Writer: Kami Garcia
Artists: Mico Suayan, Mike Mayhew
Letterer: Richard Starkings of Comicraft
Cover Artists: Francesco Martina, Mike Mayhew, Mico Suayan
Consultant: Edward Kurz, MD
Publisher: DC Comics
This past weekend saw the release of Joker, a film that provides audiences with a dark and chilling look at the title character’s rise to infamy, and presents a Gotham that is somehow even grittier and grimier than any previously seen. Not unlike the film, the new miniseries Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity presents known characters in a much different light than we’re used to.
If you’re suffering from Harley fatigue, the concept of this series may not appeal to you. Trust me when I say that this is unlike any Harley or Joker story you may have read. Harleen Quinzel is a no-nonsense forensic profiler and psychiatrist who aids the GCPD in criminal investigations. That’s right, you read “no-nonsense” in a description for Harley-freaking-Quinn. Rather than coming off as a bland imitation, however, this Harley is both highly intelligent and tough-as-nails, and she isn’t afraid to talk down to the officers she’s there to assist. It’s an inspired take that works well, given the grounded approach.
Writer Kami Garcia, who recently penned the fantastic, and relatively light-hearted, Raven graphic novel, does a complete 180 to tackle this incredibly dark take on the eponymous duo. Like the recent Batman: Damned miniseries, this book is being released under DC’s Black Label imprint and is definitely not for kids. Fortunately, unlike that book, this is for mature audiences due to language and subject matter and not for gratuitous Bat-dong.
Art duties are split between Mico Suayan, who handles the present day, and Mike Mayhew on the flashback sequences. In another twist on the norm, the present day pages are all rendered a brooding, black and white that perfectly captures the mood of the story, while the flashbacks are in full-color. The art styles could not be more different, and yet they contrast with each other so well. Mayhew’s photorealistic approach can be a bit jarring alongside Suayan’s more traditional pencils, but the vibrant colors and “acting” of his subjects make for a unique visual experience.
One downside (or upside, depending on your opinion of the character) is that Harley has very little in common with any previous version. With her blond hair, black leather jacket, and attitude, she looks and acts more like Black Canary. Garcia establishes a great voice and motivation for the character’s actions, but she just isn’t distinctly Harley. The nods to her mythology are subtle at best, such as her roommate’s resemblance to Poison Ivy and her fascination with the Joker.
Speaking of Joker, despite having top billing in the title, the Clown Prince of Crime doesn’t appear anywhere in the issue. Not unlike the killer in Seven, he exists as a force of nature to move the narrative forward, his actions appearing only in flashback. Even Batman only appears in a single panel, during one such sequence that provides one of the book’s more emotional moments.