DCAU #81: Mad Love (the comic)

IN THIS ONE... Harley Quinn means to prove her love for the Joker by killing Batman. Also told: Her secret origin!

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; art by Bruce Timm.

REVIEW: The guys responsible for Heart of Ice get into the comic book action to tell Harley Quinn's origin, and prove they have what it takes. This is no "celebrity stunt". Bruce Timm, who originated the look of the DCAU, has a loosier, goosier style than you'd think, but is a master storyteller in the medium. You're almost sorry he's slumming it on television. Expressive characters, dynamic action, fun gags, and film noir inking... He favors smaller panels, which gives you a lot of story for your money (and this is a 64-pager), whether these panels are filled with words balloons or silent - and he is very good at crafting a silent sequence. Case in point, Harley's first night as a costumed villain - the ACTUAL origin, if you will - is three silent pages, followed by a ker-pow full page reveal of her crazy new look. So the art is great, is what I'm sayin'.

The story? It takes place in two time frames, à la Mask of the Phantasm. In the present, Harley displeases the Joker and is kicked out of the gang, so she tries to get into Mr. J's good graces again by putting Batman in a death trap... thereby irritating the Joker who MUST be the one who kills the Bat. The narrative is supported by flashbacks that recount Harley's origins as a not-very-good psychologist who is probably unhinged even before she falls in love with the Joker who, as it turned out, wrung some of that initial sympathy from her by lying to her about his pitiable childhood. But as we've seen on the show, Harley is a sucker for punishment, and the ugly truth of it is that the more abuse she receives from the Joker, the more she loves him. The issue in fact ends with her reaffirming that love after being violently thrown out a fifth story window and miraculously surviving.

As with Mask, Dini and Timm have fun with the medium's laxer rules. The violence is harsher and sexual situations are hinted at more overtly (whole sequences of Harley prancing around in a teddy, for example). I think you can probably push the DCAU in that direction with the Joker and Harley because they're so much comedy to balance it out. Gordon at the dentist's office, Harley's domestic dream sequences, the laugh-filled escape from Arkham, getting piranha to smile... all of that is so much fun, it works as a dark comedy and never feels TOO adult or exploitative. Trust the hype!
IN THE MAINSTREAM COMICS: Yes, the main DCU comics will let Harley keep this origin when she's integrated into it, but it's notable that the story itself will be adapted into an animated episode down the line, and that psychiatrist Joan Leland makes her first appearance here, ahead of her being featured on the show.

REREADABILITY: High - An award-winner and deservedly so, Mad Love presents an important origin story, well told and drawn, with plenty of action, laughs and style.


LiamKav said...

I'm undecided about the changes the New52 made to Harley's origin. The Joker pushes her into a vat of chemicals, so her skin is actually bleached white (and, er, her hair is bleached black and red somehow). It removed some of her agency.. she was already falling in love with him, but he forces the issue, rather than letting her get there by herself. On the other hand, her "agency" in this situation is basically her willingly going along with an abusive, mass murdering boyfriend, so...

(It's been said lots of times, but Harley only really works with the DCAU Joker. Put her next to the comics Joker, he of a death count in the thousands, he who willingly murders actual babies, and the situation gets a whole lot more awkward.)

LiamKav said...

Also, "take your Harley for a ride" is both terrible and awesome.

Siskoid said...

How long had Dini been sitting on that one, you think?

I'd be hard pressed to name very many "improvements" made to characters via the New52. Maybe there's an article in that. For one of those days when I'm too tired to write a long post.

Craig Oxbrow said...

"For one of those days when I'm too tired to write a long post."

"Burn!" - as the young people may or may not be saying these days.


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