…Oh. Um. Was that it?

If I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t think this comic was ending here. I expected nine issues from Criminal Sanity, and I was unaware that its Secret Files issue contributed to that count. Going into Issue #8, I was expecting to read the penultimate issue: a prelude to a grand finale that would arrive on store shelves a little before the heat death of the universe. What I got instead was the ending! Criminal Sanity #8 is, much to my surprise, the conclusion to my second-longest-running series of reviews, and the explosive climax to Harley and Joker’s story. As such, this is my final review for the series: one where I’ll be discussing both how the comic wraps up, and what I think of the series as a whole.

And I really wish I could say I liked it.

It has so many elements of what could make a fantastic comic book. The art, for example, is by far at its best here. Jason Badower handles the first half of the comic, while Mico Suayan handles the second – and each of them are able to do some of their best work here, so much so that it feels like showing off their work would be considered something of a spoiler. It’s not all perfect, of course: for example, Badower’s use of real-life facial references feels particularly offputting here.

Expressions fall into an uncanny valley all-too familiar for this series – but more than that, they don’t always fit with the scene that’s occurring within the book. To the right of this image, we have the expression of someone who’s supposed to be admiring some special effects… but instead of wonder, excitement or surprise, we get the expression of someone who’s absolutely nailing their driver’s license photo.

On the other end of the spectrum, Badower nails several of the grizzlier scenes in the book. We get one final flashback to the Joker’s murders – and while unimportant, it really sets the scene as to the scope of the Clown Prince of Crime’s depravity, and acts as a nice setup to his final crime. The way Badower transitions from each killing is heartless, impersonal and practical: very fitting for this interpretation of the Joker.

Dear God, though, Suayan brought out all the stops in this conclusion. There’s some serious weight to his pages, from his rendition of the Joker at the scene of the crime to the way Harley and the criminal mastermind weave through the Gotham city roadways. I have little to complain about here – aside from the fight choreography, which has consistently felt jumpy and spotty throughout the series – and to not talk about the artwork in depth would be to undersell one of the key reasons you should buy this book. Throughout all of Criminal Sanity, there has been a collective of outrageously skilled talent behind the scenes, working to deliver a product that excels in a number of ways. But when I see a panel as amazing as this…

Spoiler

I can’t help but find myself wishing I liked the glue that held it all together.

There’s an argument to be made that this story isn’t bad, and under different circumstances, I might be inclined to agree. In a collected trade, I can’t help but think that this will flow quite well – maybe if that were what I was reviewing, I’d say this is “an insightful if by-the-numbers look into a Gotham City that plays more like a crime drama than it does a superhero book.” When you’re a comic series first, though, you have another task to accomplish: holding up from issue to issue.

From Issue #1, the story didn’t really know how to conclude itself – sometimes having very weak endings to lead to the next chapter, if it had an ending at all. Even this concluding chapter has that same wishy-washy feeling to its final pages – unsure of whether or not it wants to actually do something interesting with its characters, so instead settling for yet another cliché and repetitive monologue from Harley. While this story isn’t surprising in the least, I’ll discuss the ending behind a spoiler tag anyway.

Spoiler
It’s difficult to recap a story that doesn’t have much happen beyond the bare story beats – and it makes you wonder if this really needed to be eight issues and a bonus chapter. Not much happens here that you couldn’t get in a regular-sized comic: Joker attacks a stadium, Harley chases Joker, they have a fight, conclusion. The conclusion, for the record, is two pages, with a total of six panels across the two – to call the ending to this comic abrupt would be an understatement.

After stopping the Joker and almost killing him, Harley is intercepted by Gordon and the GCPD – who Harley disavows as they put Joker in cuffs, vowing to be the predator that hunts the killers on the streets. It’s a cool idea, Harley Quinn as this vengeful vigilante – one I wouldn’t mind reading over this story, honestly. But the all-important “show don’t tell” rule comes into play here. It would have been so much more impactful to see Harley’s transition to this new version of herself, rather than reading it through a monologue. We see hints of it in the fight between her and her nemesis, but it doesn’t hit the same when Joker remains alive at the end of the story. How do you fix that?

Simple. Kill the Joker. Why not?

Joker’s imprisonment reinforces the vague “status quo” of this world’s Gotham – a status quo all too happy to mention Batman once every few issues, without discussing what his presence actually means for this world. Harley’s character arc is about her coming to reject traditional methods of winning against criminals – so why not emphasise it with an action, rather than a statement? Show us Joker’s demise, and how it impacts the characters. Show us why Harley feels it’s right, and show us if she feels the same after finishing the job. This book doesn’t have to worry about status quo, so why should Joker remain alive? Couldn’t this book afford the slightest bit of weight, of surprise? Couldn’t it have been just the slightest bit bolder?

Apparently not.

The combined efforts that went into this conclusion can’t stop me from feeling like it’s bland, and it’s not a feeling I want to have with a comic. I really wanted to like this ending more than I did – after all, I’ve had fun with this book before – but, like the rest of the series, Issue #8 made me feeling unsatisfied with both its direction and execution.

Recommended If:

  • You made it this far.
  • There’s an itch on your back for fantastically grizzly murders that you just need scratched!
  • You’re a fan of the insanely well-realised, realistic artstyle that’s permeated across each issue… faults and all.

Overall

Despite everything – despite the tone, the violence, the murder and abuse and the overwhelming edge – Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity is a very safe book, with a very safe conclusion. It’s able to wow you at points – and if you liked the first issue, it definitely continues to satisfy that itch – but it’s not particularly interested in going in unexpected directions, or justifying why its characters had to be Joker and Harley outside of their aesthetics.  If you’re going to read it, do it in a collected edition – then get back to me on if you liked it more than I did. As it stands, the journey that I began in 2019 ends here: with an abrupt, underwhelming and thoroughly expected climax.

(This is also the same review my ex gave me when the two of us broke up.)

Score: 4.5/10

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Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.

Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch