After dodging assassins, collecting rent, and joining a roller-derby squad, it’s time to shadow Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel on the job as a psychiatrist at a nursing home.
Her patient for the day, Mrs. Rubenstein — a wheelchair bound woman who’s been left alone by her family to rot in the facilities — sets pretty much everything in this issue into motion when she discusses how lonely she feels being away from her family.
Apparently, Mrs. Rubenstein gave up a life in show business to be a stay-at-home mom, and she has nothing to show for it. Her son visits twice a year, and she barely knows her grandson. The heart to heart gives Harley Quinn all the motivation she needs to set things right.
So after she crashes — literally — a sales party at the Rubenstein’s house, Quinn takes the family hostage before she lands at a diner where a familiar-looking assassin by the name of Guido tries to shoot first before getting stabbed in the heart.
Eventually, Quinn takes the family to a pier where she confronts the family with their problems and kicks them off into the ocean, one by one. It’s revealed that Quinn’s patient actually suffers from Alzheimer’s, and the family is actually very much involved in the elder Rubenstein’s life.
After apologizing, Harley returns to her office to verify the family’s claim, and while she realizes she needs to stay up to date on her patient notes, a Sy Borgman interrupts.
For the past few issues, I’ve been hoping for Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti to step it up by taking the title to the next level. It appears they’re just getting started after setting up Harley Quinn’s supportive cast, her extra-curriculars, and the assassination plot that’s beginning to fade into the background while staying relevant.
There’s still some sexual innuendo — Harley’s beaver makes another appearance, and there’s a bit about personal massagers — and there’s also some parody if you’re paying enough attention. Harley’s encounter with Guido in a diner shows an R2-D2 styled cup on the table, a Star Wars themed poster on the wall behind her, and the gun under the table by the Greedo-looking killer. The question of who shot first looks like Harley’s the winner when she forks the guy in plain sight.
The scene in which Harley heads over to the derby is also a welcome one — the plotline gives Quinn a place to exhibit her violent tendencies in a place where it’s semi-appropriate. That Harley would even join a roller derby squad makes a ton of sense, and it’s an arena that’s interesting and filled with an assortment of characters that don’t need to be fleshed out at the moment with the hope that a future issue or issues will examine her relationship with her squad and rivals.
I’m glad Conner and Palmiotti are incorporating real-world elements into their story, and while Harley hasn’t broken the fourth wall since her issue #0 debut, it’s great to see the writing team writing further out of the box. With a plotline involving Sy Borgman — a name that’s a bit on the nose, but what else would you expect? — Harley Quinn is becoming more layered. We all know her as the supervillain, and while there’s a manic sensibility to the plot threads, her environment and situations still manage to make her endearing to her readers.
Stephane Roux takes over on artwork this issue, and the change is hardly jarring. Roux’s style is similar enough to Chad Hardin’s with a little less edge. Characters are defined, and the art is mostly attractive. There are some issues in Harley’s expressions — her mouth becomes very caricature-like — and some of the characters look a bit claymation. It lends itself to comedic effect, which is what the authors are striving for, and I think Roux handles it very well.
That said, colorist Paul Mounts is amazing even in his subtle tones. Pages are differentiated by lighting, from a brightly sunlit room to a mellow sunset. Mounts’ colors on Quinn’s skin are great which says a lot because it would be very easy to create a sickly looking Quinn.
Where Harley Quinn goes from here is hard to say — predicting whether the next issue will be good is like predicting the size of the next wave on a beach. Right now, it seems like Quinn exists in a strange circus-like world, and the writing team doesn’t look like it’s going to step backwards to create a gritty and realistic take on the character. That said, the team is moving forward and raising the insanity levels. If this book is going to work, they’re going to have to reach new heights of bonkers, which is what we see a glimpse of in issue #4. There are elements of a good story here, and I’m glad there’s a focus on developing the character in ways that aren’t routine or cliche.
This is a slow roast of a title for me, though I’d like to think for the public at large, it’s a polarizing one. Some may love it, and some may hate it. As a fan of the character, I’m taking this title issue by issue, holding onto my deeper critiques until it’s clear what Conner and Palmiotti are up to. In the meantime, Harley Quinn is a fun read that might turn some off — some might think it’s hot while others might think it’s not — and there’s plenty of potential here for amazing things.
Harley Quinn #4 (2013)
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Words: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Stephane Roux
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: John J. Hill
Previous Issue: Harley Quinn #3 Review
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