Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Harleen #1 Review and Spoilers

Mad Love...Sure, I Guess

Writer: Stejpan Sejic
Artist: Stejpan Sejic
Cover Price: $7.99
Release Date: September 25, 2019

Review by: Carlos S.

I can’t say that I was let down with this book because I did not really have expectations going, either way, prior to reading it.  All I knew about it was that it is a DC Black label book by Stjepan Sejic with a new interpretation on the origin of the Joker/Harley relationship.  Great art was always going to be a given.  Can we say the same about the story?  Let’s find out.

The concept of the book is concerning the beginning of the relationship between the Joker and Harleen Quinzel.  The point of view character is obviously the latter.  Through narration, it appears as though all of the events in this book have already occurred and she is reminiscing.  Or regretting.  She gives you her thoughts prior to meeting the Joker and well after.  With that being said, you will not see her full out transformation into Harley Quinn just yet.  We learn that she is not sure of her place in the world, she’s not confident, and she is lonely.  With these few early character traits, she is prime for manipulation at the hands of someone as iconic as the Joker.  Throughout the story, we also see great guest appearances from the many characters of Gotham.

We begin with Harleen having a possible premonition in her dream.  It shows how she will come to view the two men that soon will have a dramatic impact on her life.  Of course, we see the demonic monster that is the Batman attacking the defenseless misunderstood Joker.  She has to save him because she believes that she is the only one that can.   I found her narration a little excessive, and the part with the crows was pretty annoying.  This entire sequence sets the tone for the series and ends with a mini origin story of Harley Quinn told through the art.

The next scene begins with Harleen conducting an interview with a dishonorably discharged soldier (?) I guess?  Never really said what exactly he was doing.  He could be CIA I guess but military makes more sense.  If he is military, the whole bar thing really doesn’t make sense.  When you get deployed to a combat zone, you’re never going to leave the wire to go have a drink.  You can’t be drinking at all.  Want to sneak off the base for personal reasons?  Won’t end well.  Just ask a certain paratrooper…Anyways, I digress.  This guy is the perfect example for the Joker.  He was originally a good guy but then something happened in front of him that pushed him into being a psychopath.  In this case, the soldier watched his best friend get murdered in front of him.  Apparently, a woman was checking his friend out and he urged him to go talk to her.  Her response when he approached was to slit his throat.  Really makes me wonder what the fuck his pickup line was.  The soldier retaliates by killing her.  Overkill, really.  All in all, it reminds me of that one Watchmen scene in the Vietnam bar.  Also, then he later shoots up a hospital.  Harleen uses this guy as an inspiration for her next project.
Harleen presents her thesis at the Gotham Education Symposium.  She proposes that soldiers develop a lack of empathy towards their enemy so as to be more effective in combat.  Harleen theorizes that in certain individuals, empathy can deteriorate and never return resulting in violent antisocial behavior.  She believes that with funding, she can detect and diagnose these individuals.  She hopes to do this early to prevent them from going full out, psychopath.  The crowd is not impressed.  I find this theory pretty interesting, although I am not sure that a lack of empathy can effectively be tracked through hormonal stimuli.  Either way, this scene gives a great set up into Harleen’s plans and purpose for this chapter.  You also get great insights into her character with her hesitation and anxiety throughout the speech.

Next, we see Harleen speaking to what seems as though her only friend about her presentation.  She expresses her professional self-doubt that was confirmed by a lack of enthusiasm from the crowd.  Her friend gives her really shitty (although slightly accurate) advice.  Play to your crowd, they only really care about money.  She confirms her advice to Harleen by telling her how great her presentation went because of it.  I think this is a small catalyst into becoming Harley Quinn: people don’t want to help others, people only care about money.

Harley walking from the bar, lost in her depression has a crime scene stumble into her.  The Joker has just stolen a shit ton of weapons and is running from the police and Batman.  She is in shock when she sees the Joker, who immediately puts a gun to her face.  She is expecting to die for sure but then he just walks away.  Joker later explains to a henchman that he let her go because he has surely destroyed her mentally.  He is not wrong, her life flashes between her eyes. 
Batman comes in.  He causes the getaway vehicle to crash.  Joker’s main guy who was driving is injured.  That’s what happens when you don’t wear a seatbelt.  Then the Joker shoots him in the face.  Classic Joker.  But we get an awesome Batman 1989 reference here.  This sets up the Batman vs Joker scene that results in his capture which is obviously pivotal in the Harley Quinn origin.  I fucking loved the page of Batman taking out each henchman one by one.  This is followed by an awesome chase and fight scene between these two juggernauts, all witnessed by Harleen.  Here is another serious catalyst for Harley Quinn: people fucking love violence.  The crowd mentality doesn’t allow for you to empathize for a person who is beaten.  You can’t see the fine details of the gruesome fight, just broad strokes of revenge.  She is disgusted.

