Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Fourth Wall Shatters For A Ridiculous Team-Up In Harley Quinn: Power Outage!

The Good: Some fun lines, Generally good artwork, Sense of scope
The Bad: Utterly ridiculous plot, Fourth-wall breaks are incongruent with the story that preceded it, Generally exploitative of Quinn and Power Girl.
The Basics: Harley Quinn: Power Outage pairs Harley Quinn and Power Girl for a fairly lackluster adventure that sweeps them across time and space in a fight against villains ridiculous.

For those of us who are fans of well-written graphic novels, it is utterly unsurprising that the film Suicide Squad (reviewed here!) is doing exceptionally well at the box office. In addition to August being historically plagued by weak releases, Suicide Squad is buoyed by an exceptionally popular anti-hero protagonist in the form of Harley Quinn. While the cinematic representation of Harley Quinn is popular for obvious reasons, most basically the physique of Margot Robbie, I've been trying to discover what made the character so popular before she hit the big screen. To that end, I picked up the anthology Harley Quinn: Power Outage.

Harley Quinn: Power Outage picks up where Hot In The City (reviewed here!) left Harley Quinn and is comprised of the five chapters of Harley Quinn books, plus three supplements. Harley Quinn: Power Outage is marginally interesting on its own, but highly incongruent with the volume that preceded it. In many ways, all the two volumes have in common is that Harley Quinn has moved to Brooklyn and joined a roller derby team. That and the addition of Big Tony as a character to Quinn's narrative are the common threads in two very different stories.

Tony asks Harley to stand in in a burlesque show he is producing where he asks her to play a 1950's sexy alien character for an actress who had to bail on the play. Unfortunately, when it comes to a kiss scene, Tony's direction is to treat the woman on stage with her like her ex-boyfriend and Harley Quinn freaks out, recalling how poorly The Joker treated her. When the police come to arrest her, Quinn finds herself abducted by a rabid fan. After talking her way out of becoming part of his collection, Quinn and Sy Borgman go to Quinn's roller derby fight club. Quinn is initially excited at the prospect of a no-rules fight, but she is pitted against a giant woman who has a 40-0 win/loss record and she begins pounding the crap out of Quinn. After Sy gives Quinn a way to win her match, she is disqualified and she meets Mason, a man who flees the moment the police pass by.

While Harley Quinn is getting her butt kicked by Maria, in a distant galaxy, a couple that is bent on world domination unleashes their captive creature to kill their enemy when it turns on them. Their adversary, Power Girl, crashes to Earth on the beach Quinn is at and with the help of Mason and Big Tony, Quinn gets her back to her apartment building. There, she discovers Power Girl has lost her memory, so Quinn has one of her tenants make matching outfits for her and Power Girl. After waking Power Girl up, Quinn tries to convince her that they are roommates and that Power Girl works by day as a strongwoman in the freak show downstairs. On a trip to the mall, the duo encounters Sports Master and Clock King, who teleport them to a distant world. After a trip through space, a fight with a piece of space pizza and a fight with Manos and his children, the pair passes back through the ring to the mall. After a surprisingly brutal fight with Sports Master and Clock King (which involves the latter going back a minute in time to save his comrade from his own bomb), Quinn and Power Girl have a heart to heart and their partnership comes to an abrupt end.

Then, there is a one-shot that features Harley Quinn at Comic-Con interacting with fans and cosplayers as if they are really her friends and adversaries.

Harley Quinn: Power Outage includes a number of fourth-wall breaks, including a reference to Daredevil, which is odd given Daredevil is a Marvel Comics book. The whole experience with Edwin the abductor hinges on an unsettling break in the fourth wall (why would young people at a comic book shop know anything about a psychotherapist, now-landlord?) that makes Quinn seem like a lame attempt for the character to be Deadpool. Similarly, the reference to Manos in the penultimate chapter seems like a somewhat lazy poke at Marvel Comics (has no one in Marvel's pantheon truly ever asked what Thanos intends after he gains control of the universe?!).

The whole skate fight club seems like a cheap excuse to have Harley and her friends do some skinny dipping, which falls on the heels of Harley kissing another woman in the burlesque show. The result is that Harley Quinn: Power Outage opens with a strong exploitative feel to it that does not gel with the prior graphic novel. Similarly, Power Girl's presence in Harley Quinn: Power Outage might lead to a number of mildly amusing jokes, but it's hard not to gripe about just how much of the book is spent exploiting the way Harley Quinn and Power Girl look. For sure, Quinn's Power Girl-esque outfit is fun (especially from the back!), but after Quinn psychoanalyzes Edwin, her part in the book is largely an obvious sex symbol without anything nearly as cerebral to it.

Harley Quinn: Power Outage looks good, but the chapters that feature Power Girl do not ultimately advance Quinn's character. Quinn tries her old tricks on a new mark and while the process is enjoyable to read once, it does not excitingly advance the character in any meaningful way. The result is that Harley Quinn: Power Outage is an insular, self-referential book that does not hold up well over multiple readings.

For other New-52 reboot graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside
Green Lantern: The End
Wonder Woman: Bones
Supergirl: Girl In The World
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman
Red Lanterns: Blood And Rage
Justice League: Origins
Trinity War
Green Lantern New Guardians: The Ring Bearer
The Flash: Rogues Revolution
Forever Evil


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

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