Though she’s always maintained an admirable level of popularity amongst comic book fans, Harley Quinn has really been in the limelight as of late thanks to her appearance in the much-maligned film Suicide Squad–in fact, Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the character was one of the lone bright spots of the film. That means there are more eyes on Harley than ever before, which makes the recent hardcover release Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh all the more interesting. Is it good?
Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh (DC Comics)
Creative team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have become synonymous with Harley Quinn, and for good reason–they combine to absolutely nail the character’s idiosyncrasies, style, and mannerisms. You can hear Harley talking in your head as you read her dialogue, which is such a big win for a character driven story such as this one. The appeal to this arc (and most every other Harley Quinn arc) is watching how Harley reacts to the situation she’s placed in, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic representation of a character anywhere else. And when we’re talking about a character as, well, batshit insane as Harley Quinn, that means you’re in for one hell of a fun read.
In a nutshell, Harley is attempting to break current main squeeze Mason Macabre out of prison, but in the process inadvertently gets him sent off to a place Harley is unfortunately more than familiar with–Arkham Asylum! This also means, of course, that Harley will have to confront the man who’s had more of a profound impact on her life than anyone else, The Joker. This makes for a classic Harley Quinn tale because after all, what’s Harley without her puddin’?
I’m not sure there’s a book on the shelves that nails the personality of its main character better than this one. Harley’s dialogue is filled with razor sharp wit and flows at a frenetic pace, almost to the point of sounding unnatural, yet remains just personable enough to never take you out of the moment. It’s like you’re reading a Kevin Smith script (I’m sure his daughter, actually named Harley Quinn Smith, would approve).
I did not read this arc as it came out in single issues, so my perspective is from that of reading this in one sitting as a collected volume. In that setting, it works and works well. However, I could see reading this issue by issue may have caused the story to slog on a bit at points. There are some stretches where not a lot happens, but Harley’s (and even most of the supporting casts’) bonkers personality is usually enough to keep things entertaining. Great dialogue doesn’t excuse some massive exposition drops, though, especially when it’s coming out of the mouth of someone other than Quinn.
In a lot of ways this feels like a classic Harley Quinn story, which is a good thing. It combines a lot of the new (her gang of Harleys, Mason Macabre), with the aspects that makes her who she is (Arkham Asylum, The Joker). It also balances the very dark aspects of her character with the more…ahem…eccentric aspects very well.
Enough about the writing, though–the artwork is just as essential to this book, if not more so. Palmiotti depicts Harley and friends in a style that’s cartoonish, but not overly simple. It reflects the comic’s world very well–it’s off the wall and an unreality in every sense of the word, yet you’re never taken out of the scene.
Harley (as well as her gang)’s facial expressions are always on point, which serves to amplify the humor and emotion behind the story and the dialogue. It’s not all zany silliness, though–when the script calls for violence and gore, it’s rendered in an eye-catching manner, with bright reds that accentuate all the sadistic ways Harley and her gang incapacitate her foes.
The artwork always rewards you for soaking in the scene and spotting little details as well. Whether it’s the “capitalist swine” sign awaiting Harley at JFK airport, or Mason Macabre’s prisoner number being 8675309, the technically proficient artwork is littered with in-jokes and easter eggs within its usually wonderfully detailed backgrounds.
Is It Good?
Harley Quinn Vol. 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh is the perfect cure to your Harley-hysteria. Whether you were introduced to the character by Suicide Squad and want more, or a die-hard fan of Daddy’s Little Monster, this volume will satisfy just about everyone.