Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 11/26/16
Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews might never be the same after this week. I didn’t see it coming, but I’ve been buzzing on this since new comics dropped on Wednesday. Sure we got some solid comics this week, like Detective Comics and Teen Titans, but this is the week where everything changes.
Harley Quinn #8 wins Comic Book of the Week for probably the single best issue of the entire run so far. And not just because it’s so damn fun. This is next level stuff. This is so good, I’m going to do something I’ve never done in my several years worth of comic reviews.
Maybe I’ll be setting a precedent that I can in no way sustain, but I don’t care. This is Comic Book of the Year material.
But no, not just because of the tasteful nudity. Read below for my essay of a review!
Also, the latest issue of Civil War II was released this week, and the Big Event continues to underwhelm. Not to mention the fact that most other Marvel comics have simply moved on already. And it doesn’t even come close to the magic that is Harley Quinn.
Comic Reviews: Batgirl #5, Detective Comics #945, Harley Quinn #8, Prowler #2 and Teen Titans #2.
Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
And just like that, Batgirl’s Asian adventure is over. She’ll be heading back to Gotham City with the next issue, and I’m a little disappointed. Ah well.
Batgirl faces off against the Teacher, who is amped up from the chemicals that Batgirl spilled on her at the end of last issue. Batgirl gets her butt kicked, and in her blackout state, she’s visited by thoughts of Fruit Bat and Kai. They convince her that the only way to beat Teacher is to shut off her photographic memory so that her body can focus on the fight. Batgirl goes through with it, defeats Teacher, turns her memory back on and then bids farewell to all the people and friends she met in Asian.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
I’m still a little bummed that Larson and Albuquerque didn’t spend more time visiting the various Asian locations that Babs went there to see. She went to Asia to enjoy a vacation and get away from the hustle and bustle of Burnside. But then she spent her whole vacation fighting yet more super-villains, and not even particularly noteworthy super-villains. Some vacation. What started as a potentially interesting story devolved into just another slugfest with a super-villain. At least the art and the writing were solid enough to keep it afloat and entertain.
Detective Comics #945
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artists: Al Barrionuevo and Carmen Carnero
I definitely like that, even though this story is introducing a dangerous new villain team in the Victim Syndicate, the comic is still squarely focused on the main characters. Super-villains and fisticuffs are all well and good, but playing around with an amazing cast is much more fun.
Stephanie Brown is even more angry at Batman and the costumed life after a visit from the leader of the Victim Syndicate, but she refuses to tell either Batman or Harper Row what the villain told her during the visit. So Batman decides to put his team through some psych evals with Leslie Thompkins, both to help them out and to see if Leslie can make Stephanie budge — but Stephanie sees right through the ruse and calls out Batman for being a selfish prick!
Meanwhile, the Victim Syndicate attack Leslie’s free clinic! Azrael stays behind to fight them off while Harper Row warns Batman and the others. The team suits up to head out, but Batman orders Stephanie to stay at the Belfry. Once they’re all gone, Stephanie presses a few buttons and Red Robin appears!
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
I’m gonna take a wild stab at this and suggest that Red Robin is definitely some kind of computer hologram. Seems like something he would have installed in the Belfry computer.
Anyway, this was a great issue for main character development! Stephanie is going through hell in her personal life, and Tynion really nails her anger and resentment. There is a lot to explore with Stephanie Brown these days. Her role as Spoiler should definitely be in question. What reason does she have to keep it going? She became Spoiler to stop her dad, the Cluemaster, several years ago. But he’s long gone. And after her friend Harper Row hung up the costume, and after her boyfriend Tim Drake was killed in costume, what reason does Stephanie have to keep going? I hope Tynion really digs deep on this one.
The rest of the issue was good too. We got some more great Clayface work. Tynion is definitely going somewhere solid with that guy. And there’s a nice scene between Harper Row and Azrael. It’s cool that Tynion is building up a fun supporting cast to an already populated team book.
Detective Comics may not be packed to the gills with superhero fisticuffs, like a lot of Bat-books, but when you’re playing with one of the best casts in all of comics, I’m definitely in favor of getting the most out of them.
