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I’ve found the new Justice League United to be a rather surreal reading experience, until this point, for all sorts of reasons: It’s hard to believe DC launched this series to replace the much-ballyhooed — 52 variant covers! — Geoff Johns/David Finch Justice League of America after a mere 14 issues; it’s weird to see DC quietly reversing its “holding the line at $2.99″ policy with a Marvel-ous price point of 22 pages for $3.99; it launched with a zero issue that was actually a must-read first issue so that the story chapters and the issue numbers are now forever out of sequence; it featured Hawkman having an arm lopped up only to grow it back the next issue because Nth Metal; it featured an attempt to give the old grim-and-gritty treatment to Ultra the Multi-Alien; and so on.
However, the single most surreal aspect of the book may be one that’s suffused so much of the New 52, but is particularly present in the team books that rely on shared history (despite the fact that there isn’t really any shared history). In Justice League United, writer Jeff Lemire and penciler Mike McKone have assembled a rag-tag group of superheroes — Animal Man, Green Arrow, Star Girl, Hawkman and Supergirl — led by Martian Manhunter, whose place in the new DCU and relationships with the other Justice Leaguers is still ambiguous.
Harley 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.