The first issue of Harleen is excellent, and, frankly, much better than it even needed to be. In my review I praised it for giving us a more down-to-earth and serious version of Harley, instead of the erratic, out-of-control, happy-go-lucky prankster that we see in the main comic series. Usually I end these introductions with the question of whether or not this issue can maintain that level of quality, but you know what? I’m just going to say it right here: this book continues to be incredible. But what is it that makes it such a success this time? Well, let’s have a look.
Just like in issue #1, there are a lot of things going on in this second chapter—too many things to cover in this review. This story continues to be so layered and complex that it warrants a reread for sure, and I’m saying that while the third issue isn’t even out yet. For example, on my second read I noticed that Joker, on page one, more or less thematically summarizes what happens in this chapter. I’m not going to go into what he says exactly, but the reason I’m bringing this up is to point out just how intricate this book is. Sejic must have carefully planned the whole thing from start to finish, thinking carefully about how all the events interconnect, and they do. From Harleen’s obsession with Joker to Joker’s rant about how everyone is obsessed with violence, and from Harleen’s slow transformation into Harley Quinn to Harvey’s brutal and quick transformation into Two-Face. There are many different pieces moving in this story, and they all affect each other, and for accomplishing a feat like that, Sejic definitely deserves a lot of praise.
To get more specific, I’d like to bring up several things that I really strike me while reading this issue. The first of these things I talked about a little bit in my previous review, but I want to address it within the context of this second chapter as well. As I said in the introduction, we see a much more grounded version of Harley here, but not only is she more grounded and serious, she is also really relatable, something she hasn’t been for me in years. This version of the character reads like an actual human being. Someone with human emotions and thoughts and doubts and fears, and yet she’s someone that is trying everything to find the motivation to keep going, because she’s convinced herself that she has to and that there is no going back for her. Many times we see her enter into a discussion with herself. We see her rationalizing situations, telling herself that she should quit because that would be better for her mental health. But we also see her telling herself that she can’t quit, and she gives various reasons for it—reasons that are, at times, anything but rational. She also isn’t as flawless as some of the other more recent iterations of the character: she makes mistakes, has a drinking habit, and she has an obsession. It’s not a mean feat to balance such negative traits with more positive ones, such as being able to hold her ground when she’s talking to characters like Gordon, Harvey Dent, or even Batman. I truly feel like Sejic is doing justice to the character and I’m happy to be reviewing a book about Harley Quinn that I can genuinely be excited about for a change.
Another thing that’s worth bringing up is how Sejic manages to make every character sound unique. Their facial expressions reveal their emotional states, and by interpreting their facial expressions it’s easy to hear their tone of voice in my mind as I continue to read the dialogue. For example, during the conversation between Harleen and Gordon, we see Harleen trying to stay more formal. She uses formal phrases, she’s dressed up for the occasion, and she tries to get to the point while still staying somewhat polite. Gordon, on the other hand, is more on edge and blunt and drops an F-bomb. Furthermore, the conversation between Harleen and Batman creates a great sequence too. Batman’s voice seems more monotone because he speaks in shorter sentences and doesn’t reveal a lot of emotion, what with his glowing lenses and his overall stoic attitude. It’s also interesting how, even though I know the character of Batman well, Sejic still manages to make him seem so mysterious to me. This is because we see the character from Harley’s point of view: he is a mystery to her, so he is also a mystery to us. All these expressions, speech patterns and body language is always appropriate to the moment and it makes every character stand out, even the ones that only show up in a handful of panels.
Yet, I do have some criticism. There is a scene in the book where we see how Harvey gets the acid thrown into his face. This happens right in front of a bunch of cameras and various news channels are openly broadcasting how Harvey’s face is melting away while he screams savagely. Of course, this is Gotham City, and I imagine that people aren’t a stranger to extreme violence. In fact, what happens here is probably rather mild compared to some of the other atrocities that seem to occur on every Wednesday in Gotham. This scene also hammers home how everyone’s so obsessed with violence. My problem, then, isn’t so much with what happens to Harvey as it is how it happens: Maroni throws the acid into his face in front of various news cameras so everyone can see him doing it. It seems rather illogical to me for a character like Maroni to do this so publicly within the context of this scene, because he’s a well-known businessman. However, this single moment is something that I can live with because it does set up some great Two-Face scenes later in the book.
Before I turn to the art, I want to say that the way Sejic builds the character of Joker is really well done. He doesn’t reveal any factual information about the character, but we strictly learn about him from Harleen’s perspective, so we can never be truly sure of who he is. Slowly he turns into this handsome devil that Harleen falls in love with, and Sejic shows that process of falling in love by writing out Harleen’s thoughts and internal conflict. Shaping a character through another character’s eyes is a clever narrative trick—through this, Sejic makes Harleen an unreliable narrator that’s talking about Joker, who is also an unreliable narrator himself, and this is precisely what makes this book so intriguing to me. It’s a complete and complex character study that delves deep into the mind of the main character, and I find myself rooting for her, even though I know that things are not going to end well for her.
As for the art, it continues to blow my mind how Sejic is able to craft this book all by himself. Not only is the writing incredibly detailed, but so is the art. Over the course of the story, we visit various places, from the Asylum to the GCPD, and from the GCPD to Harleen’s apartment, and many other locations. Every location is unique, and most backgrounds have interesting details, for example, the misty cityscape that looms behind Batman as he stands on top of the Bat signal on the GCPD rooftop. Or the imposing structure that is Arkham Asylum, big and gothic and intimidating in the heavy rainfall. Or even the checkered pattern on the wall behind Joker as Harleen interviews him, which mildly conjures up the idea of a jester archetype, who is often seen wearing outfits with similar patterns.
Finally, I can’t close this review without at least praising Sejic’s skills when it comes to creating sequential art. Where a lot of artists only occasionally use sequential art to show how their story unfolds and mostly rely on collages or snapshots to show us the highlights, Sejic employs sequential storytelling throughout almost this entire 60+ page comic. Every panel just flows into the next, and so every scene flows into the next as well. The story unfolds organically and smoothly, and because of that the pacing remains fairly relaxed and calm. If you want to see masterclass-level comic book art, look no further. Sejic knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.
- You want to read a Harley Quinn story in which Harley is relatable.
- You want to read a complex character study in which every character is unique and adds something to the narrative.
- You only want the best of comics in your collections, because, trust me, this is great!
- You want to see how Joker slowly manipulates Harleen into giving in to his charms, thereby transforming into Harley Quinn.
Overall: If you’re into complex character studies, you really should pick up this book. The art is great, the writing is deep and intricate, and everything fits together so well that the story flows organically and easily, despite it being so complex. There’s not a single book like this on stands right now, and this is the kind of comic that I fully support and recommend. Sejic is killing it on this title—in a good way. Harley Quinn hasn’t been this relatable for me in years!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.