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‘Harley Quinn’ #1: Introducing DC’s answer to Deadpool?

harley quinn #1 coverIt’s been about 10 years since the first ongoing series of popular Batman: The Animated Series export Harley Quinn published its 38th and final issue, so she was due — if not overdue — for another shot, particularly given that DC Comics’ current strategy means publishing a certain number of books each month, and the market seems to be rejecting a lot of those. Looked at in that light, then, this week’s Harley Quinn #1 was something of an inevitability.

The character certainly hasn’t been idle all that time, of course: She was a frequent presence in the Bat-books, shared the 2009-2011 Gotham City Sirens with Catwoman and Poison Ivy, briefly joined the Gail Siomone-written Secret Six and, with the New 52 reboot, she received a new origin story and costume in the pages of Suicide Squad. And, of course, she appeared at least briefly in various Batman cartoons during that time, as well as in the extremely popular Batman: Arkham video games and the more recent Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Certainly the character is popular, and while different fans probably like her for different reasons, the important factors seem to be that 1.) she’s a lady, 2.) she’s a sexy lady, and 3.) she offers the same sense of anarchy and dark humor as her sometimes-boyfriend The Joker, but without the depravity. More often than not — particularly in the comics and cartoons — she’s as much antihero as villain, a safer alternative to The Joker, whose evil serial killer portrayal is no so deeply embedded into the character that it can be difficult for creators to walk him back toward any more lighthearted portrayals.

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Comics A.M. | Direct market sales grew 9.33% in November

Batman #25

Batman #25

Publishing | Retail news and analysis website ICv2 breaks down November’s comics sales to the direct market and finds year-to-date sales up 9.33 percent over last year, with an 11.09 percent increase in comics and 5.55 percent in graphic novels. Batman #25 topped the comics chart with more than 125,000 copies, followed at No. 2 by Harley Quinn #0 with about 114,000.  In the graphic novel category, the latest volume of The Walking Dead led with about 25,000 copies sold in November. ICv2 also lists the top 300 comics and graphic novels for November. [ICv2]

Creators | Molly Crabapple talks to Art Spiegelman, and draws his portrait as well. [Vice]

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My strange love for Tom Taylor’s ‘Injustice: Gods Among Us’

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Or:  “How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Like Injustice: Gods Among Us.”

Knowing me as well as I do, I would have expected to absolutely hate Injustice: Gods Among Us, the digital-first comic based on the fighting game from the makers of Mortal Kombat, written by Tom Taylor and drawn by some eight different artists. It’s newly available in a hardcover collection of the first six issues that bears the tagline “The World-Wide #1 Bestselling Comic,” which I found dubious without qualification. (The whole world? Even counting Japan, where they have the One Piece and what do the kids read these days, the Naruto?)

Why would I expect not to like it? Well, a couple of reasons.

The costuming is pretty extreme. I was aesthetically offended by many of the New 52 costumes, which in general seem to be a compromise between the characters’ most popular outfits, whatever was in style at Image in 1992 and something that a Hollywood costuming department might put together for a live-action superhero movie or television series. Injustice took many of those designs even further, so that its Flash, for example, was wearing at least as much padding as NFL Super Pro.

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Comics A.M. | ‘Kuroko’s Basketball’ returns to shelves

Kuroko's Basketball

Kuroko’s Basketball

Retailing | The rental chain Tsutaya and the bookstore chain Yurindo have returned Kuroko’s Basketball books and DVDs to their shelves after “X-Day,” Nov. 4, passed without incident. Someone has sent hundreds of threatening letters to convention sites, bookstores, the media and Sophia University (the alma mater of Kuroko’s Basketball creator Tadatoshi Fujimaki), over the past year, and the most recent batch of letters said that “X-Day will be on the final day of the [Sophia University] school festival.” Meanwhile, police are checking security cameras near all the mailboxes in the districts from which the letters were mailed, looking for suspicious people. [Anime News Network]

