In 2000, Harley got her very own comic book series! It ran for just over three years and 38 issues and was received with mixed reactions by fans. Many old time fans disliked the series while many newer fans loved it and many became fans reading the series! Here's some info about it, along with some of my thoughts.
Images of the covers supplied generously by Pagliacci, web-master of Harley Quinn's Heaven
Years: 2000 – 2003
#1 - #25 - Karl Kesel
#26 - #38 - Steve Leiberman
#1 - #7, #10 - #12, #14 - #19 - Terry & Rachel Dodson
#8 – #9, #13 - Pete Woods
#21 - #22 - Brandon Badeaux
#23 - #25 - Craig Rosseau
#26 - #30, #33 - #37 - Mike Huddleston
#31 - Nathan Fox
#32 - Ateve Yeowell
#38 - Charlie Adlard
RUN-DOWNHarley remains a very popular character, but back then she was insanely popular. She had quickly risen from a hench-girl to the ranks of major league villain. Most any merchandise WB/DC came out with involved Harley in some way. She was hot property!
So they introduced her to mainstream and before long, the decision was made to give her her own comic book series.
I remember having a bad feeling about it from the beginning. It felt like a decision made for the almighty dollar rather than one that was best for Harley.
As much as I love Harley, there is such a thing as overkill. Villains have their limitations at the best of times; generally they can’t sustain an entire series by themselves.
You rarely see Harley going it solo, and for good reason. As a rather extreme ‘cartoonish’ character, she works best with someone else to balance her out – like Joker or Ivy, for example. Or Batman – she can sustain stories by herself but she generally needs someone to play off of.
Really, this is true of most villains. A mini-series on a particular story arc works, but trying to drag it out indefinitely… well. History tells us it doesn’t work.
There’s only so far you can take a villain before you begin to run out of options. Because in order for people to keep buying, they have to be sympathetic. And believe it or not, the people who relish in the wickedness, like me, are actually in the minority. (I know, crazy!) Now, Harley is a great sympathetic character. And she’s an interesting one. But she’s a villain. She’s done lots of bad things. And her motivation for being a villain is her love for one of the cruellest sociopaths in history.
It leaves the creative team with only a few directions to go in. Make her a good guy – or take her somewhere beyond what she originally was.
In both instances you risk alienating fans and screwing the character up.
Harley had a pretty good run, all things considered. Three years is nothing to cough at – remember, Anarky only lasted eight issues! But the fans stopped buying. And that happened for a reason.
From issue one, something felt off for me and I only lasted eight issues before I stopped buying. And this from a major hardcore Harleyite!
Of course, I now have all 38 issues, but I was seriously disillusioned at the time.
THE GOODAll Harley, all the time!
Hehe, well of course! If you’re a Harley fan, you can’t get past a monthly series dedicated to the character! And perfectly honestly, when you compare this series against many other minor character or villain series, it really stands up quite bright and strong.
The Creative Team
I loved Karl Kesel’s Tangent Joker stories. He’s a great writer and for Harley’s series he came up with bundles of fun ideas. From pitting Harley against various Gotham Rogues, to the all-girl slumber party (very cute!) to her trip to Metropolis, there was plenty of whacky, zany, fabuloso stuff for Harley to indulge in. I also thought he paced his stories really well, keeping them snappy and interesting. He also had a real interest in exploring various aspects of Harley’s personality and nature and history and seemed to have a very real affection for her. He also gave Harley shoulder Angel & Devil in the form of Dr Quinzel and Mistah J – so cute! He also didn’t shy away from reminding us Harley is, indeed, a villain – and one who kills. She’s also crazy. There’s a great moment with her most loyal Quintet, which is quite poignant and shocking, around the ten issue mark. This is all appreciated. I do feel very angry that some of the important elements of Harley’s character were not well done in this series, but there was some really excellent stuff as well, that was highly enjoyable. Poison Ivy had some great moments as well. I liked the way Harley’s heart was explored alongside her madness.
Leiberman I am fairly reserved towards, given his treatment of Mistah J in Hush Returns, but he’s also a much talented fellow who also brought a stack of interesting ideas to the series, with a more noir-ish edge. We also have to give him credit for the absolutely killer Joker line: “What’s hate but love with a bit of friction?” That was first class.
The various art teams – the Dodsons did the majority, but there were many others too – all had something different to bring. The Dodsons’ art is very beautiful, with lovely, curvy female forms and beautifully detailed panels. Seriously, some of the figures are just gorgeous to look at and the layout of the pages is really eye-catching and lush. I very much enjoyed the way the Dodsons told the stories with their art.
I also liked the innovation of having Harley’s fantasies in the animated style, compared to the more ‘realistic’ style of the rest of the art. A lot of the art is quite to die for, sheer lush goodness for the eyes. Comic books should be pretty to look at. We like eye candy! :D
THE NOT SO GOOD
The Creative Team
Wot? Says you – what was good about it was also what was wrong about it?
Looking at the series objectively I can see the creative team all had oodles of talent.
Looking at it as a fan of Harley I can see that, no matter how talented they were, they didn’t ‘get’ the character.
