Back in September, a furor erupted around a contest that DC Comics was running to draw a page of today's Harley Quinn #0. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, the issue is drawn by 16 different artists, including some legends in the field--and one talented contest winner, who produced a page of art based on a four-panel script Conner and Palmiotti released, unlettered, via DC Comics's blog for consideration. Here's the four panels, as originally described on the contest page: PANEL 1- Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy. PANEL 2 – Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her. PANEL 3 – Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale's mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever. PANEL 4 – Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a chord 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.
After an outpouring of rage over the issue--some fans claimed it was sexualizing Harley and/or suicide to have her nude in the final panel, while others just objected to suicide jokes altogether--Palmiotti issued a statement apologizing for the situation and explaining that the page would make sense in context. "That the tryout Harley Quinn page went out without an overall description of tone and dialogue is all my fault," Palmiotti wrote. "I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda 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 Power Girl 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." The next day, following a condemnation from the American Psychiatric Association (they accused DC of "making light of suicide" and being "potentially dangerous" for young readers), the publisher broke its silence, too, saying that "The purpose of the talent search was to allow new artists an opportunity to draw a single page of a 20-page story. True to the nature of the character, the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone, as Harley Quinn breaks the 4th Wall and satirizes the very scenes she appears in. DC Entertainment sincerely apologizes to anyone who may have found the page synopsis offensive and for not clearly providing the entire context of the scene within the full scope of the story." That did little to calm down critics, but it seemed as though everyone had already had their say and shortly thereafter people moved on. Today's release features a page that is still the same in substance--particularly on the first three panels--but that omits the bathtub sequence in favor of Harley riding a missile, Doctor Strangelove-style. The joke is that the omniscient-but-incompetent hand guiding her believes this to be the kind of activity that Harley engages in with her supervillain team the Suicide Squad, of which she's been a member since the launch of the New 52. It feels like it owes a bit to Deadpool and Animal Man which, in turn, owe something to those Looney Tunes episodes Palmiotti referenced. So the suicide concerns may persist (although given the nature of the joke, it doesn't seem as though it's making light of suicide, particularly, and so they may not) but the accusations of misogyny and objectification are scrubbed, unless somebody really wants to have a go at the phallic nature of that missile... ...nah. That'll never happen.