Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (Writers), Simon Bisley (Artist)
March 29, 2017
Harley’s Little Black Book! A six-issue comic book series where Harley Quinn travels about, meeting people she thinks are sexy. I guess. That’s my impression and I didn’t much care for it—until I saw she’d be visiting Lobo. The Main Man! A parody of hypermasculinity with fantastic dress sense and great big hair. Lobo, who I call the only DC character I’d still read. Well, I did it, I read the book. Which just goes to show: never make exceptions to things you have principles about.
Lobo is just Tank Girl for boys pic.twitter.com/vY8DaQnHja
— Clownhunter (@illusClaire) February 5, 2017
CN: So by my count they never actually bang. Is this regular, for this series?
VEH: Yeah, that’s pretty much par for the course, but it really stands out this issue because Lobo is the only featured character who would actually respond to Harley’s overtures as they’re currently written. Marston’s Wonder Woman definitely would have, but that’s not who Harley was dealing with in that issue, alas. It doesn’t really bother me that much because the series was dedicated to laying out the constellation of what Harley’s attracted to and why, but “do they actually bang” is definitely the question I’ve been asked the most since I got my paws on this one.
CN: I feel like I should research whether Lobo has ever actually had sex because I can’t say, for sure, that he has. As Darryl Ayo so often points out, sex in comics is very weird.
VEH: He has. He was raped in his most recent solo series. There’s a disturbing poetry to this issue in that it restores agency and enthusiastic consent to both parties.
CN: I meant … real Lobo. Ha ha ha. And to be serious I meant “real,” i.e. consensual sex. But no, you’re right about the latter part of your point, and yet I feel shortchanged and cross about it anyway. I’m sure if I tried I could get positive about the idea of a comic where Lobo and Harley Quinn use their agency and enthusiastic consent to, ooh, kiss three times on the mouth, but here and now in this reality I’m pretty much what the fuck? about it. I don’t know what I thought I was paying my money for but it turns out that “Lobo gets to kiss a girl he meets on holiday, omg” wasn’t it. It’s confusing because I would buy a comic with that synopsis, for sure—I would enjoy the anticipation and delivery of a giddy pink-cheeked Lobo. I guess what I’m saying is I came here to see (not see but to understand the purposeful implication of) Lobo getting fucked by a woman whose name is prioritised in the title of the book. And instead I mostly got … Harley Quinn. I can’t say that they lied, but I can say I didn’t really dig it.
VEH: My blasé attitude about consummation is definitely informed by having absolutely no sexual interest in men, but also in how the broader arc of the Conner/Palmiotti Harley Quinn epic has been dedicated to working through her separation from The Joker and slowly building to Harley and Ivy being together for real, for real. So the ebb and flow of that slow burn romance set up regular Harley Quinn readers not to expect a lot in that department.
The other thing to me is that the aesthetics and narrative delivered on their collision in such a way that I think consummation is almost a moot point, especially given that this was never going to be a full on porn comic. It’s pretty fair to say that Simon Bisley is pretty much an exploitation artist by trade and is one of the standard bearers of an aesthetic that thrives on an even more unregulated and unhinged conception of male power fantasies than your average superhero comic.
It’d be a fool’s errand to expect the erotic gaze to fall equitably between Harley and Lobo, but I really enjoy how they take what’s already existing in Bisley’s work and the Heavy Metal scene in general, and draw out the androphilic interest that was already there. Part of Harley’s presence on the page is to situate her erotic interest in the current goings on, and that really serves to stake a claim in female investment in the aesthetics and scenes that the series has explored. Especially this one and the Zatanna issue that was deeply embedded in the intersection between carnival culture, the burlesque revival, and the occult. Using artists like Bisley and Linsner expose where the contemporary Harley Quinn comes from, culturally speaking.