Harley Quinn #8
Writers: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Chris Hardin, Andrew Robinson and Bret Blevins
Fair warning: this is a long one.
If you need more proof that Harley Quinn is the best comic at DC right now, look no further than this new issue. Billed as the comic where Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy go to a nudist colony — and it definitely delivers on that front — this is actually the comic where Conner and Palmiotti upend everything I thought I understood about this series.
I hailed the past three issues as a series high point because of how fun they were, how they were quintessential Harley Quinn comic bookery. But this new issue raises everything to an even higher level, in ways I did not see coming, and it’s amazing.
Harley Quinn #8 is like Conner and Palmiotti telling us that everything they’ve been writing for the past few years, all the sales charts they’ve been topping, has just been prelude.
This issue is legit game changing. This should be the defining Harley Quinn moment in her post-Joker life.
Harley Quinn has been having a rough go of it lately. She’s been having bad dreams, but can’t suss out what they mean beyond just feeling like her life is not in order. She misses her ex-boyfriend, Mason, but there’s nothing she can do about that. And someone has been sending her Joker mementos in the mail, stuff that only he could be sending. Harley has been feeling very unsettled.
So it’s great that she and Poison Ivy are finally going on vacation to the Bahamas! The trip is all fun and sun as they crash at Sy Borgman’s nudist colony. They go swimming, have late night chats, banter about Batman’s kinks, play nude volleyball with old people, and all around seem to have a glorious, intimate vacation! But all good things must come to an end and they have to go home.
As they’re packing to leave, Harley asks Ivy if she’s considered the offer to move in together, something that’s come up a few times in the past few Ivy appearances. Ivy tells Harley that she’s her best friend, and that Ivy loves her deeply, but she’s still Poison Ivy and she’s devoted her life to a cause that’s simply more important than her personal desires. Maybe someday Ivy can settle and live life for herself, but not yet, and Harley has to accept that. Harley says that she won’t be available forever.
The pair return home and Ivy says her goodbyes before catching her connecting flight to elsewhere. And all of Harley’s friends and supporting cast come to welcome her home. They tell her how much they’ve missed her, how life was boring without her, and they grab her up in a big group hug. But Harley can only look on as Ivy’s plane takes off, and she sheds a single tear.
Because she’s just so alone.
Comic Rating: 11/10 – These Go To Eleven.
Yes, I know, giving this comic that kind of a ranking is pretty outrageous. Believe me, I don’t do it lightly. This issue just…it’s blowing my mind. The skill, the craft, the fake-outs, the titillation, the utter freakin’ heartache; this could be the single deepest, most meaningful comic I’ve read since starting these blog reviews. Maybe when some time has passed this will all become hyperbole, but right now my brain is sizzling at how good this story is.
I didn’t see any of this coming. While the ending of this issue might not seem like a twist on the surface, it’s probably the best comic book twist in years. Harley Quinn’s sadness has me rethinking everything I thought I understood about this series, and it’s already one of my favorite comics on the stands. Conner and Palmiotti have been writing this Harley Quinn comic for years, and all of it has been building to this moment.
Because, you see, Harley Quinn is lonely. And of course she’s lonely! How could we not see it?
We didn’t see it because of how expertly they’ve built this comic! Think about it: Harley Quinn is probably best known for her psychotic relationship with the Joker. She was the Joker’s girlfriend, and that is so important that it was emblazoned on the big screen in the Suicide Squad movie this past summer. But that relationship was toxic, and Harley the character was allowed to not only escape the Joker, but build a whole new identity for herself. That’s great! For both the readers and the character. Harley is a much better character free from the Joker’s toxic influence.
And these past few years with Conner and Palmiotti have pushed that as far as it could possibly go! Now she’s living in a figurative madhouse in Coney Island! She’s friends with hard-rocking dwarves, Deadpool knock-offs, a goatman, an eggman and a whole team of junior Harleys! She fights zombie alien invasions and giant robots and evil rock bands! She and Poison Ivy spent this issue at a nudist colony!
