24 September 2011

"Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes"

Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes
Written by Karl Kesel
Pencils by Terry Dodson with Craig Rousseau
Inks by Rachel Dodson with Wayne Faucher
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Letters by Ken Lopez
Original Series Covers by Terry and Rachel Dodson
Harley Quinn created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Originally published as Harley Quinn #1-7
Trade Paperback published: 27 January 2009
Cover Price: $19.99
192 Pages

Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes collects the first seven issues of the ongoing Harley Quinn solo comic that ran from 2000-2004.  Harley originated as a character for the TV show, Batman: The Animated Series but proved so popular that DC subsequently introduced her into the mainstream comic continuity.  This collection and the series from which it was culled was part of the DC Universe proper, though writer Karl Kesel kept it in sort of its own little pocket in the beginning.

The first issue (and hence, this collection) begins with Harley springing The Joker from Arkham Asylum, and the dysfunctions of their volatile relationship culminate with Harley going solo.  "Happy" Jack Happi, owner of an amusement park wrecked by Harley and The Joker, hires investigators of his own to track her down--thereby establishing new adversaries for Harley that don't wear Bat-themed costumes.  The nature of their investigation is to get into Harley's head and profile her, which works well as both a plausible procedural convention as well as a storytelling device for exposition about the nature of Harley Quinn's past and state of mind.

There are more than a few Easter eggs of nods to the 1989 Batman movie, the comics of the Silver Age and comedic movies in general.  I know a lot of fans prefer a "darker" storytelling for the mainstream DCU, but I have to say I found Kesel's light touch well suited for the nature of this character.  It's silly and irreverent; the kind of comic where an experienced Gotham hood goes around sharing anecdotes of when he "henched" for various super villains.  Yet, like Harley herself, there are some startling dark moments and I found them much more effective in a book like this because they're so incongruous with the rest of the story.

The underlying theme of Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes is to explore who Harley Quinn is; while she grapples to establish herself independent of being known as The Joker's sidekick/girlfriend (or Poison Ivy's gal pal), "Happy" Jack's investigators unearth who Harleen Quinzel once was--and how she became Harley Quinn.  Few questions are answered in these seven issues, of course, but they're fun and move at a nice pace.

Terry and Rachel Dodson's art is terrific from front to back; clean lines, not one panel is cluttered and they infuse a great sense of kinetic energy to the character and her bizarre part of the world.  Facial expressions are particularly noteworthy; each character has a clear personality.  And they delight in showing off the curvaceous titular character in myriad acrobatic positions; nothing too objectifying, but certainly it would be fair to say we're meant to let our eyes linger before moving onto the next word balloon.

It's a shame that, to date, this is the only collected edition of Harley Quinn.  It means I'll have to track down the remaining 31 issues individually.  I'm not clear at present whether this series is still part of DC continuity in the wake of The New 52 relaunch currently taking place.  I know Harley is now a member of Suicide Squad, having been given the chance to redeem herself for her past offenses by taking on extremely dangerous missions.  There's nothing about that premise that would inherently negate this series, but even if it were established that this one is outside of current continuity, this collection has convinced me it was a fun, playful book worth my time.

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