Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass (2019)

Harley Quinn Breaking Glass  2019

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a Young Adult graphic novel reimagining of Harley Quinn, set in high school, with Harley making friends and enemies while living with a delightfully supportive group of drag queens, fighting gentrification and 1% incels. It’s also almost two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It’s the new Mariko Tamaki too, bring real YA graphic novel cred to the project, but it’s two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It doesn’t get cancelled halfway through. We don’t have to wait three years for a third issue, it’s just… lots of Steve Pugh art. All at once.

It’s glorious.

And Pugh’s even able to keep a straight face in the denouement, which introduces all the possibilities of the future. See, Breaking Glass is realistic (enough). Ivy is a Black girl in a “progressive” White school, trying to force them to drop the quotation marks. Their nemesis, John Kane, is the rich White kid who runs the film club. He’s basically Ferris Bueller if Ferris got a car instead of a computer. He only shows White men—Tamaki gets in some great digs about film noir but I feel seen with the Kubrick—anyway, the first act of the book is the high school stuff. It’s overly dramatic but not soapy; Tamaki and Pugh both have this focusing style and it plays well in the high school environment. The scenes focus on conversations, Pugh focuses on the speakers. Tamaki and Pugh are most in sync when Harley’s with other normal people—Ivy, the drag queens—not when she’s with the Joker.

I forgot the denouement. Okay, so after pushing for some kind of realism throughout, the denouement turns it into a CW teen show. But checking in on the possible familiar face of Breaking Glass’s Gotham City. So kind of like a teen drama version of “Gotham,” next year on HBO Max. Though, in all seriousness, the comic companies ought to launch a monthly subscription reading club and center them around a single release (but with old stuff too). I got Breaking Glass from the library, read it on a whim, but definitely would’ve paid five to seven bucks to read it on my iPad. Getting to zoom in on the Pugh art? Homer Simpson drool. There’s not a lot of action–or it’s rushed action—but the level of mastery Pugh’s working at in Breaking Glass is stunning.

And it’s a good read. Tamaki’s narration is just the right amount of too cute without ever being cloying. It’s occasionally a little wordy, which has a fun resolution in the third act.

Not a fan of Ivy and Harley’s friendship getting shortchanged as far as page count—once Ivy brings up race, the comic runs away. Knowingly and responsibly, but it runs away. Into the Joker, who’s problematic. It’s fine. But pretending the Joker is the best mainstream comics can do has gotten exhausting. Tamaki also cops out on really showing Harley’s infatuation because the comic’s not willing to go that subjective. The Joker’s objectively a shit-heel, even viewed through a fifteen year-old’s lens, which also becomes a bit of a plot point.

Thankfully it’s not a Joker comic, it’s Harley’s and it’s good. She doesn’t get too annoying until just before the end, which is more about Tamaki’s hammering of the foreshadowing finale events. Or racing to get them.

But Breaking Glass is a good comics read. Finite. Successful without too many qualifications. Hundreds of Pugh panels.

The Flintstones 12 (August 2017)

The Flintstones #12

Russell puts The Flintstones to bed with a summary of the human race (from the Great Gazoo). Turns out prehistoric Bedrock is a lot more like the 21st century than one might think. There’s a lot of story threads–Fred needs to win an important bowling game, his bowling ball is preparing to rebel against human oppression, Pebbles thinks maybe mystery god Gerald is bunk and science is real–plus some nods back to previous issues. Wilma doesn’t get anything, Betty gets less. It’s sort of manipulative, Russell knows all the right buttons to push, including the nostalgia ones (including mocking nostalgia ones), and Pugh’s art is wonderful as always. The Flintstones has been an interesting, not entirely successful, but often inordinately ambitious series. It’s been a fine time; a yabba dabba doo time, as it were.

CREDITS

Farewell to Bedrock; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 11 (July 2017)

The Flintstones #11

Not the best issue of The Flintstones. Not the worst. Not the best though. Russell’s pretty wide with his jokes–hipsters, unpaid interns, vegan restaurants, neighborhood associations–all the stuff he’s referencing feels dated and he’s just doing it for filler anyway. The issue turns out to be all about Gazoo. Everything else is fluff. So clearly something went wrong somewhere with this one. But Pugh’s art is great; even though the style with the Gazoo sci-fi stuff is the same, it’s still sort of different. Pugh’s style changes just a little and it’s a neat perspective thing. Otherwise… it’s a bit of a yawner overall. More than half Russell’s jokes flop and he’s got a bunch of them.

CREDITS

The Neighborhood Association; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 10 (June 2017)

The Flintstones #10

Wilma gets a job, the mayor’s war-spending goes overboard, and Fred and Barney discover the cinema. It’s a meandering issue, but Russell touches on a lot. Pugh gets some great stuff to draw, there’s tragedy, there’s irony, there’s political commentary. It’s all kind of heavy too. Flintstones is always kind of heavy.