This is the ultimate culmination of all the flirty and sexy teasing Conner and Palmiotti have sprinkled into their comic since the beginning. This is the perfect cover for what this issue is actually about.
Despite all of that stuff, even though it’s perfect fodder for a solo Harley Quinn comic, none of it matters. She hasn’t been able to replace the love she shared with the Joker. As sick and twisted as that ‘love’ was, it was still a deeply committed romantic relationship for Harley.
That is key to her character. She wants that sort of love. Her whole character was built on it. Remember one of the key moments from Mad Love, the Harley Quinn origin story, where she imagines a future with the Joker. She doesn’t picture the two of them going out like Bonnie and Clyde as awesome villain clowns, she dreams of a sweet, domestic married life with a home and a bunch of kids! That moment is so key to her character that they repeat it in the Suicide Squad movie!
But since breaking with the Joker, she hasn’t found a new love. And she’s tried! First there was Mason, the studly, good-hearted ex-con. I didn’t particularly care for Mason while he was around, but maybe that was the point. He fit all the right characteristics for a nice boyfriend, and Harley did care for him, but he wasn’t able to be there for her. Then there’s Red Tool, positioning the idea that maybe Deadpool is perfect for Harley. And maybe he is, but he’s not nearly what she’s looking for.
And Poison Ivy has been the most perfect option all along, and it’s heartbreaking.
All this time, for this entire series, Poison Ivy’s appearances have been the best part. Conner and Palmiotti turned Harley and Ivy into the best couple in comics. They took this relationship, which existed long before them, and delivered in a way that perfectly matched both characters. And again, this issue was the ultimate culmination of that titillating relationship. Then Harley goes for it. She makes the biggest, most important push for a real, romantic relationship than she has in a long time, with the one character that cartoons and comics have been putting her with for a long damn time. Just because she broke up with the Joker, that doesn’t mean her dream of future domestic bliss is gone. It’s just that she’s been picturing that happy married life with Poison Ivy for the past however long, with a family of rugrats and house plants under foot.
But Harley gets rejected, for all the right reasons. Do they remake Poison Ivy and turn her into the perfect girlfriend just to suit the story? Or do they plant Poison Ivy firmly in the ground in the same way she’s always been? Of course Poison Ivy would choose plants over a relationship with Harley. That’s who Poison Ivy is!
It’s also the ultimate ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. And it is appropriately tragic for Harley.
That’s why the final page is so tragic. Why that hug with her supporting cast is so devastating. Harley can surround herself with all the maniacs, cyborgs and sidekicks she wants, and that has made for an uproariously fun comic, but the heart of the character will always long for more.
And no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, she just keeps running into a brick wall. Her time with the Joker broke her, and now she doesn’t live in a world that has the sort of people who settle down into happy domestic lives.
There has always been a melancholy tragedy to the character of Harley Quinn. It’s why her origin story, Mad Love, is so highly regarded. But Mad Love is still all about Harley’s relationship with the Joker, and she kicked him to the curb years ago. So who is Harley Quinn now? Who is she as the star of a hugely popular, high-selling comic book series? Conner and Palmiotti answer that question in this issue.
After everything we’ve read so far, Harley is still that sad, crying, melancholy clown; the most tragic thing of all.
As for the issue itself, it’s simply fantastic. It’s all character drama, which I love. I’m so glad they didn’t throw in a super-villain to spice things up. The issue is Harley and Ivy just relaxing at a resort, with their nudity tastefully covered, like you’d expect. They talk about life and love, sometimes with simple small talk, and sometimes deeper conversations. Yes, they’re nude for a lot of it, but the creative team also places them in the middle of a bunch of naked old people, so even the obvious titillation is tempered.
The characters are on point, the art is fantastic, and the way everything builds to that final, heart-shattering page is nothing short of a masterstroke.
Harley Quinn isn’t an indie darling. And it’s not billed as some kind of prestige series, like The Vision. Instead, it’s a high-selling, popular character-driven superhero comic that still managed to deliver some of the best character work I’ve read in years.
Writer: Sean Ryan
Artists: Javier Saltares and Jamal Campbell
Despite my overall displeasure with the premise of this series, I’m still going to give it a chance because I love the Prowler. It’s just really too bad is all.
