Since her initial debut on the beloved Batman: The Animated Series in September, 1992, Harley Quinn has undergone quite a few changes, but perhaps none more drastic than that shown in this week’s new release, Harley Quinn #42: Old Lady Harley. She is an unfeeling quip machine essentially sidekicked with a Deadpool knock-off and a cast of characters that are a bad parody and betrayal of her well-developed team from the critically-acclaimed Palmiotti/Conner days. Oh, did you think I was talking about her costume? Yeah, that’s different too.
So, Red Tool, fully in his Deadpool, pants-pooping, fast-joking mode, has Harley strapped to the front of his car, Mad Max-style in a pointless race through the ruined boroughs of New York, bringing Harley back to Coney Island, the place she once called home. Along the way, we learn how everyone she cared about has betrayed each other and some have even spawned inbred, mutant rape-gangs. How fun.
I’m not going to go any further into the actual comic. I’m embarrassed for this book, truly I am. I don’t know why it was written or why it was published. Is this a weird dream sequence revolving around Harley’s abandonment of the Coney Island gang meant to move us in some way that the recent issues haven’t? The only successful, unaltered member of the original crew left is Frank Frank, the proprietor of odd trinkets, who now runs a nationwide chain of pervy emporiums (the Malibu Stormy Daniels joke isn’t going to last, by the way). Oh, speaking of Frank Frank. Last we saw him, he was getting together with Coach, the blind, wheelchair-bound brians of the unit. Well, according to Red Tool, Harley married him at some point in the 30 years that have passed since. She has also married Tony, Red Tool, Poison Ivy, Nightwing, Killer Croc, Catwoman, and the head of Gary Busey. Well, there goes the constantly teased, actual relationship between Harley and Ivy, which seems to have died with the end of the Palmiotti/Conner run.
Gone as well is Harley’s actual agency and choice in her life. She is kidnapped by Tool to deal with the warring Gangs of Harley, all of whom are led by pun-derful stereotypes that should be shameful, but they’re stuck in a book full of things I wouldn’t have expected a year ago, so who knows. There’s Carli Quinn, who murdered Huckleberry Hound somehow, Lady Harlem Quinn, complete with faux-Wakanda chic headress, Bolly Quinn, who is just Indian I guess, and Harvey Quinns, who is Kuato from Total Recall (the good one) with drag queens. And Harley shows them all the error of their ways by hitting them with baseball bats and then leaving. Again. The final insult comes at the end of the book where it is announced that May of 2018 will be when the work done to remove Harley from under the thumb of the Joker, both in the storyline and in the more meta character work possible with such a strong, female protagonist, in Harley Loves Joker #1. Because that’s what we want to see. An abusive relationship brought back to the pages of DC Comics.
I have come to really enjoy Harley Quinn and the stories of her Coney Island crew, separate and apart from the mayhem that was her old life. The idea that there just might be a relationship between Harley and Ivy presented what could have been the highest profile queer couple in comics. In the past several months, however, all of the credibility bought with the expert and nuanced storytelling — mixed judiciously with actually funny jokes and puns — has been squandered, as Harley is headed back towards being an afterthought in the DC Universe within her own story. Maybe the future for her is the announced New Gods interaction or her work on the new Justice League, but, as an independent character, her days are numbered.