The term Gotham City Sirens has become a catch all phrase for the trio of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman but for about two years, the trio shared a comic book series. This series is one of the final series that ran before the New 52 relaunch and as far as Harley Quinn goes, it signals some changes that were to come for the character. As is usually the case, when we revisit things from our past, they are not as good as we remember. “Gotham City Sirens” is one of those moments but on the surface, it was a strong concept but was ultimately hurt by a very male point of view.
Written by Paul Dini, Scott Lobdell, Tony Bedard and Peter Calloway
Illustrated by Guillem March, David Lopez, Andres Guinaldo, Peter Nguyen, Jeremy Haun, David Lopez and Ramon Bachs
Colored by Jose Villarubia, J.D. Smith, Ian Hannin and Tomeu Morey
Lettered by Steve Wands
This all-new series features the bad girls of Gotham City! Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are tired of playing by other people’s rules regardless of which side of the law they’re on. These tough ladies have a new agenda that’s all their own, and they’ll use any means necessary to pursue it. But can they get along and work as a team? And who will get hurt along the way? DETECTIVE COMICS and STREETS OF GOTHAM writer Paul Dini kicks off this brand-new ongoing series with amazing artwork by Guillem March.
What seems like ages ago, 2008 was the year I got my first job. I was a teen in that sweet spot when all the big comic book movie adaptations were starting to come out. Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and The Incredible Hulk all hit theaters and as a kid, I watched Batman: The Animated Series on the WB. When I first started buying my own comics, that was the kind of stuff I bought and being that I was still new, I ate it all up. I loved it, and in 2009, when “Gotham City Sirens” debuted, I added it to my very tiny pull list because I recognized those characters from cartoons. They were also the only women villains I had seen and I was super into that. “Gotham City Sirens” has a lot of good ideas and it has a trio of leads that are hard to mess up but the series never really reaches its highest potential because (as I’ve learned in hindsight during a re-read) it wasn’t really written or drawn for women. “Gotham City Sirens” was a series with a lot of potential with some solid writing between its leads and in a way, lays the ground work for Harley Quinn’s revamp but never becomes anything truly great.
“Gotham City Sirens” begins right after the big Batman saga that encompasses “Hush,” Batman R.I.P.,” “Battle for the Cowl,” and “Final Crisis.” Catwoman had her heart literally stolen from her but was brought back to life. She gets her revenge against Hush by stealing his money and splitting it up between the lady villains of Gotham City. She ends up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn after they see her in a fight with a villain named Boneblaster. After what happened to her, she isn’t in top physical shape and so, Ivy and Harley step in to help her. They decide to team up but Ivy wants to first make her tell them who Batman actually is. This question becomes a big point of conflict for this trio because Ivy and Catwoman never really learn to trust each other. The series starts this way and it ends up spinning off into arcs that include Ivy getting a job and dealing with a serial killer, Catwoman dealing with some old family issues and Harley’s dependence on Joker.
I am usually the person that finds a silver lining to everything but the art in “Gotham City Sirens” is incredibly tough to get something positive out of. For all the good the story has hidden away, there is this super sexualized art that takes away from all that. Each artist who worked on the series has their own style but almost every page features awkward posing that at many times goes way out of its way to show us both boobs and butt at the same time because clearly, that’s what’s important. In the early issues, there are some action scenes with Harley Quinn that are utterly ridiculous in how her legs are spread when she does a flip and this ends up being the case with most the action, particularly March’s work. He is the main artist on the series and does do most of the book so his work is kind of what everyone else has to follow. Sexuality is not something that comics should on a whole shy away from but there is a point where your characters risk becoming eye candy instead of sexually empowered. That becomes a major issue in “Gotham City Sirens” because honestly, it feels unnecessary when the story doesn’t call for it. The action is so focused on their bodies and not the actual fighting. Reading these issues again almost feels dirty because it’s so much of this page after page. To write this review, I had to re-read the series and I think it’s really interesting to notice how my personal tastes have changed and how my own awareness of these things have changed. I wonder what “Gotham City Sirens” would visually look like now?Continued below
Hidden under the skeevy art that there is something incredibly likable about these three leads. It’s hard to mess up writing Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn together, especially if you’re Paul Dini, who writes a lot of the first half of the series which sets up everything. “Gotham City Sirens” never needed to be a story where everyone gets along perfectly. Honestly, with the history between these characters, it makes sense that they don’t. It makes even more sense in this point of the DCU timeline given how close Catwoman had been with Batman. I wouldn’t trust her either if I were Harley and Ivy. That tension really works for the series and it comes full circle in a really good way that makes a lot of sense. The multiple arcs that highlight each one’s deepest issues and insecurities also works. Ivy gets a lot of story that revolves around her tie to the Green and her anger. Catwoman gets a lot of story that revolves around her relationship with the Batfamily and her biological family. Lastly, Harley Quinn gets a lot of story centered around her relationship with Joker. With Harley Quinn in particular, her characterization here feels like a precursor to what we see in her solo adventures after she was revamped in the New 52. She’s far more sarcastic, more lovable, more connected to Ivy and at times, drops psychological expertise. The downside is her arc is the reliance on the Joker but in all fairness, as sick as I am of the relationship, it doesn’t glorify it and I took some solace in that.
What is the legacy of “Gotham City Sirens?” It isn’t some crown jewel of the DCU but it is easy to see why people gravitate towards this trio in fan art and even in the modern DCU. “Harley Quinn” still has these three reunite on occasions in different scenarios. Gotham City is full of colorful characters and these three were able to make a bond in the middle of all that. They are labeled villains and have done some fairly terrible things but their imperfections are something oddly refreshing. It’s just as important to see these kinds of female characters as it is to see heroic ones. We need our Wonder Womans and Captain Marvels but we also need villainous women who have to deal with a whole separate amount of problem. I think, for some, these characters are a little more relatable whereas someone like Wonder Woman is who we aspire to be. “Gotham City Sirens” had a ton of problems but the concept was a strong one but needed a different perspective.