Overview: IN Harley Quinn 2021 Annual # 1, Keepsake takes Harley, and Kevin and Solomon Grundy must save our antihero.
Overview (spoilers ahead): As Harley Quinn 2021 Annual # 1 begins, Solomon Grundy and Kevin fight Mr. Freeze. Blown away by ice, Kevin explains to Mr. Freeze that they are there to ask for help on behalf of Harley, who has been taken hostage by Keepsake. Mr. Freeze asks him to elaborate, Sparknotes style, and Kevin flashes back. He and Harley hang out in a skate park when Keepsake arrives. Harley is not impressed, and in response, Keepsake burns on Penguin’s umbrella. He reveals himself as Eli Kaufmann and says he worked for the Joker until Harley fired him. The memory insists that she owes him a debt and demands that she have dinner with him.
Mr. Freeze is now entering Kevin’s story and has made itself comfortable. Harley goes to dinner and demands that Kaufmann explain himself. Kaufmann says he will take over where the Joker has failed and that he needs Harley’s help. Harley is questionable, and Kevin, in poor disguise as a waiter, spills water on Kaufmann. The jig is up, and Kaufmann ends up blasting Harley and Kevin with Joker toxin, which he has acquired as “Keepsake toxin.” When Kevin wakes up, Kaufmann and Harley are gone. He asks Solomon Grundy to help find Harley, and they begin their search with Penguin.
Penguin explains that Kaufmann was in his employment, but that he fired Kaufmann for theft. He advises Kevin and Grundy to seek out Cheshire, who apparently has a particular hatred for Kaufmann. Cheshire suggests they talk to Two-Face. They also talk to Riddler and Killer Moth, who all advise that they confer with Mr. Freeze. Mr. Freeze states that Kaufmann stole one of Freeze’s cannons, all of which have GPS trackers. But he refuses to help, and Kevin, immobilized in an ice block, freaks out and threatens Frys with serious bodily harm. Mr. Freeze expresses, but warns Kevin that the information will cost him.
Harley is coming to; she is tied upside down in chains. Keepsake is there and he informs Harley that he has recreated ACE Chemicals for her. Keepsake tries to convince Harley that she’s a villain at heart, and with so many other Rogues on the sidelines, the time is ripe for a takeover. Harley is disinterested and turns her head on Keepsake before throwing her chains and declaring that only she can define who she is. They fight in earnest and Keepsake warns Harley that he and Dr. Strange has somehow changed the former clowns that Dr. Strange experimented with.
In the fight, they both fall into the container of green liquid. Memorial surface, but the chains pull Harley to the bottom and she loses consciousness before Solomon Grundy arrives to save her. The tub turns out to be filled with water that is colored green, and Harley, Kevin, and Grundy share a hug in gratitude and friendship. The crew must still fulfill Kevin’s promise to Mr. Freeze, which is that the three dress up and entertain by Mr. Freezes two-year-old niece’s birthday party. Harley and Kevin discuss how what sets them apart from Keepsake is that despite their past with the Joker, they wake up every day and try to do better. Meanwhile, Keepsake is planning revenge.
Analysis: Harley Quinn 2021 Annual # 1 is a funny ballad that takes the time to explore the deeper ties between Harley, Kevin and Solomon Grundy. Author Stephanie Phillips manages to make this unlikely friendship touching without being seductive or spurious. Taken seriously, true friendship and its power are always a welcome motive (see, for example, The Lord of the Rings), and I find the alliance both funny and genuine.
I especially find a lot of resonance profound in the connection between Harley and Solomon Grundy. Has this Rogue ever devoted itself so deeply to another character in the Batman universe? Grundy is nothing, if not different, and yet Harley treats him with dignity and respect as a fully equipped being with feelings, preferences, and a desire for connection. The results are astounding, and I increasingly think it’s worth considering as an allegory for how social and human difference should to be cared for and supported. Therefore, the importance of the Harley-Grundy relationship cannot be overestimated in what it means for Harley’s character growth. In terms of and compassion for Grundy, Harley does more than redeem himself; she is exceeds the goodness and decency we expect from our heroes in TBU. Harley is becoming a good human being before our eyes, and at least as far as her relationship with Grundy is concerned, she’s behaving better than most in Gotham.
As I have previously noted with Phillips’ authorship, the book is really fun. This helps to lighten the mood; we can have no account of Harley taking herself and her shenanigans too seriously. That said, Keepsake is a weak villain, and the author acknowledges it in a blink-blink with the reader. But in my opinion it does not work well and Keepsake appears unworthy of Harley’s attention, which makes me impatient to get rid of him. In terms of the visual, it is rarely effective to have three artists in a single book, and although there are no conspicuous inconsistencies, the art does not sing either. I’m still waiting for some of the art inside Harley Quinn to get close to what Jiménez is doing with Harley in Batman.
Still, the annual shows all the many good qualities of Phillips’ race so far with Harley Quinn. This Harley is dynamic, loyal, fearless, funny, vulnerable, ingenious and strong. Kevin will voluntarily seek out a series of scary Rogues and threaten Mr. Freeze, such is his devotion to her.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review. You can find this cartoon digitally and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue either through Comixology or Amazon.
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