I love Harley Quinn. I have since her debut on Batman: The Animated Series, and I’ve loved seeing the different incarnations she has taken over the years. Seeing Harley take off in her own series and finally tear herself away from the Joker has been a real pleasure. That’s why the title of this collection had me truly concerned. Luckily for me, and Harley I suppose, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have the pale-skinned psychopath’s best interests at heart. Let’s dive into Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Joker Loves Harley and sort out the Good, the Bad and the Wonderful.
Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Chad Hardin, John Timms
Publisher: DC Comics
Harley’s agency. Once we hit the meat of the story arc with Harley reigniting her work life in Brooklyn and her personal life with her collective of freaks and friends, she comes at everything from a position of power. Gone is the submissive Harley of old. Her having it out with the Crown Prince of Crime snapped the final cord that held her down, tied to a legacy of abuse and mistreatment. His return in this volume, rather than returning Harley to her previous submissive state, brings out the punishing version of Harley that is in strong contrast to the fun-loving, naked-romping woman we see in the opening and closing stories. Joker was warned and Harley truly meant it. Meanwhile, superfriend Red Tool tries to intervene on Harley’s behalf in a vain attempt to win her love and scare the Joker back to Gotham. Harley’s response is to berate the lovesick hero and threaten to cut all ties with him for daring to try and save her from something he simply cannot understand.
Vampires. Oh yeah, we’ve got some straight-up baddies coming down the pike. No ambiguity here: Eurotrash vampires being brought into the city by the mayor’s new assistant to aid in reducing the homeless population. Love it.
The Return of The Joker. I get it. The Joker is the strongest character relationship in Harley’s existence. She had the knockdown, dragout fight with him in Arkham to free herself, but we just can’t resist pulling them back together, can we? She dreams in odd parodies of old movies, like The Wizard of Oz, that she and Mistah J get back together, only to have her therapist interpret those dreams to mean anything else. When Joker comes back into the picture, he claims to be a changed man, wanting only to have a relationship. Another Harley dream sequence puts her struggling between visions of the “good” in their relationship, including future walks with their triplets, and the physical and emotional abuse that Joker laid upon her time and time again.
Now, things end very differently than we might have expected, with the real Joker having manipulated a troubled man into undergoing plastic surgery and a bleaching chemical bath to imitate him and get in good with Harley. This poor, deluded man encountered Harley once talked down and into an institution where he could get the help he needed. Instead, he was used by Joker to punish Harley, turned into a pawn in a horrible game played from afar. In the end, he admits to having gone on a crime spree, ending in the deaths of several dozen people. This revelation and the true hatred Harley feels for Joker brings the chapter to an end with a very final bang.
I found this setup to be an attempt to squeeze one last use out of the Joker/Harley relationship, and it just wasn’t needed for her story. She is much better served being removed from even any mention of her former boss/lover.
Harley is love. Harley has had several relationships since moving out on her own, none stronger than her BFF/FWB tie to Poison Ivy. In the first story, the two take a vacation to Sy Borgman’s nudist resort island where the two spend time relaxing and searching their feelings for what may come next. While the relationship may be more friendship than romantic, there is true emotion there between the characters. Red Tool’s unrequited love for Harley is rebuffed, but in the most gentle way, showing Harley’s caring side towards her friends. The best scene that shows who Harley Quinn can be comes right before the reintroduction of The Joker, where Harley meets a homeless man who never went home after his wife died. He admits that she was his home and he is just waiting to join her. The sentiment is so straight-forward and so deeply moving. Harley says nothing, but embraces the man, sharing his pain.
One of the things lost in the exploration of Harley Quinn is her capacity for love and empathy. She was a psychologist for a reason. She was brought down the wrong path by the most manipulative villain in the DC Universe, but she still maintains the strong emotional attachment to people and tragedy that would have brought her into her chosen career in the first place. Every time Harley is with her friends and partners, this side shines. This is the Harley that can be a true help to the people of Brooklyn.