CREDITS

Buyer’s Remorse; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 9 (May 2017)

The Flintstones #9

It’s a great issue. The Flintstones’ housewares are in crisis because there’s a new bowling ball, there’s a new bowling ball because Fred got fired, Fred got fired because Mr. Slate found a new, pro-capitalism god. Russell finds the right balance between humor, social commentary, and Stone Age sitcom revisionism; Pugh’s art is, as always, pure delight.

CREDITS

A Basket of Disposables; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 8 (April 2017)

The Flintstones #8

It’s like Russell wanted to bite off more than he should be able to chew–Trump, the patriarchy, capitalism–and prove he could do it. And he does. He handles three big plot threads, with the patriachial thread tying into everything else–including Fred’s self-discovery and Wilma’s reunion with her mother. Great Pugh art, some rather funny moments. It’s a fantastic comic.

CREDITS

The Leisure Class; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 6 (February 2017)

The Flintstones #6

There’s a considerable darkness lurking in this issue but Russell keeps it at bay. He goes for the humor instead of exhausting potential metaphors. It’s the end of the world–the asteroid is on its way–and Bedrock loses it. As always, some great art from Pugh.

CREDITS

The End of the World as We Know It; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 5 (January 2017)

The Flintstones #5

Russell tries a little too hard; he splits between 2016 U.S. political metaphor–sort of–for Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm and some really heavy stuff for Fred and Barney. Like, old war stories heavy. It’s well-written enough, beautifully illustrated, but it’s too thin for Russell’s ambitions.

CREDITS

Election Day; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 4 (December 2016)

The Flintstones #4

Once again, The Flintstones amazes. I didn’t want to be obvious and say it rocks, which it also does, but it’s more impressive in the way it amazes. What Russell comes up with is really cool. He does a riff on marriage. The not marrying people of Bedrock revolt against the marrieds. It’s a fairly obvious metaphor for marriage equality, but it’s a good one. Russell seems to be treating each issue of The Flintstones as something special. Almost a one-shot (or he’s just really scared of it getting cancelled and he’s doing the best work he can).

The other thing is the characters. His Fred and Wilma are their best possible selves taking into account the adaptation and the brand. They’re ideals, something I don’t remember them being in the cartoon. It’s Russell engaging the brand in a very positive way, while still allowing himself some bite in the rest of the comic.

Great art from Pugh because of course it’s going to be great, it’s Steve Pugh doing comedic cave-people, dinosaurs and talking prehistoric animals.

It’s a really good book.

CREDITS

Domestications; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 3 (November 2016)

The Flintstones #3

Wow. It’s beautiful and all, but, wow, what a downer. I mean, the whole thing is just depressing from page three, especially since Pebbles understands The Flintstones exists in a world without any value whatsoever on human life. It’s not hard to see what kind of commentary Russell is making about our modern world, gorgeous Steve Pugh art or not.

Space aliens visit Bedrock and basically destroy the place with their technology. It’s strange for a third issue because the main cast–even though they have important things to do–don’t have much to do as the main cast. Russell’s not building character relationships, he’s not developing anything. If Betty even shows up, she doesn’t have much in the way of lines. Certainly none memorable. Even Fred’s part in the story is only memorable because of how tragic it gets.

It’s kind of a heavy book. Gorgeous, but heavy. It might be too cynical, in fact. Russell’s writing is fine–I suppose the story’s a little light (it’s basically snippets of disaster)–but it’s fine. It’s just so fatalistic I don’t know why I want to read it. There’s better social commentary out there–the Fox News joke is the most obvious and the weakest–and I’m always onboard for Pugh….

But, come on, give the reader a single smile, right? PTSD group sessions don’t lead to smiles, neither does mass murder.

CREDITS

A Space Oddity; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 2 (October 2016)

The Flintstones #2

What a weird, wonderful comic book. Entirely unexpectedly–unless you think about Pugh being on the art and then you know at least the art will be amazing–but, otherwise, The Flintstones is a pretty unpredictable place to mine great material. Only Russell does it. There’s something very Afterlife with Archie in all these Hanna Barbera comics but Flintstones is the one where lighting is striking over and over.

Pebbles doesn’t even talk. Bam Bam doesn’t talk either, but Pebbles is in the comic a lot. Russell and Pugh give Pebbles the annoyed teen persona without ever having a scene with her. Okay, I guess I now hope Pebbles is amazing when she does get an issue. Anyway, the way Russell constructs the narrative is this almost reflected approach to adapting “The Flintstones” cartoon in the twenty-first century.

Only Russell isn’t asking deep questions, he’s asking traditional sitcom questions. He’s playing into the plotting of the original cartoon–while also employing a lot of comic book storytelling devices to get the scenes across. When the comic gets to its final, unexpectedly tender reveal, it’s a comic book moment. With a bit of a cartoon vibe. Only less “The Flintstones” than “The Simpsons.”