Hobie Brown wakes up in Alcatraz to discover that he’s been ‘captured’ by Julia Carpenter, the hacker who is trying to break into New U. She hasn’t really caught him, so much as her security systems stopped the intruder. She thinks Prowler is still a good guy and starts filling him in on her operation — until Hobie sabotages it and tries to convince her that New U is awesome. But Julia escapes and Hobie starts suffering from clone degeneration. He’s discovered by Electro, who Jackal sent after him, and she doesn’t particularly like him.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
The art remains a series highlight so far. It’s a very unique look, and it definitely works for this comic. I just wish the art team had something better to draw. This issue is all about setting up Julia Carpenter as a heroic antagonist, I think. Hopefully she comes back at some point. But Prowler spends the issue weakly insisting he’s on the right side while getting one reminder after other that he’s a freakin’ bad guy now.
Personal feelings aside, there just wasn’t much to this issue. Hobie instantly loses an argument with the much cooler Julia Carpenter, while Electro continues to be a one-note evil villain. There’s also as scene where the Jackal’s resurrected villains keep fighting each other. The Jackal is angry because the Prowler is supposed to keep them in line. But honestly? What do you expect if you’re just going to keep these people locked in a room together with nothing to do? You’re the boss, Jackal. Assign them to go on patrol or stand guard in different parts of the facility. If these idiots just keep knocking each other around, give them something to do! You don’t need Prowler for that!
Whatever plans Ryan has for the Prowler, and I hope he has some good ones, they’re being wasted while the series tags along behind the Clone Conspiracy. Cool art is not going to save this ho-hum comic.
Teen Titans #2
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Diogenes Neves
I want to give this new Teen Titans comic a chance, but after reading an issue like this one, I’m very pleased that I decided to not continue those long form comic book reviews.
Robin reveals to the other Titans that the reason he gathered them is because the five members of the Demon’s Fist have specifically targeted each of them as their final kill before becoming full-on members of the League of Assassins. There’s no real explanation why these teen assassins would choose these four random superheroes, that’s just the way this is all presented. Anyway, the five of them ambush the team in Damian’s secret lair and everybody starts fighting, until the leader of the Demon’s Fist reveals that Damian used to be one of them growing up, and that he was chosen to lead them.
The Titans keep finding new reasons to distrust Damian, especially when he ditches them after the leader of the Demon’s Fist detonates a bomb. But then Damian returns in a Batplane and promises to tell them everything as they make their escape.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
First of all, that premise is ridiculous. I can buy the idea that R’as al Ghul has been training this squad of super-powered assassins since Damian was a kid, even though they’ve never been mentioned until now. And I can buy the idea that they would want to hunt down and kill Damian as part of their ‘graduation’ into full assassins. That makes perfect sense. But to then insist that these junior assassins chose three four additional Titans as targets for no particular reason? Madness! These junior assassins don’t have anything to do with these heroes. Their powers are not complimentary or even opposites. There is absolutely no link between any of these characters. It’s all way too much of a stretch when there are so many easier options.
Why not just say that Damian was the only target, and he knew he needed back up, so he decided to continue on Tim Drake’s Teen Titans legacy and recruited a couple of old friends of Tim and Dick to help him out? That’s a premise I could understand.
Second of all, the comic itself is still pretty good. I dislike how generic the Demon’s Fist teens are. They’ve all got seemingly random super-powers, and they’re so random that it makes the characters super generic, like they were all spit out by a ‘super-powered character’ generator.
But the fight is really kinetic, and the new artist, Neves, does a really great job. It sucks that Teen Titans lost their originally planned artist, but I am definitely down with Neves.
Ryan continues to make it a plot point that Damian is really terrible at making friends. The Titans are all legitimately put off by him, but they’re good guys, so they try to give him the benefit of the doubt. There’s a great scene where Starfire, the adult in the room, tries to reach out and connect with Damian on a legitimately human level. It’s nicely well done.
The new Teen Titans series shines in art and character development, and the plot could be interesting, but it’s in the execution where everything feels utterly generic.
The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!