Comics | Brian Steinberg looks at Archie Comics’ most radical move yet: the relatively adult Afterlife with Archie, which literally turned America’s most iconic teenagers into zombies. Steinberg talks to Archie CEO Jon Goldwater, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, artist Francesco Francavilla and others about the significance of this comic, which sold almost 65,000 copies to the direct market. [Variety]

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Controversial ‘suicide’ scene doesn’t appear in ‘Harley Quinn’ #0

harleyquinnHarley Quinn #0, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner and drawn by more than a dozen artists, arrives today in stores and contains the winning entry from the DC Entertainment Open Talent Search. The page, by Jeremy Roberts, is notable in that it is significantly toned down from the controversial script released in September.

DC came under fire from readers and advocacy groups alike for the original tryout page, which directed artists to depict the fan-favorite character naked in a bathtub, seemingly about to commit suicide, a scene Palmiotti explained was merely a surreal dream sequence.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness called the contest “extremely insensitive” and “potentially dangerous,” leading the publisher to apologize to anyone who may have been offended by the script while reiterating its intended “cartoony and over-the-top in tone.”

The original script described the fourth panel as, “Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of ‘oh well, guess that’s it for me’ and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.”

But in the published Harley Quinn #0, the first three panels remain the same — Harley holding onto a cell tower during a thunderstorm, feeding alligators and tickling the roof of a whale’s mouth — but the final one has been drastically changed: Instead of contemplating suicide in her bathtub, the character is shown riding a missile, Dr. Strangelove-style, high above the Earth.

Although the tryout script didn’t include dialogue, the overall tone of the page seems to lack the “Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach” Palmiotti said that he and Conner intended.

Harley Quinn #0 is in stores now.

The DC Comics non-guide to responding to controversy

harley quinn

Harley Quinn #0

Apparently, it takes three respected organizations to reiterate what fans had been saying for a week in order for DC Comics to admit: Maybe the fans have a point.

As we reported Friday, the publisher apologized to anyone offended by the talent search tryout page that asked artists to depict Harley Quinn naked in a bathtub, seemingly about to commit suicide. While the apology is welcome news, the entire rundown of the event reveals an unfortunate approach to handling controversy. Let’s take a look at the timeline of the Harley Quinn suicide debacle:

• Thursday, Sept. 5: DC launches the contest with a script excerpt of four panels that culminate in an apparent suicide scene. Fans on Tumblr, Twitter and elsewhere begin to react.

• Saturday, Sept. 7: Co-Publisher Jim Lee posts a series of tweets explaining context and attempting to clarify the intent of the story.

• Tuesday, Sept. 10: Co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti posts an apology on his Facebook page, and clarifies the controversial panel is part of a surreal dream sequence. “I hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention,” he writes. “I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since it was my screw up.”

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Report Card | ‘King’s Watch,’ the Riddler and more

reportcard-sept15

Welcome to “Report Card,” our week-in-review feature. If “Cheat Sheet” is your guide to the week ahead, “Report Card” is typically a look back at the top news stories of the previous week, as well as a look at the Robot 6 team’s favorite comics that we read.

So read on to find out what we thought about Brain Boy, King’s Watch and more

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DC apologizes to those offended by ‘Harley Quinn’ contest

harley quinnDC Comics has apologized to anyone offended by the controversial Harley Quinn tryout page that asks artists to depict the fan-favorite character naked in a bathtub, seemingly about to commit suicide, and reiterated “the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone.” However, the publisher appears to be continuing the DC Entertainment Open Talent Search.

The statement was issued Thursday, shortly after the the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness expressed their disappointment in the publisher, calling the contest “extremely insensitive” and “potentially dangerous.”

Their comments capped off a week of growing criticism about the panel, which Harley Quinn co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti clarified on Tuesday is part of a surreal dream sequence intended to have “a Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach.”

