Graphic Novel Review: Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City by Amanda Connor & Jimmy Palmiotti
Genre: Superhero, Leading Ladies
Publisher: DC Comics (October 28, 2014)
Tiara’s Rating: 2.5 of 5
Hijinxs and mayhem ensue when one of Harley’s former patients leaves her real estate in Brooklyn. Packing up the few possessions she owns and hopping on her bike, Harley (with her pal Bernie the Charbroiled Beaver) leaves Gotham in favor of greener pastures. She becomes the owner of a sizable building on Coney Island that houses a few businesses and a menagerie of live-in tenants who mostly work as sideshow attractions. Harley immediately takes to her new family, especially a dwarf by the name of, wait for it, Big Tony, and they take a liking to her because she’s strange like them and likable.
Nothing good comes without a catch, though. Harley is expected to find gainful employment to cover the cost of owning the property (back taxes, insurance, upkeep, property taxes) because her tenants and businesses only cover about 45% of that cost.
Honestly, a 2.5 from me is a very generous rating considering how I feel about this book. I really wanted to like this. I tried to rationalize it as much as I could to fit a narrative that appealed to me, and I just couldn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t things that I like about it, but it feels that what I didn’t like far outweighs what I did like. I felt a little defeated, disheartened, after reading this. I wanted to be treated to a really great Harley story because I love Harley. I expected this to be quirky and fun with a touch of macabre–the misadventures of Harleen Quinzel.
Yes, we’re treated to many misadventures as Harley learns to navigate her new city, avoid overzealous assassins, and seek money sources (including actual employment) to keep her new home while attracting the kind of chaos only Harley could. However, there were so few moments that really struck me as brilliant with this book. Mostly, the story felt a bit forced and too much like someone was saying, “This is funny. I made a funny… right?” This after such a promising start where Harley muses that she wishes there was a comic book all about her.
My review could effectively summed up by a panel where the owner of the wax museum housed in Harley’s building asks her to stop humping the Joker statue. With that panel, all I would’ve had to write was: “That’s it. That’s the whole book.” It was a nonstop barrage of bad puns and Harley exclaiming “Hooooleee [insert choice word that may or may not vaguely rhyme with “holy”].” Things that you’d expect from Harley, but hardly executed as well as they should’ve been.
Parts of the story felt problematic to me as well. I know sometimes humor can help temper some problem themes. This book is full of stereotypes jokes (the ranting Russian who loves America because of “ze bread” and capitalism, the Jewish granddad that putters around yelling in Yiddish, etc.) and “That’s what she said” type jokes. Granted these can be used in ways to really point out the irony/problems of a situation in humorous ways, but I don’t think that’s what they were going for here. There were moments with this book where, if you take away the glibness, they are gross and troubling with no real merit. It was disappointing to see that.
Despite my complaints, Harley is clearly no one’s victim, and she won’t stand for anyone trying to make her one. I did appreciate that about this book. I appreciated her friendship with Ivy, which was meant to be mockingly sapphic, but I still read it as two women who support each other wholly, two women who’d do anything for the other because their bond is strong. Harley’s love of animals was very endearing, and she often exhibited a compassionate side that wanted to protect those weaker than her the best way she knew how–by pulling out Beatrice (her large hammer).
While reading this, I questioned where was the Harley that argued that she could be whatever she wanted to be without Joker. She could be smart. She could be dumb. She could be sexy. Or she could choose to be all of those things. Sometimes, that really showed in this book, but most of my time reading this was spent grimacing. If it hadn’t been for a few key moments in the book and the really beautiful art and variant art pages/covers that featured a wealth of drawing styles, this book might’ve received a much lower rating.