From an unconventional Valentine’s Day love story to spreading holiday cheer (and kittens) at Christmas, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s Harley Quinn “event” issues have been a bona fide staple ever since the creative duo launched the series in 2013.
This month, the husband-and-wife team, along with artist Bret Blevins, will put Harley — and some girlfriends — on the open road in Roadtrip Special #1, out Wednesday from DC Comics. “When they ask us to do these specials and we come up with an idea, the basics of it are: ‘what else are we going to learn about Harley?’ It can’t just be a simple story. We have to learn something about her,” Palmiotti explains to EW. “So we sort of bookended the idea of her family and younger life with a lot of madness thrown in the middle of it. It’s funny, because with Harley, the cool thing is you can kind of do stuff like this — it doesn’t always have to be Harley Quinn and Batman and Joker kind of stuff. I think the fun that we have is we get to take her out of the normal situations and really get to know her.”
So far, the world has gotten to know Harley through unlikely relationships (looking at you, Bruce Wayne) and surprisingly compassionate father-daughter advice. So what makes this special different? “Catwoman is in it, which we haven’t addressed yet in any of our stories,” Conner says with a laugh. “We get to see Harley and her two girlfriends just go out and it’s sort of like a girls night out, except it lasts for like, a week.”
“With the special, we get a little bit of backstory,” Palmiotti adds. “Harley gets some bad news from her mom — her favorite uncle, Uncle Louie, passed away, and he lived on the west coast. Her uncle left her something, and her mom asks her to go there and pick up a trailer and his ashes and bring them back to the east coast, where his wife is buried, so they can be together.”
It’s not a road trip that Harley doesn’t want to do alone, so she calls her friend Ivy, who then suggests that Catwoman come along for the ride. “It’s the three of them heading out to LA, picking up this trailer and driving it cross country and what happens,” says Palmiotti. “It’s fun and its sentimental and it’s a little insane…I will say they pick up a hitchhiker which happens to be a Bizarro, and there’s a little bit of truth and dare being played.”
As Palmiotti aptly describes it, “two is trouble, three is chaos. And as one might expect, the three distinctive female personalities come through. The idea that Catwoman has an agenda, and Ivy is, for the most part, trying to keep Harley out of trouble, is pretty fun to watch,” the writer said. “If it was 400 pages, we’d have no problem doing this book, because it’s that kind of thing. And I think when something comes that easy, I think its a little comic book magic for us.”
While Palmiotti and Conner try to craft their story around real world experiences — according to Palmiotti, “everything in every Harley book is something that’s based on something that’s happened to Amanda and I on some weird level” — it’s the artists that bring Harley’s journey to life — specifically the Roadtrip Special team of Blevins, Moritat and Dougherty. “Working with Bret is amazing,” says Connor. “I have to say I’m a little jealous, because I want to draw all this! And that’s the problem with every Harley story: I want to draw them all, but I just don’t have the energy and the time to do it. But seeing Bret and those guys, seeing what they do with it…it’s a little like Christmas, because you don’t know what you’re getting. And when you see it, it’s a big surprise.”
“A big part of the specials is that we don’t know what we’re doing until we know the artist who’s going to be on it,” Palmiotti reveals. “And there’s always a conversation, and it was a conversation with Bret: What do you want to draw? And getting that is great because it also inspires us to do some stuff and the happier you make the artist, the better the work is. We’ve been really lucky with artists getting top talents and artists that understand humor. They get our bizarre sense of humor that actually works for this character, thank god,” he says. It’s that “bizarre sense of humor” that Palmiotti and Connor hope resonates with their readers.
“I think the nicest compliment we can get from people is that they’ve never read Harley before, but they love the book, which has happened a lot lately,” Palmiotti admits. “And the other one is they just say, ‘you know what? That was so much fun. It just made me laugh out loud.’ That’s the best compliment you can get from anything, that people enjoy something and you put a smile on their face.” Conner adds, “we’re just hoping that the readers enjoy it and that we give them a few laughs.”
And of course, writing Harley Quinn comes with the task of keeping a delicate balance between the off-beat humor and trademark darkness that the character is so well known for. “We never want Harley to be too over the top ridiculous,” says Palmiotti. “We like to keep her grounded and the world around her a little insane.”
Conner adds, “Either that, or the world around her is grounded and she’s insane! I think there’s a fine line between the reader and the story.” Still, as Palmiotti is quick to point out, the duo doesn’t take their job for granted.
“What a fun character and what a great time to be writing it. These specials give us a little chance to do something outside the regular monthly series which is this non-insane soap opera…that we call a comic.”
Harley Quinn Road Trip Special #1 is available Wednesday in comic stores. View an exclusive preview below, including Blevins’ variant cover.
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