Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Doctor Is Quinn

Posted by Don MacPherson on December 6th, 2013

Variant coverHarley Quinn #0
“Picky Sicky”
Writers: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artists: Amanda Conner, Becky Cloonan, Tony S. Daniel & Sandu Florea, Stephane Roux, Dan Panosian, Walter Simonson, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Bruce Timm, Charlie Adlard, Adam Hughes, Art Baltazar, Tradd Moore, Dave Johnson, Jeremy Roberts, Sam Keith, Darwyn Cooke and Chad Hardin
Colors: Paul Mounts, Tomeu Morey, John Kalisz, Lovern Kindzierski, Alex Sinclair, Lee Loughridge, Dave Stewart & Alex Sollazzo
Letters: John J. Hill
Cover artists: Amanda Conner (regular)/Stephane Roux (variant)
Editor: Katie Kubert
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’m a few weeks late writing about this recent release, but I had a number of thoughts about it and wanted to jot them down. First off, I must point out I thoroughly enjoyed this comic book, not because I have a particular interest in the title character, but moreso because I enjoy the work of the writers and many of the artists who contributed. That being said, while I found this comic entertaining, I’m not entirely sure it was a good idea. Sure, a Harley Quinn is definitely a marketable property with mainstream recognition, and Palmiotti and Conner’s sensibilities are a great fit for the character. But this zero issue of the series really isn’t about Harleen Quinzell. Instead, it’s about the mainstream comics industry itself and the friendships the writers have formed over the years. As someone with an interest in the industry, as well as the personalities behind the stories and art, I was quite taken with this fourth-wall-breaking jaunt through the craft of comics. But I question if that cachet will appeal to the wider audience DC is no doubt looking to hook.

This is the part of a review where I normally offer up a synopsis of the plot of the comic or graphic novel I’m reviewing, but there’s really not a plot to be found in this issue, per se. It purports to be about Harley’s (and the writers’) quest for the regular artist on her new ongoing series, but it’s really just an excuse to showcase the styles of a diverse array of industry talents (and a showcase for one newbie — Jeremy Roberts, whose Jim Lee-esque style is capable but generally unremarkable). Chad Hardin, who’s been pegged as the regular artist on the series, offers up the final two pages in the book, and it’s some pretty dynamic stuff. It’s not as playful as I’d like, as the tone of the dialogue throughout this issue seems to promise a romp rather than the morose, dark take on the character we’ve seen in Suicide Squad.

But really, it’s the art from most of the other contributors that really shines. Most of these top-notch talents boast thoroughly distinctive styles, and the radically different interpretations of the title character make for interesting comparisons. Jim Lee’s and Tony Daniel’s one-page contributions are a bit jarring in the overall context of the experiment, as their wholly conventional approaches pale in comparison to the more exaggerated and just plain fun art offered by such professionals as Simonson, Timm and Panosian. Speaking of Timm, his inclusion in this project was a welcome development, as his sense of design as the co-creator of the character in the world of animation is a major element in the property’s success.

Before this comic book’s release, it was most noteworthy for the controversy that arose about a single page (well, really a single panel) from the script excerpt released as part of the talent search. That “contest” aspect of the pre-release promotional efforts led to Roberts’ participation. The hubbub stemmed from a bathtub suicide scene in which Harley was written as being nude. Criticism about the unnecessary sexualization of the anti-heroine erupted online. Those involved in the comic defended the scene, noting it was being taken out of context. Despite that defence, though, the purportedly offensive panel was excluded from the final product, replaced with a rewritten and less-effective pseudo-suicide attempt (a Strangelove-ian rocket ride — which one could argue was more overtly, if symbolically, sexual). I agreed with the original argument about the larger context of the comic, and it’s a shame DC apparently balked.

Ultimately, this comic book isn’t about Harley Quinn; only the last page hints at the new status quo that will serve as the foundation for the series to come. Instead, it’s really about friendships — specifically, Palmiotti and Conner’s friendships in the industry. The scene that made it clear to me was the one illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, which depicts the title character and Catwoman crash the writers’ recent wedding. Cooke, who’s a close friend of the couple’s, attended those nuptials, and it was cute to see these creators incorporate the event into this comic book. But I don’t really see how it serves the character or the marketability of the series. Yes, I enjoyed it, but I think it’s safe to say the larger audience for this comic book is more interested in the character than the creators. Perhaps that’s unfortunate, but it’s definitely a reality. I found the comic entertaining, but I wonder if the majority of readers will connect with that insider appeal as easily or willingly.

Another issue is the fact it appears the shtick used here — Harley as an Ambush Bug-esque figure who’s aware she’s a comic-book character — might not be the main mode for subsequent issues. The final scene promises a different focus, so I’m left wondering if this zero issue will actually prove to be a fair sample of what we can expect in the months to come. 6/10

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3 Responses to “The Doctor Is Quinn”

  1. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    Everything okay, Don? It’s been a couple of months since your last update.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Everything’s fine. Time/energy for writing about comics has been limited, but I plan to pick things up again soon.

  3. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    Good to hear.