Writer/Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Stjepan Šejić
Letters: Gabriela Downie
Editor: Andy Khouri
Publisher: DC Comics/DC Black Label imprint
Price: $7.99 US
Black Label, DC’s darker, mature-readers imprint, has been hit and miss for me since it launched, and despite the character’s popularity in recent years, I’m not exactly a Harley Quinn fanatic. However, I have enjoyed the artwork of Stjepan Šejić as of late, and it was interesting to see that the artist was given his own out-of-continuity project to write and illustrate. I think DC’s going a little overboard with the Harley projects – on top of in-continuity stories, we’ve also seen a young-readers graphic novel in recent weeks, and the upcoming Criminal Sanity – but I thought this might be worth a glance. As expected, the artwork is quite sharp, and to my surprise and pleasure, Šejić doesn’t take an overly sexualized approach to depicting the title character. But his inexperience as a writer shows through in the script, which is repetitive and predictable.
A young Dr. Harleen Quinzel is intent on making her mark in the world of criminal psychiatry with ambitious new research delving into empathy – or more specifically, the lack thereof among the worst of the worst. As such, she’s drawn to Gotham City, and it’s not long before she comes face to face with the sort of madman who interests her professionally. Personally, though, she finds herself terrified, having witnessed the Batman and the Joker in pitched battle on the city’s streets. She’s haunted by the violence and fear, and when she gets a chance to pick the brains of the more colorful inmates at Arkham Asylum, she finds herself avoiding its most notorious and terrifying resident.
Šejić depiction of Harleen isn’t what I expected. She’s rather lithe, he never dresses her in a provocative way. In the past, Harley Quinn has always been portrayed as rather buxom, or perhaps physically perky, but here, she’s slender and more reserved. Even the variant cover, which depicts her in her original, skin-tight costume, doesn’t exaggerate the more curvaceous aspects of her form. She’s slender, like a gymnast or acrobat. Though there’s one element of sexuality in the plot, she’s never portrayed as a sexual object, and that’s refreshing.
I was particularly struck by the dream-like approach Šejić takes to the early confrontation between the Joker and Batman. It’s incredibly theatrical, and I love the way the artist uses smoke and shadows to make the action larger and even mythic. The colors are rich and textured, but never gaudy. Šejić also wisely depicts the Joker as a sauve, even handsome figure, making it easier to see how Harleen would eventually find herself drawn to him, ensorcelled by him.
Šejić’s script, unfortunately, lacks the polish one finds in the art. It’s repetitive, using the same turns of phrase. The “road to hell” concept worked well in its initial use, but the writing gets clumsy, restating obvious points and awkwardly using the same lines. The story seems to spin its wheels at times, padding a relatively straightforward plot out, seemingly to pad out the first issue to the appropriate length.
Because this is under DC’s new Black Label, Šejić is able to include some cursing in the dialogue. Now, I don’t have a problem with swear words in comics, even in mature super-hero storytelling. But it just didn’t work here. Aside from the war crimes dialogue early in the issue, it always felt out of place and unnecessary. The F-bombs and the like didn’t contribute to the storytelling; they interfered, took me right out things.
Another liability here is the fact that the reader knows exactly where the story is heading. There’s little in the way of suspense, of tension. Harley Quinn is such a well-known character now, not just in comics but in mainstream culture, that the audience knows her story already. The mechanics of it are tweaked and altered from project to project, but this origin is following a well worn path. We’re not really seeing anything new or different in this Harleen Quinzel that we haven’t seen in other incarnations. 5/10