My biggest objection to the HQ series is the characterisation of ALL the characters. Harley, Ivy, Joker and Batman.
None of them behaved like themselves at all.
It was like reading a comic about people who dressed up like Harley, Ivy, et al, rather than who actually were those characters. Oh, there were moments, but on the whole, it just didn’t feel right.
Harley’s personality was almost right – almost. There was something just a little bit off. Sometimes they got it right, for sure, but other times it just felt… not quite there. It was hard to pinpoint exactly why and is really a combination of her dialogue, behaviour, actions and motivations. Some of her adventures were a lot of fun (the advice column in Metropolis springs to mind) and in some ways I could see Harley doing many of the things she did in this series, but it didn’t hang together that well.
Kesel made the grand mistake of giving Harley a genius IQ and having her want to be Joker’s doctor due to the tragic death of her college boyfriend. This was such an almighty blunder it defies description. Part of the brilliance of Mad Love is we had an average girl, hungering for fame and glory, get blindsided, seduced and manipulated by one of the most cunning psychopaths in the world. Part of Harley’s appeal is she’s easy to relate to – she’s very human. She doesn’t need a genius IQ. She slept her way to her grades! That doesn’t mean she’s not smart; rather it shows how cunning and ambitious she is.
Giving her Guy Kopski also completely detracted from the power of what Joker did to her. Don’t get me started on the Guy Kopski storyline. I could go on and on about the Guy Kopski storyline…
… okay, just quickly: Of course Harley had boyfriends before the Joker! Of course there were probably one or two she loved a lot. But to suggest Harley only sought the Joker out because of a failed experiment on a boyfriend is just… arg. This is the thing: as I said above, Harley was a girl who wanted fame and fortune and was twisted into madness by the Joker to the point she gives up EVERYTHING for him. That is brilliant. Loving Joker because he reminds her of an old boyfriend? ARRRRRG. No. Words. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Then Leiberman made the blunder of depicting Joker as constantly trying to kill Harley, again completely inconsistent with canon, amongst many other things.
As for Joker was – well, he was pretty much off anytime he made an appearance. He had his moments as well, but the main reason he was off was because of the way they were trying to play the relationship…
… which was in the most superficial way. Very unfortunate, and alienating to many fans. The relationship is not as simple as Harley loves Joker who uses her but really wants to kill her, as we can SEE from ample DCAU and mainstream evidence. If he really wanted to kill her, she would’ve been dead a long time ago. Sure, he uses her, but we see there is more to it than that and Paul Dini set it up in the introductory one-shot.
So Joker over all tended to lack his flair, charm, seductiveness and brilliance, which it has been repeatedly driven home that he has, for around the last thirty-odd years.
And on this – issue #14 had an absolutely fantastic letter in the letters column, which voiced my own complaints perfectly. The answer from the editor was far from adequate. He claimed they never meant to give the impression Joker and Harley’s relationship was loveless. WHAT? Coulda fooled me. Their entire interaction was based on Joker repeatedly trying to kill Harley, at least until Leiberman took over. It was so grossly simplified and misrepresented it truly stands in the way of my ability to enjoy this title more. I’m sorry to say. In fact, the letters column was filled with promises from the editor about how yes they all knew Joker loved Harley and was integral to Harley’s life and they promised this would be covered in future – only to never deliver! The team only seemed to see the abusive elements of the relationship, instead of the mutuality and the D/s aspects, as so many, many do. In my opinion, they could’ve done SO MUCH more with the relationship in this series, absolutely squandered the opportunity and indeed contributed to a widespread misperception of the relationship.
I don’t think they need to break them up to explore Harley more, even to have her go on a journey of self-discovery. Harley knows what she loves about Joker. It’s already been established in many, many ways. It just makes me feel so damned sad in terms of what it has meant for their relationship ever since.
The abusive dynamics in Harley & Ivy’s relationship were conveniently ignored, as well.
In terms of the art – as beautiful as their figures were, all of the Dodson female faces started to look the same, just with different hair. Harley has always struck me as petite and pixie-ish rather than stacked and voluptuous.
I liked the art less and less with the changed artists, although I’m sure that it would’ve suited others’ taste. To me, things ended up feeling very disjointed and without a cohesiveness to hold it all together.
Unfortunately, these people also understand Harley, Joker & Harley and Harley & Ivy from this series, which they carry over to readings of the relationships and characters in their other incarnations.
Meanwhile, most of the old school Harley fans seem to want to forget this series ever existed.
I have my regrets about it – I think it succeeded in over-saturating Harley on the market so that a lot of people now cringe at her name (which I think would’ve happened regardless of who worked on it) and that it perpetuated a Harley not in line with the one I personally prefer.
I do think it should be officially ret-conned in regards Harley’s history, but other than that – well it is a fun, if odd, little slice of Harley’s history. And given that Batman and Joker had the sixties and the CCA to contend with at one time, I think it’s just one of those things we have to accept and learn to enjoy, as part and parcel of our fave little clown-girl’s many adventures.
You can now get the first eight issues of this series as a collected hardback. It IS worth a look!! Even though I think the characterisation is badly off, as sub-character series go, it is most definitely a cut above most!
Read it and make up your own mind!