Harley Quinn Annual – Good, But Not As Smelly As Expected

harley annual conner coverLots Of Spoilers Ahead, Not To Mention Mindless Rambling

This thing’s been out for weeks now, but only a couple of days ago did I get my copy. The comic shop I usually go to had only the Bombshells variant cover and no way was I forking over nine buckaroos for something with such a drab, butt-ugly cover. I waited and waited, but the good cover – the Amanda Conner one to the left – never turned up and eventually I had to resort to eBay, so here I am reading and writing about the thing after everyone else has pretty much forgotten about it! Bummer.

In the year since I wrote a rather glowing review of Harley Quinn #1 the title has been a bit of a mixed bag – a bag on a slight downward trajectory, alas. It’s still the only thing I can bother reading in these days of Crap52 idiocy, wimpy Wolverines, female Thors and so on, but it isn’t quite the great title it was when it first started. The main problem has been the decline in the artwork. Initially a wonderful, painted, sort of thing, with Chad Hardin doing the drawing and Alex Sinclair doing the painting, it quickly became the usual matter of pen and ink being merely colored in. I have no idea why this happened, maybe the former style made it hard to meet deadlines? There’s also a decline in the quality of Hardin’s linework, it’s nowhere near as expressive and attractive as before. It’s all still within acceptable limits, mind you, it’s just not the visual treat that it once was.

As for the writing, I also found the whole Syborg thing totally crap. Who cares about some bunch of Soviet Era spies still fighting the Cold War? Not me. And for god’s sake, let’s have a little less Yiddish from Sy. I suspect that even the average Jewish New Yorker doesn’t understand half of what he’s saying, much less the rest of us. But with the fading of Sy into the background and the arrival of Power Girl, things seem to be back on track. And there was, of course, the issues with Poison Ivy, those were cool. And the flying bags of doggy-doo – how can you not love that, especially when several get aimed at the master idiots behind the reboot? And there was also the exploding roller derby chick. And the assassin that went splitsville while Harley and Ivy made bets as to which side of the fence her corpse would fall on! The demented Harley-style sense of humor remains, and that’s what matters. Hell, in the latest issue they have a giant, talking pug! That’s a doggy-type pug, not a Rocky-type pug. And he gets pissed off and eats his humanoid wife in one bite! Divorce doggy style, I suppose.

But back to the annual.

This is not only the first ever Harley Quinn annual (she never got one during her early 2000s series) but also, far as I can remember, the first Smellorama comic put out by one of the majors in many years. Funnily enough, the scents are kind of weak. The leather jacket, first one up, is the only exception. I could swear these scratchy-smelly things were much more pungent, but it’s been a long time since I smelled one – at the time they were still called “Scratch ‘n’ Sniff,” while now they are apparently called “Rub ‘n’ Smell.” The Banana butter is nice but again kind of weak, so that the smell of the actual paper still comes through! I can barely smell the pizza, and what does get into my honker ain’t that great. The cannabis is… er…not quite the way I remember it. Maybe it’s fresh cannabis, still rooted to the ground, and who the hell ever gets to smell that except the growers?

But the Smellorama aspect isn’t what matters here. It’s just a mere gimmick and while I wouldn’t say it is a lame one, it’s not exactly walking in a straight line, either. The only thing that prevents the gimmick from being stupid and redundant is that this is a Harley Quinn comic, and she’s just the kind of gal who would find such a thing fun.

The plot for this issue is a simple one – Harley’s favorite houseplant is in trouble, so Harley arranges to get herself taken back home to Arkham Asylum and Botanical Gardens in an attempt to rescue her best gal-pal. Hallucinogenic drugs come into the picture, hallucinations follow, a large egg becomes angry, and we are all treated to the kind of goofiness that has made this comic the surprise hit of the otherwise woeful reboot. And the whole thing with Harley dropping everything and flying off to rescue her BFF is very much in keeping with their close relationship, and this gives some character and psychological depth to the ensuing humorous chaos.

But how does our heroine get herself from Coney Island to Gotham? Does she take a train? The Greyhound bus? No, of course not! This is Harley Quinn, not your grandmother, so she has herself scatapulted to her destination, leading to this great panel…

scatapulted to gotham

And yes, of course she’s wearing a parachute. What do you think she is, crazy?

Not long before this trip Harley had a great bit where she slags off the kind of twat who drinks cat crap coffee! Such idiot trends being one of the many things that keep people stupid, I just had to shove something similar into the lyrics of one of the songs I’m working on, though if you are paying through the nose to drink coffee that’s been through a Civet’s ass you probably don’t need much help when it comes to staying stupid.

Anyway, Harley lands safely, steals some pizza, heads off to the loony bin and a bunch of cool stuff happens. As is almost always the case with me, the artwork is of paramount importance and this John Timms guy does a really good job, especially when it comes to expressions…

Here she is being insensitive to an egg…

harl disdaining an egg 2

And here she is trying to make friends with a cockroach, or trying to figure out whether or not it would make good eatin’. I don’t know which…

harley roach

And the least said about this one the better…

harley expression 3 blowhole

The visual highlight of the issue is, without doubt, Ivy’s drug-induced hallucination, “Foliage Freakout,” drawn and colored by Stjepan Sejic. Not only is this red-hued phantasy gorgeous to look at…

visually best

… but we also get to see Harley and Ivy being hit on by a giant bee! Then there’s other hallucination sequences, during which we are witness to a brief appearance by Godzilla Harley, a cameo by Hurl Girl, and an anthropomorphic feline Harley eating Mistah J’s face, the last sequence featuring some very cool cartoony artwork by Ben Caldwell…

harley felineThis entire thing is one of the coolest comics i’ve read this year, so damn cool I’ve read it twice in a row, something that I rarely do with any comic. I can only hope that Harley having become such a hugely popular character leads the pinheads in charge of Dumb Comics to take into account the possibility that maybe the reason she is so huge is that she is essentially the pre-reboot Harley – a de-booted re-boot, if you will. After all, Suicide Squad Harley wasn’t anywhere near this big, was she? But then, she was a hollow, papier-mâché Harley, while Coney Island Harley is the real deal, at least as far as her wild, cute, goofy personality goes – and that’s what really matters.

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