“We believe that instead of making light of suicide, DC Comics could have used this opportunity to host a contest looking for artists to depict a hopeful message that there is help for those in crisis” the three groups said in a joint statement, published by USA Today and The Huffington Post. “This would have been a positive message to send, especially to young readers,” the statement continued. “On behalf of the tens of millions of people who have lost a loved one to suicide, this contest is extremely insensitive, and potentially dangerous. We know from research that graphic and sensational depictions of suicide can contribute to contagion.”

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Crisis on Earth-3D!: Villains Month, Week Two

villains

DC Comics kicked off its Villains Month last week, as the evil opposites of the Justice League invaded the DC Universe, seemingly disposing of all the heroes and taking over the world.

Likewise, the villains have been taking over DC’s New 52 line of comic books, with the MIA heroes finding the covers of their books occupied by bad guys. Those are, of course, the collectible and somewhat-controversial (among retailers) 3D lenticular covers.

But as the case with books, we shouldn’t judge a comic by its cover, so let’s continue reviewing our way through the contents of the Villains Month issues. As with last week’s batch, I’m rating each book on a 10-point scale of how evil it is, with “Not Very Good” being the worst and “Absolute Evil” the best, and noting its connectivity to the Forever Evil crossover event that sparked the promotion in the first place.

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Jimmy Palmiotti clarifies controversial ‘Harley Quinn’ tryout script

harley quinn0Responding to the backlash to the tryout page for DC Entertainment’s Open Talent Search, Harley Quinn co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti has clarified that a scene depicting the fan-favorite character in a bathtub, seemingly planning suicide, is merely a surreal dream sequence.

“That the tryout Harley Quinn page went out without an overall description of tone and dialogue is all my fault,” he wrote this morning on his Facebook page. “I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda [Conner] and I talking to Harley and giving her a hard time. I should have also mentioned we were thinking a Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach was what we were looking for. We thought it was obvious with the whale and chicken suit, and so on, but learned it was not. I am sorry for those who took offense, our intentions were always to make this a fun and silly book that broke the 4th wall, and head into issue 1 with a ongoing story/adventure that is a lot like the past Powergirl series we did. I hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention. I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since It was my screw up. The idea for the page to find new talent is an amazing one and we hope that can be the positive that comes forward from today on … that we get some new talent working in our field because of this unique opportunity.”

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Grumpy Old Fan | DC goes dark in November

Ironically, not part of the "blackout"

Not part of the blackout

There’s no solicitation for Justice League 3000 in November, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Reworking a first issue from scratch, with a new artist and what sounds like a new tone, undoubtedly isn’t something even one of the Big Two can do on short notice. Instead, DC Comics goes back to the Bat-well both for November’s only new series, and to goose the sales of various superhero titles.

As always, though, there’s enough in the new batch of solicitations to keep us busy this week — so without further ado …

ALWAYS BET ON BLACK

Apparently “Zero Year” will include a “Blackout In Gotham” plot point that can stretch into a dozen other DC titles, including non-Bat-books like Action Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Corps and The Flash. This makes a certain degree of sense, as it takes place back in the “before-time” of the George W. Bush administration, before the various superhero jurisdictions were established, so you’d expect someone like Superman to take a road trip if he thought Gotham needed him. However, thanks largely to this being Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, the blackout — which, as far as I can tell, would otherwise be just one part of one title’s flashback storyline — ends up involving more books than DC’s actual line-wide Big Event, Forever Evil. The latter includes the eponymous miniseries, three ancillary miniseries and the three Justice League books, but only two other ongoing series (Teen Titans and Suicide Squad, each of which has been tied into 4EVEv since it started). The total is “Zero Year” 13, Forever Evil 9, and almost half of the latter’s score is miniseries. Personally, I don’t mind a discrete Big Event, and I’m not surprised that DC would exploit “Zero Year.” I’m just a little surprised at how heavily it seems to be relying on “Zero Year” in November.

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SDCC ’13 | A roundup of pre-convention news

robotech-voltronPreview Night doesn’t begin for another 11 hours, but judging from the flurry of announcements, Comic-Con International has been well under way since, oh, about Monday. So, if it feels like you’re already falling behind, that’s because you probably are.

