Overview: Get a beverage of choice and settle in. There’s a ton of Harley coming your way and it’s colorful and fun in the Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: “Uncommon Bonds” by writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Chad Hardin
Synopsis: The first story in Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1 sees Harley holding hostage a would-be thief. Red Tool is hacking into the thieves’ computer and finds something. In the Batcave, Batman is battling a cold with the help of Alfred’s chicken soup. Alfred tries to go to sleep, only to find Harley in the bed next to him with an array of weaponry, ready to defend Wayne Manor. Over coffee, Harley professes her intention to protect Bruce Wayne. Intruders attempt to infiltrate the manor at the south gate.
Alfred and Harley intercept the intruders and later on have a feast prepared by Alfred. Harley leaves, full and happy.
Analysis: I do not care for the Harley Quinn written by Conner & Palmiotti. She veers far too close to Bubble Gum Harley, a representation I despise, and there’s little of the perspicacity and emotional intelligence explored in more mature Harley narratives. In short, this Harley feels like Harlequin, an important origin source for the character but one that has long since reached its limits. It’s sweet to see Harley and Alfred together but there are better stories centering on their relationship as well.
Story #2: “Cease and Decease” by writer Rafael Scavone and artist Rafael Albuquerque
Synopsis: Harley and a hero named “Fifteen Minutes Man” are on Oolong Island in the Pacific Ocean. They discuss his branding as they infiltrate some nameless base with nameless villains. Harley races into a room only to find kidnapped children being forced to manufacture Justice League toys. Fifteen Minutes Man begins beeping and Harley realizes he is the incendiary she was promised by Ms. Waller. Harley saves the kids, the explosion occurs, and Harley is awaiting exfiltration by helicopter.
Analysis: There’s very little to this story; it reads like a super basic Suicide Squad tie-in.
Story #3: “Submissive” by writer and artist Stjepan Šejić
Synopsis: The third story in Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1 has Harley holding a gun to the Penguin’s head. In her inner monologue, she is cursing Selina. Flashback a few hours ago in Harley’s apartment and Catwoman is sitting on Harley’s window sill. Harley is purging her place of all things Joker. Catwoman gently mocks her, noting that she was merely Joker’s submissive. Harley objects and Catwoman elaborates persuasively. Harley angers and professes her intention to assert dominance. She works her way up to the Penguin before Poison Ivy herself appears.
Ivy charms Harley instantly and it takes Harley a few moments to realize she has simply transferred her submission to Ivy rather than Joker. Flashback to three days earlier, where Catwoman is explaining to Ivy that she believes that Harley is a submissive. The story ends with Ivy asking Catwoman to continue.
Analysis: Unless I am mistaken, this is only the second or third Harley story Šejić has written since his stunning Harleen. Harleen is a tour de force that rewrites Harley’s origin narrative, deepens her character, and integrates dark and horror motifs without flattening her into a Manichean villain. His artwork is also stunning, blending realism and eroticism in ways that extend the complexity of the writing.
The current narrative shows all of these skills and then some. It is fascinating to see two characters in the Batman Universe tap into Harley’s psychology and reveal things about which she herself is unaware. This does not diminish Harley’s brilliance but rather emphasizes a simple truth: All of us, no matter how brilliant and how well-trained, deceive ourselves.
Story #4: “How to Train Your Hyena” by writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Riley Rossmo
Synopsis: Flashback to Harley taking out a bunch of goons and discussing her pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. They appear and finish the task. Flash forward, and Harley is explaining to Kevin that because Bud and Lou are part of her pack, she needs to find them. They are breaking into a wildlife preserve to visit Bud and Lou and see if the latter will follow them home. Harley is asking the elephant herd if they’ve seen the hyenas when she is attacked by poachers.
The poachers gain the upper hand until Harley says the code words “hot dog” and we see two pairs of eyes alight in the bushes. A pack of hyenas bursts forth and dispatches the poachers. Harley is happy to see them but states that the decision on whether to return with her is up to them. They pounce on her with joy and to Gotham Harley’s pack, they will go.
Analysis: This is a sweet, zany story that showcases writer Stephanie Phillips’s comfort with the character she is writing for the eponymous book. This Harley is funny, loyal, fierce, brilliant, and above all a complex, layered character.
Story #5: “Criminal Sanity” by writer Kami Garcia and artist Mico Suayan
Synopsis: The next story in Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1 begins at the Gotham City Police Department, as Harley is arguing with Jim Gordon about finding the Joker. Harley correctly identifies the cause of a victim’s death. Gordon is impressed and vouches for Harley to his supervisor. A few days later, Gordon comes to Harley with news of two more possible Joker victims. She corrects him and hands over the profile she has created of the killer. It is obviously Poison Ivy.
