[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for “Harley Quinn: Rebirth” #1.]
While billions of box office dollars (and respective teams of high-powered attorneys) make sure that the movie universes of DC Comics (Warner Bros.) and Marvel (Disney/Fox) don’t overlap, it’s not the case on the printed page. In fact, there was a time when both of the big two publishers would team up in the name of fun, setting heroes and villains against eachother, together on adventures, or mashed together into a hybrid ‘Amalgam.’ And with the current DC Rebirth, the company’s resident fun-loving, mentally-imbalanced homicidal maniac has gotten some assistance – from Marvel‘s titleholder.
That’s right, in the new issue of “Harley Quinn: Rebirth” the lady once known as Joker’s Girlfriend gets some help in fighting off a zombie-like outbreak by none other than Deadpool. Well… maybe not. But sort of. Basically, yes. It’s definitely a distinction worth making, but given the spirit of the Deadpool knockoff, and the fact that Harley Quinn forces him into the role of the responsible adult for once,it’s a team-up that fans of DC and Marvel will probably want to hear about (if not read for themselves).
But to help out those picking up the first “Rebirth” issue of DC’s harlequin headcase, we’ll give a quick rundown of where she finds herself in the current DCU (and how she’s been inching closer to the live-action version debuting in Suicide Squad).
The New 52 Harley (So Far)
As much as the “Rebirth” initiative has been used to return top-tier characters to their strongest roots, legacies, or – as some fans and readers have noticed – undo some of the more controversial changes with the New 52, that’s not what’s happening with “Harley Quinn.” With Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti on writing duties, and Chad Hardin on the artwork, the same creative team from before this “Rebirth” issue is in place. Which means the issue functions more as a welcome to new readers: a fitting structure, since Harley’s life and relationships are too unique to be limited by the larger DC Universe – you just pull up a chair, and hope you can keep up with her antics.
A quick breakdown: having shifted away from her time at ‘Skate Club’ (a roller-derby-to-the-death that you absolutely do not talk about) and returning to Staten Island, the issue finds her running a large property bequeathed to her… a property that happens to include a theater and freak show. Also, she has dozens of pets, a gang of subordinates known as her “Gang of Harleys.” And she’s also in charge of a wax museum. Fortunately, Harley is quite literally introducing the reader to all those story beats, so it’s less confusing than it sounds.
A Thin Line Between Comic & Film
It’s actually fairly rare for a comic book property to remake itself in the image of a feature film adaptation, and while the changes made to Harley are mainly cosmetic, Conner and Palmiotti made the most out of it in the lead-up to “Rebirth,” thanks to Harley’s fourth-wall-breaking humor. First became a hallucinatory dream sequence in which Harley witness a kangaroo in her costume flying by on a motorcycle (likely a nod to the Australian actress bringing her to life in the Suicide Squad movie).
It didn’t stop there, either. Harley was promised a surprise by her friend/hairstylist, who decided that her previous hair color was getting old (it had been red and black/blue to reflect her costume colors). With an unveiling of platinum blonde locks tinged with red and blue – a dead ringer for Margot Robbie’s version – Harley couldn’t help but appreciate the “cinematic” quality to it. The hairstyle reveal was soon followed by a brand new, bright red, gold-lettered bomber jacket highlighting her separation from the Joker… but Harley obviously means that the resemblance to his likeness is what’s remarkable. Totally.
Add in a recent trip to a movie theater to catch a showing of “The Kill Yourself Crew” along with some of the DC Universe’s most famous faces, and an appearance from a Marvel box office giant seems almost too obvious.
Deadpool– Sorry, ‘Red Tool’
Finally, we arrive at the man who definitely isn’t Deadpool: ‘Red Tool.’ If the rhyming name, costume, weaponized speech bubbles and constant sexual innuendo aren’t enough to drive home the fact that he’s a knowing knockoff of Deadpool, knowing that Jimmy Palmiotti is also known for his work on Marvel’s Merc with a Mouth makes the joke about as not-inside as an inside joke can get. And, no surprise, the pairing of Marvel’s resident meta murderer with DC’s is a match made in Heaven (or… that other place).
It’s not the first time that Red Tool – or, as he’s been referred to by Harley, ‘Dead Tool,’ Dead Fool,’ and any variation thereof – has appeared in the comic, having been introduced in Issue #26. Thankfully, he’s on hand (since he’s obsessed with and likely stalking Harley… as Deadpool does) when a zombie-like outbreak erupts in Coney Island, forcing the two (and whoever among their friends can swing a weapon) to start fighting off the neighborhood personalities (while getting some flirting in along the way).
As hinted at above, Deadpoo– sorry, Red Tool is forced to follow Harley’s lead, as much as some might believe that the masked man is a star wherever her goes. Unfortunately, his time fighting at Harley’s side doesn’t go that well for him. After stating that there’s a chance a bite from one of these infected maniacs (tainted with alien flesh served in hot dogs) could turn any of the good guys into a similar monster, he – of course – gets his own arm chomped by one of the black-eyed zombies. Taking him at his word, Harley does the only thing that makes sense: slices his arm clean off.
Now, since this version of the character can’t just grow his arm back, he’s more than a little shocked (especially since the whole ‘we could get infected’ warning was just an idea). Ever the brilliant strategist, the issue ends with Harley strapping Red Tool to a catapult – severed arm in a cooler next to him – and launching him towards the nearest hospital. Only time will tell how that plan pays off (we’re guessing not well, and Red Tool may stick around to see his own version of this disaster through).
A Knockoff… of a Knockoff
Just to make sure there’s no confusion over the Deadpool/Red Tool relationship – and to make sure those who missed earlier “Harley Quinn” issues know which ones they may want to seek out – let’s get technical. From the very start, the character known as Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool has been mired in parody and send-up. In fact, the character began his life as a playful reflection of DC Comics’ Deathstroke the Terminator. When co-creator Rob Liefeld took his designs to Fabian Nicieza, the similarities to the character in DC’s ‘Teen Titans” were obvious – instead of changing it up, he was given his real name: ‘Wade Wilson,’ making the link to Deathstroke – Slade Wilson – concrete.
In the pages of “Harley Quinn,” Conner and Palmiotti pursued a hilariously similar origin story, clearly not happy with only the name, costume, sense of humor, text boxes, libido, and actual name being a joking tribute. The character of ‘Wayne Wilkins,’ as introduced in Issue #26, was actually a victim of the carnage Harley tends to bring with her, leaving him with only one arm. A surgery to replace his missing limb with a new, robotic one was a success… but the pain and rage-inducing headaches he was left with needed to be solved.
While performing surgery to block out the pain, the doctors discovered – say it with us – a cancerous tumor in his brain. By removing it, Wilkins lost the ability to feel anything, and quite possibly, his grip on sanity. Unleashing a violent rage on the doctors, nurses and security around him, he ventured out into the cold until stumbling upon a toolshed – and ‘Red Tool’ was born. In the years that followed, he couldn’t help but track down (and stalk) the reason for his pain: Harley Quinn. But, just like every other character who walked a similar path, he found himself unable to harm her… and is only the latest unbalanced individual to fall under her spell.
Here’s hoping it won’t wear off any time soon, and those picking up the new “Harley Quinn” issues will continue to see the pairing of Harley Quinn and Deadpool – because as perfect as Ryan Reynolds and Harley would be for a crossover film… we’re not holding our breath.
Harley Quinn: Rebirth #1 is available now.