I’ll make this review quick.
While I have been hired as a reviewer for this website, I won’t pretend that my opinion has any more significance than the average reader. Hell, I liked Suicide Squad and some of the Transformers movies on first viewing, so I’m not exactly a perfect judge of quality. I say this for two reasons: first and foremost, to clarify that I don’t want to put anyone down for liking this book. The art has a lot of great qualities, and the pacing is refreshingly slow among a sea of fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall superhero stories. Secondly, though, I say this because of why I enjoyed movies like Suicide Squad when I first saw them. Is it because I’m dumb and stupid? Probably. But there was also a level of charm to that movie, despite its myriad of flaws. If I want to enjoy something, I think one of the biggest hooks for me is personality. Is it charming? Is it fun? Tense? Thrilling? Are the characters compelling? And if not, is it interesting or intelligent enough to hold my attention?
The further I read into this story, the more I start to feel that the book holds none of these qualities for me.
It’s not like this book is lacking in content – we learn more about John Kelly’s past (why does he have to have the same name as a Brooklyn Nine-Nine villain?), we discover more of Harley’s relationship with her mother, a new crime scene, and a criminal profile of the Joker. Considering this book is nine issues long, it’s keeping a relatively consistent pace, and events play out relatively naturally. On paper, this is all fine, but they’re just a sequence of events – you need characters to carry the scenes, and I can’t help but think this is where Criminal Sanity falls apart.
The closest thing we have to characters in this book are John Kelly and Harley Quinn – Dr Harley Quinn, not Harleen Quinzel, as the book is happy to remind us of. I’m not going to mince words: this is neither a Joker story, nor is it a Harley story. It’s not just the fact that neither of them retain the charm of their usual selves: Joker is not charismatic, funny, imposing, nor is he particularly scary, and Harley is literally just a doctor doing her job – probably a little more than she should be allowed to do, considering she isn’t a detective. It isn’t just that they’re essentially new characters with DC skins wrapped around them, it’s that they’re barely characters at all. There is a certain novelty to watching John navigate basic human emotion, and it’s interesting to see where Harley’s investigation is taking her… but that doesn’t make up for a lack of personality in the both of them. John is relegated to quoting more iconic artists in both his monologues and his murders, and Harley spends most of the story going through the motions. Maybe this could work better as a television show, where actors could carry the dialogue and give it a fresh coat of paint with their performances. Without that, though, there’s not much of substance here to latch onto. The abuse they undergo is tragic, and some of it is striking, but it isn’t enough to elevate the only two characters with significant page time.
The art fares better, but I can’t say it’s particularly consistent in this issue. Jason Badower filling in for Mike Mayhew ended up being a great call – not only are their styles close enough so as to make the transition easy to digest, but Badower manages to deliver some of the best illustrations of the entire series so far. The cross-hatching on his characters works wonderfully in creating some depth within the pages, and he manages to create an excellent mood whenever he’s able to tackle scenes involving the adult Joker – colorist Annette Kwok is particularly essential in scenes like the opening page with the Joker developing photos, and a later scene with him in a shopping mall.
Suayan, meanwhile, is hit-or-miss this issue. Some of his art remains astoundingly detailed, but there are several pages that seem jarring in comparison – thick lines with shading that feels less defined than previous pages. Not to mention, uh… the interesting photoshop work on this page.
So, if I’m not finding the characters enthralling, and I’m not finding the art compelling enough to hold me over, what might be the appeal of this book? Well, there’s the analytical aspect: the story is about a criminal profiler, and we do get a rather in-depth file of the Joker at the end of the story. I’m curious to see how accurate it is, and plan to ask a professional about it – if it is, I’ll be rather impressed, and could recommend this book as an interesting demonstration of criminology from a mainstream publisher. But when I see panels like this…
…I’m not exactly filled with confidence.
- Naturalistic art appeals to you, which this comic has plenty of!
- You enjoy a slower pace in your comics, especially in a thriller.
- You’re not that fussed about seeing Joker or Harley in less recognizable roles.
- Criminology is a field you’re interested in – how accurate it is might be another story.
I don’t feel great about giving a book a low score, especially considering it’s rather proficient on a technical level. I’ll ask some of my fellow reviewers what they think of it, but to me, it’s a shame that the intriguing premise is marred by generic crime-solving tropes, self-indulgent quotes and a lack of compelling characters, instead of standing out on its own.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.