The GCPD arrests Ivy in her greenhouse, with Harley present. Gordon asks her to continue as a consultant.
Analysis: This story obviously serves as a tie-in for Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity. It shows how brilliant Harley is, and the linework is excellent.
Story #6: “Siren Soiree” by writer Paul Dini and artist Guillem March
Synopsis: At breakfast, Harley is angry because she believes that Catwoman and Ivy stole her egg sandwich. The pair drily notes that the sandwich was six weeks old and moldy, but Ivy has animated the mold into a shambolic assistant (“Moldina”). Harley is bored and proposes a housewarming party. She wheedles and cajoles and her housemates give in.
The small party turns out to be a large party. Catwoman and Ivy’s mood does not improve once they see Orca splashing in the pool. The doorbell rings and the caller is Wonder Woman. Batgirl also arrives, both women are there at Harley’s invitation. A cake arrives and out pops Gaggy, brandishing a firearm.
Moldina trusses him up and Harley speaks with him about the possibility of starting over as his own person. The doorbell rings again and Mary Louise appears. She and Gag-Man seem to hit it off, and Harley returns to her party to see Batgirl and Wonder Woman fighting some of her more rogue-ish friends. The story ends where it began, with the three housemates making repast at the kitchen table.
Analysis: This is a cute story from one of the originators himself, Paul Dini. The art by Guillem March is fantastic; I love his Harley. Although March is arguably most well-known for his horror stylings, for Harley that space is currently dominated by Šejić. So March infuses his realism with a more playful depiction that ends up echoing some of what Jorge Jiménez is doing masterfully with Harley in Batman. It is a privilege to have three prodigiously talented artists taking such care with the character Dini co-created.
Story #7: “A Legend is Born” by writer Sam Humphries and artist Erica Henderson
Synopsis: Harley is searching for the secret “Shrouded Castle” while an omniscient narrator provides context. Flashback to Harley serving drinks in a tavern when she is tasked with the “Quest for the Shadow Crystals of the Shrouded Castle.” The ultimate goal is Harley’s first sword. Harley finds the crystals and closes in on the sword but a lumbering monster attacks. Harley snatches the sword and bravely battles the creature, fending it off with a mighty stab to its tongue. It leaps off into a much larger companion and they both tumble into a chasm. Harley reigns triumphant. The narrator revels.
Analysis: I mean, it’s cute. It’s a little on the nose, but the effort is there.
Story #8: “The Last Harley Story” by writer Rob Williams and artist John Timms
Synopsis: The eighth story in Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1 sees a beaten Harley down but not out. She leaps up with her bat, but the chief assailant presses a button and Harley goes limp. The villain has access to Ms. Waller’s brain bomb technology. Ms. Waller approaches as Harley loses consciousness.
She comes to sharply and attacks, scattering onlookers including Batman. She recounts how Ms. Waller used tech to contaminate everyone on the planet with brain bombs. The world got boring. Harley decided to provide color. She commits multiple heists and generally wreaks havoc. She decides to atone for her crimes by saving the world. She has to mow down most of the Suicide Squad to turn off the brain bomb. She does and the world is saved.
Flash forward and Batman, Wonder Woman, and that portion of Suicide Squad are standing over an unconscious Harley, wondering aloud why she kept coming even though she knew the effects of the brain bomb.
Analysis: The “it was all a dream” is more than a bit stale, though it’s always effective when well-executed. I am not sure this is, although the possibility that among now-heroic Harley’s fantasies remain a wish for mayhem is tantalizing.
Story #9: “Troop Harley Quinn” by writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Dan Hipp
Synopsis: Harley bashes her way into the Gotham Women’s Club. She recounts her desire to become a Gotham Gals Troop Leader. She persuades the gang with her verve and wit. The president of the Women’s Club admonishes her for becoming a ringleader of hooligans, and Harley and her Gals reveal the evidence they have collected against the Club. The police arrive.
Analysis: It’s not good, ok? It reads like a Richard Scarry story. Maybe it is supposed to? *shrug*
Story #10: “Harley’s World” by writers Mindy Lee and Terry Dodson and artist Terry Dodson
Synopsis: The final story in Harley Quinn 30th Anniversary Special #1 sees Harley in Harlequin costume roller-skating on a highway with the police and the Caped Crusader in pursuit. Harley increases her speed and then ejects, pirouetting away. Mistah J appears. They dance. He dips her and she plunges down, down. She arises and sees Poison Ivy. They swing together. Harley releases and comes behind bars. Or does she? Shadows of what likely include Dr. Leslie Thompkins and a cowled figure note that Harley is currently living in her own world.
Analysis: Again, it’s a bit on the nose for a solipsistic concluding story: ‘aren’t we all just living in our own world?’ But Harley very obviously has a vibrant imagination. It’s one of her most appealing qualities!
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.