Harley Quinn: Black + White + Red #1
Written and Illustrated by Stjepan Šejić
Lettering by Gabriela Downie
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
What are comics, if not the intersection between art and commerce? That’s the thought that ran through my mind while reading Harley Quinn: Black + White + Red #1, a strong short story from Harleen author Stjepan Šejić that nevertheless is undercut by DC's overall marketing and packaging. Considering the over-the-top tease ahead of this anthology’s announcement, it’s hard not to feel some level of disappointment despite Šejić’s beautiful artwork, given that DC is expecting fans to spend 99 cents on a single short.
But to Šejić’s credit, he’s able to take his virtuosic artwork and his sharp take on Harley and filter it through the titular black, white, and red motif. Given that Šejić has done plenty of work with the character in his revised origin story Harleen, there’s a level of confidence he immediately brings to the table, as Harley scoffs at the idea of the Lüscher color test — but that winds up being Šejić’s entry to explore just what red means to the Clown Princess of Crime. Even though some readers might be able to spot the final twist coming, Šejić really synthesizes all the different aspects of Harley’s personality and history to give readers a great primer on the character.
While Šejić shifts into an almost lyrical montage — you can almost imagine this as a Taylor Swift video as Harley says “it’s the color of his grin, the color of my sin” — he thrives with the limited color palette, as we see images of Harley Quinn through the years. With just a few pages, Šejić effectively encapsulates Harley’s seduction by the Joker, her downfall as his partner-in-crime, as well as her redemption when she finally stood up to her abuser. These pages smartly let the art do the talking, but Šejić also deserves praise for his innovative panel layouts, as he’s able to take even these half-page cuts and fill them with five- and six-panel grids.
Yet like I said before… as a single story, Šejić continues to impress, but as an overall package, Harley Quinn: Black + White + Red doesn’t exactly feel like a whole lot of bang for your buck. Most of DC’s other digital efforts have included multiple short stories if there isn’t a full-length narrative to hold your interest — but given that this story is broken down into half-pages, we’re only getting eight pages to tide us over. Given that DC used its leverage muscles to promote this book with a widely released teaser — and given Harley’s smashing success as one of DC’s leading cinematic antiheroines following Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey — it feels like the publisher hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.
It’s books like Harley Quinn: Black + White + Red that really illustrate the divide between a comics’ creators, and the army of professionals and directives that bring a creator’s artwork to the marketplace. Stjepan Šejić is one of the Direct Market’s strongest writer/artists, and in a vacuum, his story is the epitome of short but sweet — but reviewing this book as a whole, it feels like the opening act for a superstar concert that never winds up materializing. For 99 cents, it’s not the highest impact on your wallet, but even with Šejić’s artistry on display, Black + White + Red doesn’t pack nearly as much value as some of DC’s other digital offerings.