On October 10th, 2019, a nervous 21-year-old finished tapping his fingers away at his keyboard, and uploaded his fifth review to Batman News: a critique of Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1. I remember the comments well, as it was the first review of mine to receive somewhat negative feedback! As someone who was relatively new to the reviewing game, the comments stuck with me a little more, and helped me evaluate how I tackled reviewing comics I don’t necessarily like. I’ve learned a lot over the course of that year and three months – and in some ways, Criminal Sanity has been an excellent way of charting my development as a critic.
Of course, that’s only because the comic hasn’t finished yet.
Over the entirety of 2020, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity released 6 of its 10 issues, including a bonus Secret Files chapter that provided the book with some interesting supplementary content. Looking back on it, the release schedule of the book has been relatively consistent – if you’re okay with reading a comic that only releases every two or three months. There are a lot of reasons why a book like this might be so spotty with its release dates, but I’m not here to speculate on that: all I know is that when you’re releasing a serialized comic with one branching story, long wait times between issues are a serious problem. If I want to read a crime thriller, would I rather read the entire collection as a trade, or wait over 15 months (and counting) to get an idea as to whether or not this is a story with a satisfying arc? Any excitement the book might drum up is killed when delays rob it of its momentum, and it seriously affects the quality of my reading experience. But a book is more than when it’s released – so let’s dive into the comic itself.
I tend to be critical of this miniseries, but make no mistake: I actually enjoyed a fair shake of this issue! While I’ve obviously levied plenty of criticisms at the plot, there are a lot of positive elements to the writing in this issue. Here, Joker’s plan begins to take shape, as his final machinations come into play – all the while taunting Harley and the rest of the GCPD. He has some genuinely great moments here, from his silent mockery of the police to his enacting of his final plan; I don’t want to spoil it, but the execution he carries out in this issue is a visually fantastic affair. It leans into the realm of the fantastical, but the scene itself carries a weight that allows the creators to sell the audience on it. Honestly, it’s one of the better scenes in the book, and I have to give props to writer Kami Garcia for engineering it.
Of course, that would be nothing without the artists at play here. I’ve enjoyed Badower’s work in the past, but I find Mico Suayan to be the star of this particular instalment. Honestly, I don’t think he’s done better work than he has in this issue! The way he inks his black-and-white pages – the art of which I have recently learned is called chiaroscuro – grants an ominous sense of dread that seeps through from page to page, and makes it all the more impactful when his work includes the occasional splash of colour. His version of Joker has never looked more sinister, and his final page manages to portray a sense of manic villainy that I don’t think the character has managed to capture for much of Criminal Sanity.
Meanwhile, I do have criticisms towards Jason Badower’s work in this issue. To get something minor out of the way, there are two muscly bald characters in this issue – and honestly, if it weren’t for a few tattoos, I’d almost mistake them for the same character. Things like these give me pause when I’m reading the story, and it means I have to look a second time in order to get a better sense of what Badower is depicting in each scene. I also have issues with his line work: in some panels, the black lines around each character feel a little too thick, and it can take me out of the story I’m trying to be immersed in. One of the most egregious examples is near the end, involving a man with a beard: the artwork itself is fine, but the line around his head makes it look like the character’s face has been glued onto another picture, like someone scrapbooking a character out of different illustration clippings.
While I like a lot of his work on this comic, some of his characters have also been known to dip back into that “uncanny valley” I’ve mentioned from time to time. For every excellent spread of Joey Cassamento leaving his car to strut through Gotham’s alleyways, there’s a panel of a woman screaming that feels a little hollow, like the character is mimicking fear rather than experiencing it. More than that, the framing of this page is weird: you wouldn’t realize it unless you reread the first issue to get your timelines straight (which I did), but the woman in this panel has ran up an entire flight of stairs between cowering in the corner of the apartment in the second panel. It’s the only way she can be found by Harley when she returns from work that night, and the lack of clarity in this page made me think that the book had forgotten its own story in the year and change between issues 1 and 7.
This ties back into why I find this book’s sporadic release to be such a huge detriment. I don’t want to pour through the old issues to have an idea of this story’s sequence of events; ideally, I want those details to be fresh in my mind as the plot develops! But coupled with a presentation that I take issue with, the release of this book means that I struggle to get invested – which sucks, because I can tell that this is a comic everyone is working very hard on. Despite these complaints, I can’t act like I hated what I read; overall, this book is actually one of Criminal Sanity’s better issues! From a well-presented story to artwork that mostly provides the weighty impact that the plot is going for, I find myself a little more forgiving of the complaints that I do have.
- You’ve made it this far, and you’re keen for the beginning of what looks to be a climactic end!
- Joker’s murders have been the hook of the book for you: this instalment includes one of his more inventive ideas.
- You’re too impatient for the trade, but patient enough to wait several months before buying the next issue of the comic.
Honestly, I think this issue is a marked improvement from previous issues – it leans into the elements of the book I find genuinely thrilling, and it gives me hope that the final entries of Criminal Sanity will wrap this tale up in an exciting and satisfying manner. That being said, the snail’s pace of a release schedule doesn’t do anything to help my feelings towards the thriller; no matter how good or bad the story gets, you’re better off waiting for the trade.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch