Harley’s pleas for peace from the recent barrage of negativity in her life reverberate against cold, winter air. As if on cue, ethereal, blue flames sizzle across the dark, night sky. “Harleen Quinzel…” a voice beckons with valley girl inflection, “You have been chosen.” The Lords of Chaos and Order have sent their herald, Mirand’r of Tamaran, to present Harley with an offer she can’t refuse: Endure a gauntlet of six soul-searching trials and become The Galactic Angel of Retribution. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones searching for Quinn. A murder implicating the Clown Princess of Crime has brought Batman to her doorstep.
“Blah, blah, blah, okay, okay, stop! Is the first trial you borin’ me to death? You had me at flaming sword!”
Between all of the multiverse ending crises, divisive wars, emotional deaths, and triumphant returns, I think one of the things that largely gets forgotten is that comic books can be fun. This isn’t to say that comics shouldn’t be meaningful or provide social commentary. Rather, I’m saying that sometimes the overall product is improved when these two things can be accomplished together. With Harley Quinn #57, Sam Humphries expertly balances the inherent silliness of silver age stories with intimate character moments.
Humphries accomplishes this balance by integrating these devious, otherworldly trials with a murder mystery intent on discrediting Harley’s attempt at reform. Although it has not been stated specifically in-story yet, my speculation is that Harley’s recent framing is actually the first trial she must face from the Lords of Chaos and Order. Harley states that she plans to start the trials once her mother is better. However, the personal nature of this mystery evokes Mirand’r’s warning that the trials will play upon her worst fears. This particular trial seeks to exploit her anxiety surrounding the notion that she is irredeemable.
One of the prevailing questions that I have had since reading issue #55 was whether or not we would see any payoff following the reveal that her mother has cancer. Humphries does an excellent job setting up the conflict by framing the trials with a visit to her mother. By having the hospital security ask her to leave her mother’s side due to her prior criminal activities, Humphries sets the theme for the upcoming trial. This also helps to sow the seeds of insecurity within the character and further drive her combative nature when dealing with Batman.
“Oh Ho Ho. Wow. Great! Wonderful! Stupendous!”
However, none of this would work without Humphries’s great character work on Harley. Humphries accomplishes something here that I never would have imagined possible: He makes Harley relatable. Well, as relatable as a violent (ex-) supervillain who has tormented an entire city can be. I think every one of us has made a mistake in our lifetime that caused others to hastily judge or even punish us. Perhaps it wasn’t anything quite as heinous as poisoning an entire city’s supply of sugar cereal (I plead the fifth) but I think we can all sympathize with this experience.
Additionally, Humphries’ work with Harley’s dialogue is part of what makes the issue so enjoyable. Harley’s responses to each new challenge continue to make me smile. She often reminds me of things that my inner monologue is screaming but my mind decides to censor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention John Timms’ art and Alex Sinclair’s colors. Timms’ art when combined with Sinclair’s colors wonderfully convey Harley’s more personal moments, Mirand’r’s Tamaranean powers, the crime scene as well as the battle with Batman. Each scene expertly conveys the necessary tone while also retaining visual consistency throughout the issue. One of my favorite pages involves Harley’s isolation on a white page before being apprehended in darkness by Batman. The tilted panels are an excellent visual of conveying the inner turmoil Harley is experiencing. Additionally, Timms’ take on the Dark Knight has me clamoring for more images of his Caped Crusader.
“See?! I Can Bring Up Hurtful Things, Too!”
There is only one minor problem that I have with the issue. In one panel, the proportion of Batman’s arms appears to change. It is such a minor thing that it was hardly worth mentioning, but when first reading the issue, I remember being taken aback by the fact that Batman’s arms looked so much smaller than his torso. Upon further readings, I think it has something to do with how the image was colored.
Overall, Harley Quinn #57 is an excellent introduction to “The Trials of Harley Quinn.” Sam Humphries finds the perfect balance between the inherent silliness of silver age stories with intimate character moments. These character moments, when combined with excellent visuals and dialogue, go a long way in making the issue resonate with readers. My only question is whether or not we will truly see her overcome these trials and become an agent of retribution.