HARLEEN (2019) #1 review

Harleen (DC Comics)

Harleen #1 is available now, via DC Black Label, where all good comics are sold!

Synopsis

Dr. Harleen Quinzel has discovered a revolutionary cure for the madness of Gotham City-she just needs to prove it actually works. But with the criminal justice and mental health establishments united against her, the brilliant young psychologist must take drastic measures to save Gotham from itself. Witness Harleen’s first steps on a doomed quest that will give birth to the legendary super-villain Harley Quinn in this stunning reimagining of Harley and The Joker’s twisted and tragic love affair by visionary storyteller Stjepan Šejic (AQUAMAN: UNDERWORLD, SUICIDE SQUAD, Sunstone).

Review

The latest release from DC Black Label arrives just in time for all eyes to turn back to Harley Quinn as the promo campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) begins to ramp up.

But this is not the heavily saturated, 80s nostalgia piece that film is shaping up to be.

Harleen is a much darker, complex tale which is diving deep in to the psyche of the twisted character. Writer/artist Stjepan Šejic makes it clear from the outset that his Harley Quinn is going to be born much from the characters own demons as she is from those forced upon her by Joker and the criminals of Arkham Asylum.

In fact much of issue #1 is spent on Harleen’s time pre-Arkham. As a doctoral student we find out she was not the shining star pupil. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

Shunned her peers and ousted by her academic institution, this version of Harleen is a rock bottom version of the bouncy, shrill character who first appeared on Batman: The Animated Series.

Clocking in around 65 pages, Harleen #1 is a brilliant slow burn. Šejic takes time to explore all the different facets of the young Harleen’s mind, in particular her nightmares. It allows the book time to show off some surreal imagery as present day Harleen narrates her back story.

Of course allowing the character to narrate in this manner does beg the question: how much can she be trusted to tell her own story?

Of particular interested is her first interaction with Batman and Joker. A chance meeting as she is walking home one night, the entire incident pushes her downward spiral on to a much more well known path. I really appreciated the choice to have her cross paths with these two and how it ultimately influenced her to take the job at Arkham.

From this next jumping off the point the book really builds towards the next meeting between Harleen and Joker which is really only teased during its climax.

There’s so much more story to tell in the next two issues but what we get here is tense, slow-burning and had me hanging on every turn of the page.

Similarly the artwork is excellent. Šejic has crafted an atmospheric book which some really unique looking characters. It feels like an animated book at times, almost like stills from an animated movie. There’s so much depth, fine detail and movement in the panels that it’s hard not to play it through in your mind as you are reading it.

Verdict

Harleen #1 provides fans with a delightfully mad insight in to the world of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. It updates her origin with a number of contemporary elements without turning its back on her animated history. Stjepan Šejic has crafted a punchy, complex opening chapter to the Harley Quinn story.

8/10

Harleen #1 is masterminded by writer/artist Stjepan Šejic who pulls triple duty by also providing the issue’s cover.


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About Neil Vagg 3821 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG