Written by Kevin Dennison
WARNING, this review contains spoilers!!!!!
If you’re looking for a realistic portrayal of the sport, you won’t find it here; but that’s not a bad thing! This is the world of comic books and when you’re talking about somebody like Harley Quinn, whose whole existence thrives in anarchy and ultra-violence, it would be unrealistic to expect that she would abide by the rules of any game for more than a few seconds. Though writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner establish early on, in issue #1, that the banked track derby Harley engages follows the renegade version of the game (no rules), this month’s issue #8 proves that the Clown Princess of Crime is ultimately just too much for any league to handle.
Harley’s short love affair with the sport comes to an end in Issue #8 with a VICIOUS act of revenge during the first bout we actually get to see her play with Coney Island’s Brooklyn Bruisers derby team. After stopping an armed robbery at a local pawn shop where she tries to fence some stolen diamond rings she got from Ivana Brekemoff, an ex-Russian operative she dropped from a helicopter in Issue #6, Harley quickly heads off to make her debut bout as Killa Kwinn. What then follows is 7 pages of brutal back blocks, low blocks, stopped blocks, elbows and forearms, all culminating in Harley loosing her “favorite toof” to a sucker punch from the terrifying Big Bertha Besonhurts. Of course, she isn’t going to let that sort of tomfoolery slide so she heads to the changing room to get out her trusty hammer and with a powerful whip from two of her teammates (Skye Scrapper and Tanya Tank), she gleefully tastes the sweat nectar of bloody vengeance. As satisfying as it was to see Harley give Bensonhurts a taste of her own medicine, the act, sadly, lead to her getting kicked off the team, bringing her short lived excursion into banked track derby to an end.
Bummer, right!? Well, the good news is that Harley isn’t hanging up her quad skates any time soon though! Immediately after being booted from the team, she was handed a calling card for something called “Skate Club”, which will be introduced in Harley Quinn #10. The issue’s solicitation reads: “The first rule of Skate Club is…you do not mess with the Mistress of Mayhem! Harley stumbles across an underground fight club where big money winds with a body count. She’s in…and she’s making Sy Borgman her agent for the fights. But what happens when love gets in the way?” So, keep your eyes open because it hits comic store shelves on August 27, 2014.
While there’s not a whole lot more to say about the bout itself, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner actually manage to address a very real struggle that everyone involved with this sport must deal with: balancing life with derby. When Harley first arrives at the venue she is upset that her team has given her the derby name of Killer Kwinn without her approval because she wanted it to be Quinnzilla. Unfortunately, nobody in the league has been able to get in touch with Harley about the bout program as she has frequently been absence from practice. Unbeknownst to her teammates, Harley has a pretty good explanation for her absence as she has been swamped with fighting off numerous hired killers who want to collect the bounty on her head while working with her best friend Poison Ivy to solve the mystery of who wants her dead. Simply put, there has been a lot going on in Harley’s life! Unemployed, penniless and living on the fourth floor of a dilapidated building, which is home to a wax museum and nightly Freakshow as well, Harley was also recently recruited by a half robot senior citizen named Sy Borgman to hunt down a group of retired Russian operatives.
With all of that going on, it’s no wonder her attendance record hasn’t been the best!
I also applaud Palmiotti and Conner for their character design of the other derby skaters as it really is in line with the sports popular declaration that it is for women of all shapes and all sizes. Harley’s teammates and adversaries represent a wide range of body types, which is extremely refreshing to see in an industry that still, unfortunately, tends to objectify female characters.
Which leads me to the big question I’ve been asked several times about the comic: does it accurately represent the sport of roller derby? No. No it does not. However, it was never meant to and I for one still absolutely loved it. If you’re looking for a realistic portrayal of how Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association or USA Roller Sports derby is played, you’re not going to see it here. Nobody is wearing helmet panties so it isn’t clear who is jamming, none of the skaters have the numbers on their arms or the back of their jerseys and pack formation is non-existent; but, honestly, I personally don’t care. In fact, I feel it just wouldn’t have been as enjoyable with all of that in there! Frankly, I just loved seeing one of my favorite comic book characters skating fast and hitting hard and if Palmiotti and Conner’s decision to include roller derby in this series lead to even just one reader Google searching the sport for the first time in their life, then I chalk that up to a win!
Essential reading for the roller derby portion of Harley Quinn is Issue #1, in which she attends fresh meat training, Issue #4, in which she tries to make it up to her team for missing a bout, and Issue #8, in which she receives a substantial amount of track time to unleash carnage upon her adversaries.
Also, if you haven’t read it yet, check out my interview with Palmiotti and Conner from last October!