Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hard To Hoot For: Harley Quinn: Hot In The City!

The Good: Amusing, Amazing artwork, Neat character twist
The Bad: Generally mundane plot, Very little character development, "Cool" factor is used to outweigh reason.
The Basics: Harley Quinn: Hot In The City compiles the stories that kick off Harley Quinn's solo storyline . . . with a truly mixed bag of elements.

As part of my lead-up to Suicide Squad tomorrow night, I'm continuing to review as many DC Comics-related products as I can find in my collection that I have not yet reviewed! I thought, given how heavily Harley Quinn has been promoted in the advertising blitz for Suicide Squad that it would behoove me to read at least one, full, Harley Quinn graphic novel. Applying that logic, I chose to start at the beginning - or the recent beginning - with Harley Quinn: Hot In The City. My only prejudice going into Harley Quinn: Hot In The City was the thought that Margot Robbie is hotpants was fun, of course, but did not a character make. My hope in reading Harley Quinn: Hot In The City was that I might find out what has made Quinn so popular, outside her physicality.

Harley Quinn: Hot In The City is part of the New-52 reboot from DC comics and the book gives Quinn a chance to explore life as a solo act, away from the Gotham City Sirens and Suicide Squad. Writers Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti do a decent job of not completely isolating Harley Quinn in Harley Quinn: Hot In The City by having Poison Ivy pop up for some key moments. Almost immediately, Harley Quinn: Hot In The City establishes an atmosphere of fun by breaking the fourth wall in a prequel that allows over a dozen artists to contribute pages and play with various notions about Harley Quinn - her psychotic nature, her violence, her sex appeal. The prequel ends with the essential set-up for the rest of the book, including setting up the visual style that artists Stephane Roux and Chad Hardin and colorists Paul Mounts and Alex Sinclair utilize for the story.

When one of her former Arkham Asylum patients dies and The Joker blows up her Gotham City storage locker, Harley Quinn decides to move to Coney Island. Her former patient left her an apartment building in their will and Quinn settles in to managing the four-story building. Her life is almost instantly beset by two issues: financially maintaining the building and avoiding hired assassins who are hunting her. Harley Quinn takes in a dog (to accompany her dead, stuffed beaver whose voice she hears in her head!) and finds that to maintain the property, it will cost $6,000/month and she sets out to get gainfully employed. After breaking out a kill-shelter's endangered animal population with the help of Poison Ivy and surviving the effects of berries that make any man she encounters try to lustily take her, she takes a day job as a therapist at a nursing home.

The nursing home job proves to be too much for Quinn in many ways; she is emotionally unable to detach from the emotional stories her patients tell her. As a result, she abducts the neglectful family of one of the residents . . . only to discover that her patient has Alzheimer's. She is approached by Sy Borgman, another resident, who has a fifty year-old mission he wants Quinn's aid in completing. After hunting down former-Soviet mobsters, Quinn returns to her apartment building to find Poison Ivy there waiting with two more incapacitated hitmen. With Ivy's help, Harley Quinn discovers who put the hit out on her and the pair (with the help of Big Tony)

InHarley Quinn: Hot In The City, Harley Quinn is portrayed as socially awkward and schizophrenic. Her stuffed beaver starts as an amusing way to make some jokes about vaginas, but it slowly develops into a somewhat disturbing way for Quinn to deliver exposition and inner thoughts. This is almost as problematic as the final chapter, which is essentially a denouement for the main story and an introduction of the next major thread; the transition being, I kid not, a shit-flinging catapult.

Between the gross-out factor of the final chapter and the pretty consistent carnage throughout Harley Quinn: Hot In The City, the book feels like Conner and Palmiotti are trying to write a PG-13 Deadpool book that might appeal to young women as well as geeky guys. The result is a book that is high on flash, a little lighter on substance than I enjoy.

It's not all bad in Harley Quinn: Hot In The City, of course. In chapter four, there is an awesome reference to A New Hope (reviewed here!) that every geek will instantly recognize and appreciate. Playing Harley Quinn as Han Solo is playful and a cool way to characterize the antihero as a rogue. The problem, however, is the humorous allusion comes after readers have already seen Quinn violently dispose of her would-be assailants. In other words; readers already know she has a willingness to use lethal force and has a playful side to her.

By the sixth chapter, Harley Quinn begins to feel like a sidekick in her own work. Giving heavy roles to Sy Borg and Poison Ivy, the writers inadvertently highlight the fundamental problem with Quinn headlining her own book - she has an unclear skill set, tormented backstory, and what seems to be her appeal (outside her physicality) is in her unpredictable nature. Recasting Quinn as a landlord is a stroke of creative genius, but her utilizing roller derby as an outlet for her frustration quickly turns to the predictable violence that she is unable to contain. The established character is more erratic and violent than she is skilled, which forces the writers to give her a sidekick (her dead beaver) and two skilled operatives who swoop into the narrative to give Quinn both direction and an actual story.

What is consistently cool is the artwork. Harley Quinn: Hot In The City is one of the most lushly-colored mainstream graphic novels from The New 52. Every frame (after the experimental prequel) features instantly recognizable characters and a generally good sense of movement.

Alas, the artwork is not enough to make the otherwise mediocre book seem extraordinary. If Harley Quinn: Hot In The City truly embodies the anti-heroic female, Suicide Squad should be a lot of fun and look good, but the much-touted protagonist might be way too far down the murderous road to truly rally behind. Certainly, that is how Quinn is in Harley Quinn: Hot In The City.

For other New-52 reboot graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
Green Lantern: Sinestro
Wonder Woman: Blood
Supergirl: Last Daughter Of Krypton
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman
Red Lanterns: Blood And Rage
Justice League: Origins
Trinity War
Green Lantern New Guardians: The Ring Bearer
The Flash: Move Along
Forever Evil


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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