Future State: Harley Quinn #1 strips away a lot of Harley’s excess and reimagines her as a reluctant crime fighter, to surprisingly great effect.
Harley Quinn has always, really, existed as a facet of the Joker. That’s how she was originally conceived, their demented, abusive relationship was integral to many of her arcs, and despite her own burgeoning popularity ever since her debut, she has in some sense remained in the shadow of the Clown Prince of Crime. Even several episodes of the very good animated series revolved around her getting over their relationship. But Future State: Harley Quinn #1 strips away a lot of what you recognize about the character. Here, reduced to a captive of Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, and the totalitarian Magistrate introduced in Future State: The Next Batman #1, what’s left behind for the series to explore is Harley’s considerable knowledge of the criminal mind.
There’s still an element of physical, psychological, and emotional torture, with Scarecrow filling the Joker’s role in that regard, but there’s no ill-advised romantic component here, and by the end of the issue Harley has earned a degree of privilege by helping to catch two of Gotham’s prominent rogues. And all from her cell! It’s a different, interesting angle for the character, but retains enough of her personality in both Stephanie Phillips’ writing and Simone Di Meo’s art to still feel very much like a Harley story. (Tamara Bonvillain does colors; Troy Peteri does letters).
While the potential of Harley’s escape and revenge against a power-tripping Scarecrow and the Magistrate looming above him is a tantalizing thread, Future State: Harley Quinn #1 focuses on introducing the concept by having Harley provide just the right advice for the Magistrate to “deal with” both Lazlo Valentin, aka Professor Pyg, and Garfield Lynns, aka Firefly. The focus on Harley’s underused penchant for deduction makes her an odd replacement for a new Batman who did virtually none of it in his own book – and it’s an aspect of her character that is frequently given short shrift in favor of demented hooliganism that this book confines to its first few panels.
Those panels are gorgeous, and this might be my favorite book, in terms of art style, of any in the Future State. With the creative team firing on all cylinders, the story resembles a crime thriller film or a big-budget limited series more than a Harley Quinn comic, and the repurposed “cinematic” elements to the visuals only exacerbate this effect. Audiences having such a strong familiarity with a specific version of Harley seems like it might be a hindrance, but Phillips dances around that with a more reined-in but still on-brand interpretation, within a strong thematic framework. This is a standout Future State title, like Wonder Woman #1.