Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)
The book opens with Bruce Wayne arriving at the Gotham City Opera House, to attend a performance with his childhood friend Tommy Elliot, and Selina Kyle (aka. Catwoman) is also in attendance. However, when the performance is interrupted by Harley Quinn & her gang, we see this evening out is effectively ruined. What's more we see that out of all the boxes that Harley could express an interest in, we see she immediately is drawn to Bruce Wayne’s side. However when Harley attempts to steal a ring from Tommy, we see the man starts fighting back, and this naturally doesn't go over all that well, with the trigger-happy Harley Quinn & her gang. As the bullets begin to fly we see Bruce was able to get away, and soon Batman arrives on the scene to bust some heads. However, thanks to his recent injuries, Harley is able to get the drop on Batman, and only the timely arrival of Catwoman keeps Harley delivering the killing blow. As Catwoman & Harley go at it, we see the fact that Harley has a gun gives her the advantage in this fight, as Catwoman is cut down by a gunshot wound to her upper right shoulder. We then see Tommy has taken to chasing down the fleeing Harley to retrieve his stolen ring, but he has a rather harrowing encounter with another member of Batman's rogues gallery.
I like Harley Quinn and this issue makes good use of the character's more comedic side, as she does seem to be having the time of her life during the fight, in spite of the fact that she is fighting both Batman & Catwoman. I've also become a fan of Catwoman thanks to her monthly book which I consider to be one of the best monthly series currently being produced by DC. Much like the ever famous collision between the chocolate & the peanut butter trucks, this issue should be a classic example of two great things becoming even better when they are brought together, right? In theory a battle between Catwoman & Harley Quinn should be able to hold my attention, but whether it be from a flawed execution, or the simple fact that the two characters don't make for good adversaries, I found myself rather unimpressed by this fight. In fact the whole scene where Catwoman flips out after Harley calls her a stand-in for Robin just felt wrong, as it's a rather innocuous comment that shouldn't provoke such a serious response. Still, I will concede that Harley Quinn does steal the show with a fairly impressive mix of humorous banter & her high energy fighting style. There's also some fairly solid entertainment value in the idea that Harley was drawn to Bruce Wayne like a moth to a flame.
Perhaps I'm wrong and the Joker has really done what he looks to have done on that final page, but I've been reading comics long enough to spot a rather obvious bid to throw off the suspicions of the reader, with an ever popular method of accomplishing this little task being to set up a scene where the potential suspect is killed off. I mean I believe Jeph Loeb has already used this little trick during the "Long Halloween" maxiseries, when he had one of his primary suspects seemingly killed off fairly early in the game, so when this character was revealed to be very much alive later in the story, readers would've already focused all of their energies upon the suspects who were still alive & kicking. Still, the simple fact of the matter is that Harley Quinn is clearly drawn to Bruce Wayne's box tells the reader one of two things. One the person who arranged this incident knew Bruce would be attending this show, and it was simply the luck of the draw that the lead suspect happened to be on hand when this attack was launched. Or two, which I consider to be the more likely explanation, is that the lead suspect organized this entire encounter, including the faked death in the hopes that it would result in a battle to the death with the Joker, which would presumably leave Batman physically & emotional drained, and ripe pickings for a villain in the aftermath.
One does have to be impressed by Jim Lee's artistic talents, as out of the half-dozen artists who left Marvel back in the early 1990s to form Image comics, his style has adapted to the times the best (with Erik Larsen being a close second). I mean I look back at his work on the "X-Men" books, and yes even his work on "Alpha Flight", and I can see his art is actively adjusting to suit not only the material, but also the general feel of that period. I mean his figure work has always been strong, and he's shown a good eye when it comes to delivering visually exciting action sequences, but it's his work on the little details that one doesn't tend to notice that leave me impressed. I mean Harley Quinn looks like Harley Quinn with her demented smile, and the way she almost seems to be bouncing off the sides of the panels. There's also a nice entrance shot of Batman (though I had thought his cape was bulletproof), and the final page of this issue is also worth a mention as I this is a great looking shot of the Joker, that perfectly captures the idea that this is not someone you would want to encounter in even the most brightly lit of alleys. I also rather enjoyed the cover to this issue, even if it does spoil the surprise of Harley's entrance inside the issue.
The issue makes pretty good use of Harley Quinn, as she comes across as a fairly formidable threat, who is able to think on her feet, and take advantage of the various elements that she's presented with. The issue also delivers some fairly amusing lines for her to deliver, and her personality plays off Batman's grim & serious demeanor rather nicely. Where this issue doesn't hold up all that well though is when it shifts it's focus back to the plot that is driving this entire arc forward, as while Jeph Loeb may have something up his sleeve, I'm starting to get the feeling that he's gone for the obvious choice when it comes to the mystery villain, as this issue ends with what looks to be a fairly obvious attempt at throwing us off the track. The idea of a villain using Batman's rogues gallery to wear down Batman before launching their own attack is also a rather familiar feeling premise, as I do believe this plan was already employed by Bane. Still, I can only hope that this book isn't heading down the path it looks to have started down.
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