Harleen – Book One

  • Written by: Stjepan Sejic
  • Letters by: Gabriela Downie
  • Art by: Stjepan Sejic
  • Harley Quinn created by: Paul Dini & Bruce Timm

DC’s new label for these new stories has been given a strong start with stories such as Batman: Damned, Batman: Last Knight on Earth, Batman: Curse of the White Knight, Superman: Year One and of course Harleen with more on the way soon. These new stories take the characters we already know and love, and bring them into darker territories making for some very intense stories that really grip the reader into an almost real world of heroes and villains.

Harley Quinn was first created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, and introduced in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ back in the twenty second episode of season one in 1992. The episode is called ‘Jokers Favor’ and the character of Harley Quinn was voiced by actress Arleen Sorkin. The character was only ever meant for a small role in the series, but due to her growing popularity, she was adapted into the pages of the animated shows continuity comic ‘The Batman Adventures’ appearing for the first time in issue 12, which would be the start of a much loved characters journey.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin), Batman (Kevin Conroy) & Joker (Mark Hamill) – Batman The Animated Series 1992 – 1995

In Harleen – Book One we are treated a story, not about Harley Quinn, but about her life before crime, where she was a young beautiful psychiatrist, called Harleen Frances Quinzel, trying to so hard to obtain the resources and funding she needs for her research into the mind and psyche of criminals, in hopes of discovering some form of cure for violence in Gotham, and maybe the world. Harleen is also haunted by strange dreams at night, involving a giant Bat creature and a man who seems tormented, yet smiling. As the story goes on, Harleen’s dreams of carrying out her research come ever closer to reality, but so does her strange nightmare as she is disruptively introduced to the Clown Prince of crime himself.

The story of this book gives us a deeper look into the psyche of the psychiatrist, allowing us to learn more about a character we, as fans, have known for over a decade. There have been multiple adaptations and alternate versions of the origins of Harley Quinn, but to my knowledge, there aren’t many that delve this deep into her psyche, especially not one that focuses the entire story around it for more than a few pages before getting to the transformation.

What makes this story even more interesting however, is that the narration of it comes from Harley Quinn herself, telling us about how she got to where she is now (although we don’t know where that is since we don’t see her in the present and the story is told completely within the past timeline. We get to learn about Harleen Quinzel from her own perspective, which allows her to tell us about her true thoughts and feelings, rather than what any other character is analysing about her based on her emotions etc. This means that it’s almost an autobiography, though with less written down. It feels like she’s in the opposite chair in a recorded interview, instead of being the psychiatrist, she’s the patient, which could very well be true but as I’ve mentioned before, we don’t necessarily get to see Harley Quinn yet, only Harleen Quinzel, but this works as a great story because of that. We all know how crazy and eccentric Harley Quinn is but as readers we often like to know how a person like that came to be in the role she’s in now.

This story isn’t just about Harleen meeting the Joker either, there are plenty of appearances from familiar Gothamites such as Lucius Fox, Harvey Dent, Batman, Hugo Strange, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mad Hatter, Riddler, Victor Zsasz, and even a glimpse at a photo of Mr. Freeze, which reminds us that Arkham Asylum houses the majority of Batman’s most dangerous foes, and yet Harleen is a character you wouldn’t at first consider brave enough, or mad enough, to be sharing a room with them.

The art in this book is incredible, with plenty of colours befitting each section of the story. The colours in the dreamscapes are dark and really allows the reader to understand the tone and emotion fo the dream, even without text, we would be able to tell that the dreamscape is a nightmare, just by the colours, tones and imagery used, making this a real delight to look at with or without reading it. There’s also some great imagery within the panels of this story, such as the silhouette of Batman and Joker as they fight in the streets of Gotham, and one of my favourite panels, shows Harleen stood outside the gates of Arkham as the sun peeks just over the roof of the building, casting a shadow behind Harleen, but Sejic knows just how to tease his readers and give a great little nod to the reader, by having Harleens shadow take on the form of Harley Quinn in what looks to be her jester costume, complete with mallet and pistol in hand, foreshadowing (pun intended) the inevitable life she has yet to live once she steps through those gates.

The lettering in this book is very clear, meaning that it’s an easy read, because the spacing and font make it so that there are no merging letters in any of the captions that provide the story to each panel. The design of the captions are also great as they share the same colour pallet as Harley Quinn’s famous jester costume which has become the colour pallet that is synonymous with her appearance in almost all forms of media, as well as some of the captions baring the red and black diamonds which are also heavily associated with Harley Quinn and her costumes, which gives us the impression that it is Harley Quinn telling us about her past and not someone else.

Overall this book really had me gripped from the first panel, and I did not put it down until I had read and examined all of the panels and text to truly take in the Sejic’s vision of the character we have known for over a decade. This book gets a 5/5 from me, because any book that looks deep within the psyche of a character will always be interesting to me.

This story promises to be an interest tale of Harleens descent into love and madness as she continues her research in Arkham Asylum. Her work with Joker hasn’t begun just yet, but it’s about too, meaning book two in this series is going to be intense and very interesting to read.

Harleen Book One is out now online and in your local comicbook store.

Book Two will be available on the 30th October 2019.

Harleen Book One Variant cover

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