And the art. There’s so much for Pugh to do in this issue. Not just in terms of realistically realizing some Stone Age gadgetry, but in how he’s conveying the narrative. Pugh’s a storyteller. There’s an inherent pacing to his panels. It’s a perfect storm of timing, intent and talent, which is about the only way to explain this Flintstones book is such a dabba doo time.*

CREDITS

Buyer Beware; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 1 (September 2016)

The Flintstones

So, the first issue of The Flintstones seems to be a proof on concept. Can writer Mark Russell use a grim and gritty version of “The Flintstones” socially relevant to today? Sure? Of course? Anyone could. “The Flintstones,” “The Honeymooners,” whichever. A person, their spouse, their friend, their friend’s spouse. Throw in a couple pets and a kid each and you can make just about any social commentary you want.

It’s not a high bar, which is what I think bugs me so much about The Flintstones. It’s bragging about doing a good job at something easy. Steve Pugh’s art is key, no question. It brings a level of significant quality to a rather mercenary concept. Pugh knocks it out of the park on the art. You believe in this idealized sixties version of the past, even though the frame says it’s real, which ties into the social relevancy angle. Russell has a lot of pop culture references and they’re all really, really careful.

It’s a good comic. It’s got beautiful art. But I’m not sure I like it. I’m not sure the point of The Flintstones is to like it. Beyond buying it, which is fine because Pugh’s art is glorious and Russell’s writing is fine–it’s tedious, but it’s fine. It’s worth the time and money to read it, which just seems a little light as far as ambition goes. It’s The Flintstones after all. We all want to have a yabba dabba do time.

CREDITS

A Clean Slate; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Weird War Tales 1 (November 2010)

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Weird War Tales features something I never wanted to see… weak Darwyn Cooke.

His story is idiotic—famous war figures have a party—and his artwork is barely there. It’s a bunch of skeletons and stuff, so maybe it’s the subject, but it’s all so incredibly lame I couldn’t believe it was really Cooke. It’s not even amusing. I can’t figure out why he bothered. Oh, money.

The next story—from Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein—has good art from Klein and terrible writing from Brandon. It’s a sub story. Brandon’s dialogue is weak and his plot is worse. But that art’s quiet good.

For a finale, it’s Jan Strnad and Gabriel Hardman. The story is kind of weak, but Strnad can write the dialogue so it all moves through all right. The Hardman artwork is absolutely fantastic. This one nearly makes the issue worth a look, but not quite.

CREDITS

Armistice Night; writer, artist and letterer, Darwyn Cooke; colorist, Dave Stewart. Advance… and be recognized!; artist, colorist and letterer, Steve Pugh. The Hell Above Us; writer, Ivan Brandon; artist and colorist, Nic Klein; letterer, Steve Wands. Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards; writer, Jan Strnad; artist, Gabriel Hardman; colorist, Daniel Vozzo; letterer, Wands. Editors, Chris Conroy and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Dark Horse Presents 49 (March 1991)

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Geier’s art on the Homicide installment is pretty weak, but Arcudi actually comes up with an interesting case. It is, of course, unfortunate then Arcudi relies on the art for the final panel. I had to read the page three times, staring at it, before I noticed the big reveal. It’s also too bad about Arcudi’s lame dialogue.

Edginton writes a regular Downtown here. The holiday special was a lot better. It turns out the protagonist is a zombie private detective and he has all sorts of wacky adventures. The Pugh art is excellent at times, only good at others… but it can’t overcome the script. Too bad, I was looking forward to this one.

Harlequin, on the other hand, reveals itself to be completely excellent here. Csutoras makes excellent use of asides as he sets up this offbeat road trip. Gaudiano paces it well. It’s a very pleasant surprise.

CREDITS

Homicide, Restless Sleep; story by John Arcudi; art by Earl Geier. Downtown; story by Ian Edginton; inks by Steve Pugh. Harlequin, Act II; story by Stephen Csutoras; art by Stefano Gaudiano. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 48 (February 1991)

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Between Gaudiano and Pugh, this issue is just an art feast.

Csutoras’s writing on the Gaudiano story, Harlequin, is decent, concerning a European living in the States, his loony acquaintances and some intrigue. Gaudiano makes the protagonist’s monologues atmospheric and the regular action somewhat continental in feel. The narrative is intentionally confusing, which may get annoying. But for now, it’s a very solid entry.

Pugh and Edginton do Downtown, which is seemingly a British reprint. It’s hard to gauge as a series, since it’s not the first installment. It’s deals a little with the fourth wall and is very funny. They open with a Santa and his gangster reindeer and it just gets stranger from then on.

Arcudi’s Homicide is back, with Geier on art. It’s bad. Arcudi’s villain is an disfigured, abused child grown up since it makes for an easy bad guy.

Plus a nice Geary one pager.

CREDITS

Harlequin, Act I; story by Stephen Csutoras; art by Stefano Gaudiano. Downtown, A Nightmare on Elf Street!; story by Ian Edginton; art by Steve Pugh. Desperate Clergy; story, art and lettering by Rick Geary. Homicide, Tick; story by John Arcudi; art by Earl Geier. Edited by Randy Stradley.

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