CN: I think the “just kisses” level of intimacy seems so weird to me because Lobo’s (the character’s and the title’s) regular attitude to violence—i.e. physicality—is so absurdist and extreme, and because honestly it didn’t feel like Bisley’s regular style had been upped in any way at all here. I return to Slaine: The Horned God regularly and, while that’s an explicitly fertility-based, phallocentric story it doesn’t centre coupling in quite the same way as this title does (specifically within the title, I mean; the promise on the tin isn’t “Slaine 4 [whoever]”) but it does make very sure to have a lot of Slaine’s ass and arm and shoulder and back and so on, right there on the page. Bisley draws babes, whoever his (anti)heroes and (anti)heroines are, and the sudsy fun is so heavily weighted toward featuring Harley that it seems like his ability to present hunks is being dialed back on purpose. When Lobo rides a sea serpent in the nude he does it for one panel, for example, and then on the next page Harley rides it for three—that’s more like Harley’s Sexy Selfie Series than what I’d take for “little black book” material.
I wasn’t much for the joke sequence about Lobo’s cock being partially burnt off, either, because on the one hand while that’s a viable level of violent absurdity for a Lobo fuck book it’s not followed up with anything near to the same level of daft/appalling in order to create the new normal that Lobo tends to operate within, and on the other hand men being upset about having their penises called small makes me incredibly anxious because sexual inadequacy turning into (non-humorous) violent punishment is a Real World Problem. That exchange makes me nervous to read, not in a good way, and not in a relevant one either so I’d really prefer to avoid it.
But you know what I disliked the most? Good grief. Does she talk that way all the time?
VEH: What way?
CN: Yer funnin’ me, arncha.
VEH: The phonetic Canarsie accent? It comes and goes, but it’s definitely more pronounced this issue than in the main series, for sure.
CN: I love me some phonetic accent, sugah, but lawwwwwd this was insufferable. I’ve heard Harley Quinn speak a little in the cartoon she debuted in (and in Super Hero Girls thanks to an earphoneless child on the train); I had to assume that this was supposed to be the same accent. But on that basis the phonetic spelling didn’t seem to make sense. Why did she keep saying “yer”? Why did she say, the worst of the worst, “is that yers”? There’s such a chin-thrusting gurgle in an “er” sound by my read, it’s a guttural looking pronunciation, a deep-voiced impression. All of this the opposite of the squeaky, scratchy, limited and character-specific examples of an extremely localised accent that most people in the world will have never otherwise heard! I couldn’t get a handle on it at all, even after Youtubing Batman: The Animated Series clips to try and map the spelling to the sound—I really don’t understand what this comic should sound like, to the point that even research didn’t help. And because of that I found it very hard to read.
Maybe the increased phoneticism in this issue is down to Lobo being no stranger to odd words and a sloppy mouth either, but … I hate sounding like such a major downer but honestly I couldn’t finish the comic trying to parse her speech. I got past the sea serpent yers and just read the rest via the pictures, skimming the odd glance at the dialogue to be sure I had the gist of what was going on. It was kinda excruciatin’. As an advert for Harley’s own series it did the exact opposite of what I assume one might hope—made me decide for sure to run like the dickens rather than read one more issue. It seems a pretty odd choice to dial up one of the dicier elements in a book that, presumably, was designed to bring in readers like me who have an investment in an unrelated character and show them the red and blue ropes.
VEH: That’s such a different perspective on where The Little Black Book series lies relative to the main one, but then it’s been very obvious and fruitful that we’re coming at it from completely opposite directions. To me, it’s a prestige supplement, something that only the True Believers are going to be shelling out for rather than an entry point, which is more or less an outlook I’ve adopted on the satellite Harley books since the Road Trip special and its hefty price tag.
So, lesson learnt, huh? Take no chances with the Big Two, dearest reader–buy everything much later, and only after you’re sure that you’re gonna like it. A comic can be worthwhile to one perspective, and a total loss to another. That’s fine and all, but don’t get yourself burnt. Regeneration is slow …