The next scene sets up Harleen’s office rivalry, which was funny enough at face value I guess.  She is called into her boss’s office.  The guy that left her presentation early into it is sitting there.  We see a great character interaction between the nervous yet frustrated Harleen and the charming Lucius Fox.  He explains that he left early because he heard enough and he already knew Wayne Enterprises would fund the project.  I don’t really get that thought process.  Why not just sit through it until the end?  What if she proposed some crazy shit after he left?  Like bringing back lobotomies or something?  Harley remembers what her friend said and was sure to force in the prospect of her project raking in profit.  Lucius explains that is not what Wayne Enterprise is about.  Now she looks like a fool.  Also, I thought her flipping off her coworker rival was pretty funny.

At Arkham, she meets her new boss, Dr. Hugo Strange.  I think this is a great placement for his character.  The entire time I was eager to see how this character interpretation becomes obsessed with Batman.  He gives her a hard time before finally approving her access.  She now has access to Arkham Asylum to begin her research, let the candidate interviews begin.
We see great cameos from various villains who all ultimately fail to be what Harleen is looking for.  I really liked Poison Ivy here.  This leads into a dream that Harleen has of the soldier from before.  Pretty much continues to show how the Joker has invaded her nightmares.  I find this interesting because it presents the idea that Harleen was in total control of that situation but the Joker is there to prove that she is never in control.  This is what helped to form the decision that she would indeed interview the Joker.

She does her research.  At first, the thought of everything intimidates the shit out of her.  However, the more she was exposed to him she became underwhelmed with his character.  This allows her to really let her guard down.  I believe that this is also a great set up for her to become controlled by the Joker.  One of my favorite parts of the book is the Joker telling different stories of his past to different psychiatrists and psychologists and how the majority of them believe him.  Fucking with them really gets him off.  Throughout her research one fact of the Joker becomes apparent.  It is pretty much the whole “madness just takes a little push” routine.  It was ok.  I don’t know if I like how that was presented.

Harleen’s PTSD is causing her sleeping problems.  Again, lack of sleep is a great tool for a manipulator.  A lot of cults implement this to give them just that much more control over their members.  It would be really stupid of the Joker to not capitalize over this with Harleen.  She tries everything to sleep but nothing helps.  She then gets a call from the DA’s office.  Harvey Dent wants to meet.

The point of the meeting is that Harvey wants her to shut down her research.  He believes that it will only serve as a great defense for criminals.  This really pisses Harleen off and only serves to make her continue her research more determined than before.  So again, another catalyst in my mind: authority doesn’t give a shit about people, they just want convictions.
Finally, we get to the Harleen and Joker interview.  I liked how the Joker did not recognize her until he saw the terror in her eyes, if only for a second.  I think that this shows Joker all he really needs to know about her and how he will exploit her.  Harleen tells him that she does not believe any of his lies.  In an effort to get to know him, she asks him to tell a story about Gotham and he agrees.  This sets up their soon to be an abusive relationship.

Let’s talk about the art.  I really liked it overall.  Harleen looks amazing throughout.  The fight scenes look great.  I love the shadow work and a lot of the backgrounds look good.  The main issue I had was with the Joker’s facial design.  He came off looking way too “clean” I guess.  I would expect the Joker to look a little more fucked up and scary.  I will give the writer/artist the benefit of a doubt here though.  I am assuming it is because we are looking through the point of view of Harleen.  Of course, she is going to see him as this handsome bad boy dude.  Obviously, I could be looking too deep into that.  All in all, I really liked the art and loved the colors.

Bits and Pieces:

Alright, let’s wrap this up.  I loved the art but the story was okay.  The overly romantic tones are what really brought me down overall.  I think that this story has promise but I think the set up took way too long.  Some parts were pretty repetitive and drawn out.  I loved all the character guest appearances.  I enjoyed all of the light psychological concepts presented in this book.  Also, on a side note, I didn’t really like Batman’s joke.  In conclusion, am I going to read the next chapter?  Sure, I guess.



  1. Thanks for a great, honest review of this. Other sites are praising this as a masterpiece. That's what I love about Weird Science. . .you aren't afraid to tell the truth. If it's "Meh" then it's "Meh". From your review, this story sounds pretty "Meh" to me. Thanks again!