Harley Quinn, Eat the Rich and the Joy of Returning to Comics

  • by

I was an avid comic book reader for years… and then I wasn’t. It felt like the same handful of “diverse” characters reenacting the same handful of storylines. Comics publishers were doubling down on keeping or rehiring bad actors. The Big Two were constantly rebooting their characters and jamming in special events that spanned across numerous series, all while delaying trades by months to force people into buying issues or digital.

To put it plainly: I was bored. I figured I’d take a break from comics for a few months and then dive back in. That break turned into two and a half years. What finally pulled me back in? Eat the Rich and Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour.

 

Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich #2 cover art by Kevin Tong (Boom Studios)

Joey joins her wealthy law school boyfriend Astor as he returns to Crestfall Bluffs. Raised in the tourist town alongside other Richie Rich types, Astor hasn’t been home in years, and hasn’t attended one of their glamorous social events since he stopped drinking. All Joey wants to do is fit in and impress her boyfriend’s parents, but she keeps making mistakes, thanks in no part to Astor not preparing her adequately. During a surreal retirement party for a groundskeeper held by the wealthiest families in town, Joey slips out to the beach for a breath of fresh air. Instead, she witnesses a brutal murder and a bloodsoaked bacchanal.

I’m not a big reader of horror comics—I’m too chicken—but there was no way I could skip this series. Sarah Gailey is one of my most recommended speculative fiction authors. Their novel, The Echo Wife, is one of my top five favorite books so far this year. Horror or no, I had to pick this issue up. Gailey is very good at turning the screws on the tension so gradually that when the horror hits you it’s both expected and shocking. They also do a solid job making the reader feel as adrift as Joey does, lost in this befuddling world of glitz and gristle. There are undercurrents of “smash the patriarchy” and comments on the way privilege tangles around prejudice in ways that are impossible to shake without also dismantling the power structure.

Artist Pius Bak favors pages with several big panels and a few tiny ones, a structure that throws the reader off balance. The first issue is heavy on text, but letterer Cardinal Rae keeps everything flowing smoothly. Between Bak’s rough (in a good way!) illustrations and the way colorist Roman Titov contrasts reds and oranges with pops of blues and purples, the art adds to the disconcertment building from Gailey’s text.

The synchronicity between Rae, Bak, and Titov is evident. Little moments, like when Joey doesn’t notice baby Cartwright sucking on a human jaw bone, are framed in such a way that the reader might also not notice what was happening; the illustration, color choices, and placement of the speech bubbles are all designed to make what the reader and Joey would find horrific feel mundane for the Crestfall Bluffians. Brilliant stuff. I foresee this series hitting a lot of the Best Ofs lists come December.

Writer: Sarah Gailey; illustrations: Pius Bak; colors: Roman Titov; letters: Cardinal Rae; designer: Michelle Ankley; editor: Elizabeth Brei. The first issue was released by BOOM! Studios on August 18, 2021.

 

Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour

Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour #2 cover art by Max Sarin (DC Comics)

This limited series starring the hot messes that are Harley Quinzel and Pamela Isley, aka Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, starts off immediately after the melodramatic season 2 finale of the HBO Max show. Ivy, in runaway bride mode, ditches the Old Gotham Corn Factory with Harley in tow. After declaring their love for one another, the queer villains drive off into the sunset…well, more accurately down the roller coaster-esque highway Harley blackmailed the city into building. The couple hide out and hook up in Harley’s abandoned mall lair, but Commissioner Gordon is hot on their trail. To finally be given a key to the city—and convince the President to let Gotham back into the United States (but mostly to get the key)—Gordon needs to drag the lovebirds back to Arkham. Can he capture them? Probably not! But his repeated and spectacular failures are half the fun.

Not much happens plot-wise in the first issue, but it is rich with character development and place-setting. Writer Tee Franklin does a fantabulous job balancing introducing new readers to this version of the classic DC characters while also not making long time fans wish for a “skip recap” option. She even uses the non-linear storytelling and fourth wall narration tricks employed by the Birds of Prey movie with great success. I cackled out loud several times reading this issue, and smiled through the rest of it. Even the more serious moments, such as when Harls comforts Ives through an emotional breakdown in the bathroom, are written with such care that my heart grew two sizes.

Artist Max Sarin perfectly captures the look and feel of the TV show animation style while also utilizing the comic book medium to its fullest. The panels are laid out in an uncomplicated yet creative way. Another good entry point for less experienced comic book readers is Taylor Esposito’s lettering. It’s easy to read and, for the most part, not too cluttered or dense. Marissa Louise replicates the show’s vivid color palette well, and finds ways to make important things stand out in just the right way without overwhelming the visuals. Fans of the TV show and the Birds of Prey movie will have a lot of fun spotting all the Easter eggs Sarin scatters throughout; the scene in Harley’s bedroom in the abandoned mall is especially full of little delights. Irreverent, hilarious, and crudely quirky, The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour series is the perfect layover between seasons of the television show. This is the most comic book fun I’ve had in a long time.

Writer: Tee Franklin; art: Max Sarin; colors: Marissa Louise; letters: Taylor Esposito; editor: Katie Kubert. The first issue was released by DC Comics on September 1, 2021.

 

Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *