Everybody loves Harley Quinn. Well maybe Batman thinks she’s kind of a pain, but let’s not talk about him right now, shall we? Harley’s today’s star, and for fans who’ve always wanted to know how Harley got her start, DC Comics got you covered with “Mad Love”. First published as a one-shot comic book in 1994, it became arguably the best known episode of The New Batman Adventures in 1999. The story of Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s transformation into villain/anti-hero Harley Quinn is well known nowadays; the good doctor treats psychotic supervillain the Joker, and through his manipulation, she falls in love with him and joins his gang. Good story, right? Right.
But with the new DC Comics Novels, Harley’s story gets better. Love not only tells the story we know, it delves deeply into the mind of Harleen through her childhood years up to the events of the original story. We see Harleen as a seven-year-old who worships her Daddy and learns that police can’t be trusted, a seventeen-year-old gymnast that scores a scholarship while starting to push people away, and finally as a newly minted psychiatrist who wants to make a name for herself while trying her best to help her patients. Unlike the comic and the episode of Adventures that uses flashback, Love takes a chronological look at Harley’s story, which is a nice shift for the novelization. This change helps the narrative flow on the page, as there are no illustrations or artwork to help guide things along. Instead of visuals, Love fleshes out Harley by giving readers a gloriously in-depth look inside her mind, letting Harley narrate for the bulk of the story.
In the hands of Cadigan and Dini, the build from Harleen to Harley Quinn is understandable, and even a bit relatable. She didn’t understand why the police treated her Daddy poorly, she always thought Batman was a lawless vigilante that was worse than the criminals he punished, and her feelings of sympathy to the inmates in her care led her to empathize with them. Top all that off with the Joker … It makes sense. Love shows that Harley feared “tedium” and a “match toward entropy”, so it’s no wonder someone like the Joker would catch her eye (and her heart). Sure, the Joker broke her, but the kindling has been there all along. He was just the match.
For long-time fans of The Bat, this entire book is chock full of all kinds of great Gotham shout outs. In less capable hands it’d feel like fan service. But the authors weave these bits into the overall narrative seamlessly. In fact, I’d say they’re absolutely necessary in a novelization of her story. Killer Croc, Hugo Strange, Poison Ivy, and a literal rogues gallery of villainous types come and go in this story. Things change up a bit in the final acts, where we get POV sections from Commissioner Gordon and Batman; a necessary switcheroo for parts of the story that Harley probably wouldn’t have known. Plus, having others narrate these parts of the story gives a similar deep-dive into both Gordon and Batman’s thoughts, and these tidbits are just as enjoyable as what we get from Harley’s POV.
No spoilers sweetie, but in Love the original story wraps by chapter 30, giving the authors five more chapters to play with. These chapters begin Harley’s transition from her animated/90s era personal into her New 52 and current self, and they work like a natural extension of the tale. The authors don’t crib from other creators, but I could see glimpses of her quirky anti-hero self from Palmiotti and Conner, which is never a bad thing. (What? I totally play favorites.) I appreciate that Cadigan and Dini took the time to end things on a transitional note, especially as the DC Comics Novel brand is just getting started. Who can say where this new series of books may take Daddy’s Little Monster? It’s too early to even guess, but with a starter like Love, I’m game for wherever she’ll lead me.
(DC Comics/Titan Books, 2018)