Harley Quinn #59 // Review
She’s metafictional. She casually breaks the fourth wall. She’s a walking, talking analogy for the contemporary U.S. psyche. So yeah: Harley Quinn is cool and everything. But something’s missing: she doesn’t exactly have a whole lot in common with tragic fictional early 20th-century German hipster Gregor Samsa. In the past couple of years, she’s been getting weird and ticking quite a few boxes on the coolness scorecard, but she hasn’t gotten all weird and buggy yet. Writer Sam Humphries rectifies this in the latest issue of Harley’s series--an offbeat story featuring the art of Sami Basri. “The Trials of Harley Quinn” storyline continues as a few witches from a recent encounter curse Harley’s head into becoming all weird and buggy in an issue that manages to be a lot more entertaining than the premise might initially seem. Humphries pays tribute to Kafka’s classic The Metamorphosis in an issue named after the novella.
One morning, as Harley is waking up from anxious dreams, she discovers that her head has been changed into a monstrous bug’s. There are antennae and mandibles and everything. The issue then jumps into a flashback to reveal the origin of the transformation during a charity fair on Coney Island. Harley and her massive, blue Apokoliptian friend Tina are readying themselves for a dunk tank experience when a trio of witches deliver the curse to Harley, who proceeds to spend much of the rest of the issue with a hideous insect head. Will Harley survive her second trial on the way to becoming divine Angel of Retribution? Things didn’t go too terribly well for Gregor Samsa on a similar occasion, but Gregor Samsa didn’t have the kind of friends Harley does.
The issue mirrors Kafka’s classic in clever mutation into Harley’s end of the DC Universe. It’s a very stressful 20 pages for the charismatic clown girl, but Humphries keeps the horror from being too overwhelming with plenty of infusion of comedy. The comedy never overpowers the fear of Harley’s predicament. It’s not a terribly original idea, but Humphries keeps it fresh throughout as Harley learns more than a little fearlessness and humility in a story that actually seems to develop her in the direction of genuine reformation. The character development that Humphries is putting Harley through is definitely evolving in an exciting direction even if this issue isn’t quite as compellingly novel as recent chapters have been.
Basri is handed the challenge of making Harley’s insect face look both disturbing and comic while being expressive enough to deliver the full emotional reality of what the irresistible clown girl is going through. That in and of itself is quite an accomplishment. Considering the fact that so much of the story is anchored in Harley’s internal journey, it’s remarkable that the visuals of the issue feel as dynamic as they do. Aside from a little running around, there isn’t a whole lot of physical activity this issue. Twenty pages pass by without a significant physical action, but it scarcely feels like an empty issue thanks in large part to Basri’s work.
Humphries’ issues of Harley have been strangely erratic in kind of an appealing way. Traveling off into some weird Kafka fugue for 20 pages seems to fit the kind of weirdness that the title has been engaging in of late. It makes perfect sense in context even if it seems like kind of a departure from everything she’s dealt with thus far — a strange, little dream of an issue that’s not without its charm.