This week: Readers get two vastly different Joker focused stories in Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity and Year of the Villain: Joker
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1
Writer: Kami Garcia
Artists: Mike Mayhew and Mico Suayan
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Now I’m not the biggest fan of either Harley Quinn or the Joker. I think that for the most part, they’re both a little overused, and often shoved into things that they don’t belong in. Joker in particular is a little hard to get away from right now, thanks to a certain movie. So color me surprised that my favorite book last month, and what look to be my favorite book this month are both Harley Quinn and Joker stories.
One thing that Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity has in common with Harleen is that both books are absolutely gorgeous to look at. I was struck immediately by the distinct, but similar styles of artists Mike Mayhew and Mico Suayan. Suayan’s black and white sections of the book carried a lot of emotional weight, while Mayhew’s colored sections were startlingly realistic. There were moments at the beginning of the book where it almost drifted into the uncanny valley. Everything about this book is gorgeous, and if you want beautiful Black Label Harley Quinn books, you are drowning in them now.
I think my favorite thing about the art was the way color was used. In a reverse from what is traditionally seen, the flashbacks in this book were in color, while the present day sections were in black and white. It was striking and unusual, but also fit the themes of the story. The past is in color, because that’s the last time Harley felt alive. She had color in her life that was drained away by the very murderer she is hellbent on stopping.
That said, the art wasn’t really what caught my attention about this book. What did it for me was the story. I’m a psychology major on hiatus, and one who before being forced to put her degree on hold for the real world, was specializing in forensic psychology. My specific dream job was to work for the FBI in trying to catch serial killers, so the themes of this book resonated with me personally.
It was clear to me that Kami Garcia did her homework, even before reviewing the credits to see that she brought in a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Kurz, to consult. She gets so many things right about the field and the assumptions made about serial killers, that I was left speechless. She uses the book to de-stigmatize mental health issues, by using Harley to explain that not all serial killers are psychopaths. Some are cold and manipulative, and incredibly intelligent and coherent, and that’s how they get away with what they are doing.
It’s also not your traditional Joker and Harley story, because there is not even a hint of romance, nor does it seem like that is ever in the cards. This is a strong and welcome choice, as it is wonderful to see multiple versions of the character taken away from that problematic part of her past (see also Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh’s Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass). This is a dedicated and determined Harley, one who is trying to pick up the pieces of a crumbled life.
Speaking of that broken life, that’s where my only minor problem with this book lies. The main motivation for Harley seems to be a double case of nasty tropes: Bury Your Gays via a Refrigerator. It’s easy to infer based on context clues that Harley’s murdered roommate Edie (who looks suspiciously like Poison Ivy) is more than just a roommate. And while not enough to kill a book for me, there are others who either of these tropes are enough to ruin something they enjoy, so I wanted to give a fair warning that the plot does hinge on Harley seeking vengeance for what appears to be a murdered love interest.
All in all, Harley/Joker: Criminal Sanity is a must buy for anyone who loves a good murder podcast, or any procedural TV junkies, and a recommended buy for everyone else. The only people I suggest avoid it are the ones deeply affected by gay trauma.
- As a big fan of John Carpenter movies, I was really looking forward to seeing his take on one of the more monstrous villains in history. Sadly, the story we got was very run of the mill, and honestly a bit played out. Carpenter didn’t bring anything new or interesting to the Joker, and while he tried to also tell a story that de-stigmatizes mental illness, he didn’t do so with any grace. I was going to write more about Year of the Villain: Joker but I really have about as much to say about it as Carpenter did.
- Batman Universe remains immensely fun, and I’m going to be sad when this series is over. Bendis and Derrington are a delight to read, and it’s my favorite Batman comic every month.
- Superman #16 is the issue I’ve been waiting for since Bendis aged Jon up, and it absolutely did not disappoint. It pleased me to no end watching Damian repeatedly throw batarangs at Jon’s head. I sincerely hope that we do get to see Damian with the Legion at some point.
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