HARLEY QUINN #34 [Review]

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Harley Quinn celebrated her 25th anniversary just last year, but in that quarter century she has come to dominate the DC Universe in ways most characters never will. Her journey from a one-off appearance as The Joker’s moll in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series to become a headliner for DC Comics is remarkable. And though there have been several notable missteps and outright disasters along the way, Harley Quinn has enjoyed an excellent run as of late while in the hands of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.

This creative team (and married couple) haven’t so much as reinvented the character but refined her. Conner and Palmiotti have distilled Harley to her very essence – a woman who cares deeply, sometimes too deeply, and will go to any lengths to help those she loves. She’s also a wild card, whose whims are unpredictable and ever-changing. She’s wacky, silly, and neither a good guy or bad guy, really, but with a moral code all her own. Most of all, Harley Quinn is fun and Conner and Palmiotti have had so much fun with her these past four years.

But all good things must come to an end, and with Harley Quinn #34, Conner and Palmiotti are moving on. It’s certainly sad to watch them go, but seeing as they’ve been churning out not only the main Harley Quinn series but tie-ins, mini-series, and one-shots galore, they’ve earned a break. This issue is not only a fond farewell to the character they’ve nurtured through the New 52 and Rebirth, but an account of just how far she’s come while under their pens.

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The plot of Harley Quinn #34 is mostly inconsequential, more or less wrapping up loose ends and getting Harley into some trouble. Yet, throughout there a moments which are intentional commentary on how much Harley’s grown and changed under Conner and Palmiotti’s watch. Two scenes in particular stand out – one where Harley sneaks out of her parents house to visit a nearby hyena sanctuary, the other a quick stop at the Conner-Palmiotti household itself.

Both scenes draw attention to how the recent Harley Quinn series has worked to counteract developments that occur in other DC books. For example, Harley reuniting with her babies, Bud and Lou, reveals that she didn’t actually kill them (as was shown during the “Death of the Family” arc from the other Bat-books) but instead sent them to this sanctuary to be rehabilitated. They’ve since settled into a nice life at the sanctuary and even have little hyena families with puppies she dubs Ricky and Lucy. Harley almost brings the whole brood home with her if not for Poison Ivy, who wisely talks her out of it. The scene is adorable and cathartic, bringing a happy end to what was an unnecessarily cruel use of Harley’s beloved hyenas.

Even more than learning Bud and Lou are happily retired, Harley’s fourth wall-breaking stopover to visit Conner and Palmiotti is explicit in its detailing of the impact the two have had on Harley’s life and canon. With mallet in hand, she wrecks their home and complains how her life used to be “so much simpler” and that all she had to do was “make a story look better and push one-liners that could go on t-shirts!” Throughout this series, however, there’s been a continuity to uphold and more supporting characters than just “Mistah J, a few bad guys, an’ the Bat-Hole.” In actuality, Harley’s complaints highlight all the good Conner and Palmiotti have brought to this series, allowing Harley to grow into the fully-dimensional character her popularity demands and deserves.

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For much of Harley Quinn #34, John Timms handles the artwork with colors provided by Alex Sinclair. Timms has been the go-to artist for most recent issues of Harley Quinn and his style has been a great fit for the series. Scenes of both comedy and action are well illustrated, making it clear how a joke or punch is meant to land. Timm’s Harley is lithe and leggy, a sexy character but one that never strays too far into cheesecake territory. The same goes for Poison Ivy, who joins Harley for most of the issue. The few pages where Harley visits Conner and Palmiotti are instead handled by an earlier artist for the series, Chad Hardin. His Harley is more expressive, which is perfect since she’s so forcefully expressing herself across those panels. It’s also fitting that the first interior artist Conner and Palmiotti worked alongside handles the face-to-face meeting between creators and character.

The last pages feature Harley and Ivy sailing off into the sunset in what is likely to be the closest thing DC editorial will allow to an outright confirmation of their relationship, but it’s a beautiful sendoff nonetheless. The gal pals from Gotham have become especially close throughout Harley Quinn, and having the two enjoy some peace and quiet together is the only ending that makes sense.

Harley Quinn #34 is a fantastic finale (even if the series isn’t exactly ending). While Harley will continue to star in future issues of this series as well as Suicide Squad and any other series they can squeeze her into, it’ll be this run from Conner and Palmiotti that will stand as the quintessential, modern take on Harley Quinn. And Harley as well as her fans are all the better for it.

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