was told by others that her emotions and feeling were essentially wrong, inconvenient and that they need to be locked away because no one wanted to see them. It was the comic book equivalent of a man telling a woman walking down the street to “smile”.
If I had to look for a positive in this off-putting issue, it would be Lucas Werneck provides the pop centric aesthetically pleasing art work that is full of cuteness and fun while Alex Sinclair makes the art work come to life with his use of sleek, bubble gum colors. Everything from the attention to detail to the way the characters hair color pops makes #53 a pretty little comic. The panels seem to tell a story all their own and are so breathtaking that you can figure out what’s going on by just looking at them. In fact what the artists call on and evoke is what I wished was going on, a real story with Harley as hero, fighting for the little guy and saving Coney Island, or the world.
There are some undertones that call out the cult of celebrity and internet stardom into the foreground and somehow that works with this particular incarnation of the Harley story but, that says a lot about the story that Humphries is telling. With everything going on in the country , I liked knowing Harley was slaying the big machine on the pages of her comic book but, if this issue is any indication, those days are long gone. The start of this story arc isn’t big on girl power or addressing real societal problems like the previous writers focused on, it’s not as bad as it could be Harley didn’t end up back with the Joker, and the artists didn’t use whole panels to perpetuate a male gaze but, that isn’t a very high bar to set. This issue signals a return to a slightly vapid, Harley who finds herself under the control of fame and handlers ,instead of the thumb of the Joker. Basically trading one fickle toxic relationship for another and killing any growth that the past few years have brought her.
Overall this issue feels like a step backwards from the strong independent, bad ass, morally ambiguous but, always down for saving those who have nothing Harley that we had grown to love. While Harley Quinn #53 isn’t a full nail in my Harley loving coffin, it’s not exactly where I thought things were going when the baton was passed. If you take the issue as it is and for what it is, it’s a quick, fun, basic read and nowhere near the page turner , thought provoking Harley we had grown to love and root for. I’m hoping that the arc picks up and, that Humphries gives Harley something real to fight for, instead of her reputation or fame and we get a real taste at the feminist icon we know is hiding in Harley’s newly revamped shell. She’s deserves it and so do we.
Story: Sam Humphries Artist: Lucas Werneck
Story: 5.7 Art: 8.9 Overall: 6.4 Recommendation: Read
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review