Hated by the average citizen for her past deeds and treated with skepticism by Batman himself, Harley Quinn is looking to make amends for her crime-filled past. Unluckily for her, Gotham City isn't exactly into the idea of costumed vigilantes right now. Writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Riley Rossmo lean into Harley's naturally sunny disposition in the uncharacteristically Batman-heavy Harley Quinn #1.
Written by Stephanie Phillips
Art by Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Riley Rossmo's wide-set eyes, massive protruding foreheads, and pointy chins are sometimes distractingly ugly, which works when the character is supposed to be unpleasant. Your mileage may vary on characters who are usually rendered in a more conventionally attractive manner, but there's such a strong sense of character in Rossmo's work that its idiosyncrasies work when they perhaps shouldn't. Although this peculiar mix of pointed toes and thumb-shaped faces are an acquired taste, the vitality of his lines make for undeniably great sequential storytelling.
One aspect of Rossmo's artwork that won't be controversial is his Batman. A brutish, broad-shouldered, and long-necked beast, Rossmo's Dark Knight dominates the page. Understanding that Batman's cape should be a character of its own, Rossmo draws it slithering across the page. Rossmo's subtle use of screen-toning adds an extra degree of texture that isn't often utilized in the direct market. This unique approach to shadowing is another little quirk in Rossmo's unconventional toolkit. It's great to see such big and bold cartooning from a 'Big Two' book.
Finishing things off on the visual side, colorist Ivan Plascencia tones the whole book under the moonlight of early evening, splashing in highlights of crimson against the dark blues when the fists begin to fly. Deron Bennett's letters match Rossmo's wobbly curves, integrating well with the artwork.
Turning to the issue's narrative, writer Stephanie Phillips has a strong grasp on modern Harley's voice. Her newfound sense of morals weigh heavily, always trying to minimize that nagging voice in her head who screams "escalate!" Phillips introduces a new supporting character here in the form of ex-Joker gang member Kevin, and Rossmo's design is wonderfully potato-like. ‘Harley as wannabe member of the Bat-Fam' isn't as immediately gripping as the Scooby Gang odd couple of Phillips' 'Future State' Harley and Scarecrow, but Kevin's got potential.
Pacing-wise, the issue moves along at a steady clip, bookending Harley's character development with a Killer Croc fight and an amusement park brawl. A gratuitous Batman appearance is the outlier here, the kind of thing usually reserved for a character less established than Harley. She's been able to sell her own solo book for literally decades at this point, and while more of Rossmo's Batman isn't exactly a negative, the focus on him here does feel weirdly editorially mandated.
Overall, this is a strong start for the next chapter in Harley Quinn's life. Freshly established as an honorary member of the Bat-Family with her own sidekick, Harley is finally completing her turn from villain to fully-fledged and card-carrying good guy. Riley Rossmo's artwork is filled with weird character, matching the book's tone, although its heavy stylization might not be to everyone's taste. Between 'Future State' and this opening salvo, Writer Stephanie Phillips has more than proven she's got a handle on Harley. Accompanied by Rossmo's eccentric eye, Harley Quinn #1 has all the beginnings of a memorable run.
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