In this review of Knight Terrors: Harley Quinn #2, Harley wonders what it means to be heroic.
Story #1: “Knight Terrors: Harley Quinn, Part 2 of 2” by writer Tini Howard and artist Hayden Sherman
Synopsis (Spoilers Ahead):
Knight Terrors: Harley Quinn #2 begins with Harley having a conversation with Insomnia, who is trying to convince Harley to dream. She takes the bait and imagines herself as a hero in The Justice League. The artwork flips to Silver Age style and Harley is apparently a brilliant neurosurgeon operating on (what appears to be) Bizarro. Harley’s backstory is that she got a bit too excited with self-experimentation, unlocking the full capacity of her own brain.
As The Heroic Harlequin, Harley soars through the sky and clashes with Brainiac. She captures him and turns him over to the Jester City police, but finds herself alone on a bench with her own thoughts. She contemplates the possibility that she should never be a hero in any part of the multiverse. Harley becomes overwhelmed until Pam finds her and grounds her. At their home, Pam and Harley talk about how repressed that reality seems and they kiss, at which point Harley realizes the imposture and sees Brainiac, who has escaped.
They battle and Harley returns home to her empty apartment. She tries to wake herself up but fails. Harley laments the life of a superhero, professing that she does not want the sacrifices it requires. She eventually awakens in her own reality, uses the multiversal portal, right after throwing a grenade that will ensure its destruction.
Harley appears before the Lady Quark who reveals that, although Harley is a threat, she is also a source of great strength and is capable of being the hero her world needs. The Lady Quark sweeps Harley up towards a sun that will fully awaken her and send her to Batman. Tashana warns Harley that she will be needed.
This is a surprisingly thoughtful, heartfelt story. Above all, it is possible because writer Tini Howard slows down. There’s plenty of weirdness to be found, but to some extent the dreamworld device grounds the weirdness and justifies it, as compared to the cosmic carrots to be found in the previous arc. The story also succeeds because Harley picks up one of the fundamental questions previous writer Stephanie Phillips expertly engaged: What does it mean for Harley to be a hero?
Phillips well understood that a skeptical audience would doubt Harley’s capacity to be a true hero and integrated that dubiety into the narrative by reproducing it in Harley herself. She doubts her ability to be a true hero, making the character authentic and believable to boot. In the current issue, Howard finally connects the Harley she is writing to that fundamental question, giving the character a sense of continuity, emotional resonance, and a purpose that has been utterly lacking from Howard’s run thus far.
In this issue, it works. And while I’m generally not a fan of Silver Age aesthetic in general, it’s used effectively here, to show the traps, constraints, and structural injustices with which a heroic Harley would have to grapple in any age and on any earth. Harley doubts herself just as we doubt her, and that’s a much, much more important piece of character development than superhero rabbits and vapid conversation with Ivy.
Even Lady Quark is used effectively, turning from nemesis to ally as she points out the tremendous strength in Harley. The dramatic irony here is effective because here the audience, unlike Harley, does not doubt that tremendous strength. This leaves us rooting for her and excited to see another interaction with Batman himself.
Story #2: “Presque Vu,” by writer Leah Williams and artist PJ Holden
The Harleys set off walking through the ship. They talk and argue. The ship runs on A.I. or collective consciousness of each Harley who has lived on it. Eventually, the person or persons reaches a termination point and a new Harley arrives to power the ship.
This is a really weird story that will likely appeal to true science fiction fans. It’s harmless and inoffensive but adds little to the overall Harleyverse. I continue to think this book neither needs nor benefits from a backup.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced 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.