To help you catch up, we’ve rounded up early news from DC Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Madefire and Marvel, along with a few other convention-related items.

• Dynamite Entertainment came out of the gate running this week with news that Steve Niles and Dennis Calero will reboot Army of Darkness, James Robinson will launch his crime romance Grand Passion, the Legends of Red Sonja miniseries will team Gail Simone with an all-female creative team that includes Marjorie M. Liu, Nancy A. Collins, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Mercedes Lackey, Nicola Scott and Devin Grayson, Peter Milligan will debut his sci-fi action series Terminal Hero, Duane Swiercyznski will expand the publisher’s crime line with Ex-Con, Howard Chaykin will return to The Shadow with the miniseries Midnight in Moscow, NBC’s Heroes will get a “fifth season” in a series written by Cullen Bunn, the acquisition of the Robotech license spawns a Robotech/Voltron crossover, and The Heart of the Beast, the graphic novel by Dean Motter, Judith Dupré and Sean Phillips, will receive a 20th-anniversary prestige-format edition.

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Women of Action | Ame-Comi Girls

Amanda Conner's Wonder Woman

When DC Comics announced it was launching a series based on its popular Ame-Comi line of figures, I don’t think I heard a single person say, “Yes! I was hoping for that!” The Ame-Comi collectibles can be imaginative and attractive (some more than others), but no one was clamoring for a series that sexualized DC’s superheroines even more overtly than they already are. In fact, the most common responses were either head-scratching or eye-rolling, depending on how much the person thought DC has legitimately tried to reach out to female readers lately. But then the creators were announced.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray write the series and Amanda Conner drew the first couple of installments, which were serialized digitally first, 10 pages at a time. Putting the creators of the well-regarded Power Girl series on Ame-Comi Girls was a smart move and convinced a lot of readers who otherwise would have dismissed the comic – including me – to give it at least an initial look.

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Comics A.M. | Tokyo’s Comic Market receives threat letter

Comic Market 82 (Summer 2012)

Conventions | Organizers of Tokyo’s Comic Market (aka Comiket), the world’s largest self-published comic book fair, have received a threat letter, leading them to consider their options for the planned Dec. 29-31 event. The preparations committee said it has been in contact with local police and the Tokyo Big Sight, where the semiannual convention is held. The incident follows a series of threat letters containing powdered and liquid substances sent in the past month to more than 20 locations linked to Kuroko’s Basketball creator Tadatoshi Fujimaki. About 560,000 attended Comic Market 82 over its three days in August (that’s turnstile attendance, not unique visitors). [Anime News Network]

Creators | Patrick Rosenkranz catches us up on S. Clay Wilson, who suffered a massive brain injury in 2008 (the cause isn’t clear) and is still recovering. “Wilson’s favorite word is still ‘No!’ He used to be a motor mouth but now he’s mostly monosyllabic. After a long life dedicated to being the baddest boy in comix, he’s become a grand old man, but he’s no longer in his right mind. He used to be able to out-talk, out-booze, out-cuss, out-draw, and outrage almost anyone but he doesn’t drink, smoke, snort or draw dirty pictures any more. He doesn’t walk much either and seldom leaves the house, and only in a wheelchair.” [The Comics Journal]

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Grumpy Old Fan | Beginning the Joker’s eight-way revenge

There's a killer on the road / His brain is squirmin' like a toad

As written by Scott Snyder, penciled by Greg Capullo and inked by Jonathan Glapion, the lead story in Batman Vol. 2 #13 is a terrific kickoff to the latest Batman event. “Death of the Family,” the Joker-centric crossover running through the Batman line for the next few months, will eventually involve seven more ongoing series — including Batgirl and Batman and Robin, which we’ll discuss later — but this opening chapter by itself shows me that Snyder, Capullo and company intend to kick out all the stops when it comes to the Clown Prince of Crime.

Naturally, SPOILERS FOLLOW for this week’s Bat-books.

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