Title: Harley Quinn: Mad Love.
Writer(s): Paul Dini & Pat Cadigan.
Publisher: Titan Books.
Release Date: November 13th 2018.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★★.
Novelizations are a tricky terrain to venture on. After my initial experience with the adaptation by Christa Faust of Alan Moore’s classic masterpiece The Killing Joke, it was now time to check out DC Comics’ latest novelization and it is different in the best of ways. How so, you wonder? It is different because the writer behind the original Mad Love comic book story arc is co-writing the novel with Pat Cadigan. In doing so, the idea of a novelization in itself became completely seductive as you can imagine that there is no better person to give you more out of a character than the creator himself. While it is difficult to completely single out Paul Dini as the reason for the crystal-clear authenticity that came with this novel, his contribution is non-negligible. And thus, Harley Quinn: Mad Love sets the example of a perfect novelization that every fan of the original piece would adore.
What is Harley Quinn: Mad Love about? It is the definitive origin story of the infamous villain and partner in crime of the Joker. In this novel, Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan co-write Harleen Quinzel’s evolution from her days as a child when she learns the truth about her parents and the police to her days as a psychiatrist in the madhouse known as Arkham Asylum to her debut as the Brooklyn-accented, highly-spirited and extremely dangerous harlequin who finds herself charmed and enlightened by the Joker. With never-before-seen insight into the life of Harley Quinn before she became what she is known for today, the story broadens the reader’s understanding of the character’s tumultuous past and inevitable future.
Having read Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories, I had a feeling that it was going to be essential for the authors to look elsewhere if they were to add more juice to the story than just what was presented in the comics. This is where it would always feel risky beforehand as there’s so much that would have to be taken into consideration if the newly-added content were to fit with the original tale. But Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan achieve the impossible and uses this opportunity to go all the way back into Harleen Quinzel’s days as a child growing up within an abusive household to dive deep into the character’s personality and history. Without ever feeling like content was being shoved into our throats, every single moment managed to draw upon a trait that you’d quickly recognize in Harley Quinn today. In fact, even little Easter eggs were thrown into her history for fans to spot and recognize as key elements that would later characterize Harley Quinn and her sporadically-violent behaviours.
What I also found ingenious about this novelization is how the story would visit themes of rehabilitation and mental health. While Harley Quinn is known for pouncing on Batman and his allies with a hammer as well as her love-hate relationship drenched in excess with the Joker, she still remains a successful and beautiful psychiatrist before anything else. Throughout parts of the story, Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan makes sure to fully-exploit this facet of her character by showcasing her therapy sessions with other criminals as well as her beliefs and motivations in life as a professional psychiatrist. With the amount of insight we gain from these new story lines, the character quickly grows on the reader and her development becomes a beautiful thing we watch unfold. This is why having Paul Dini on board on this project seemed like the most brilliant idea ever as his understanding on not only Harley Quinn, the Joker and Batman is flawless, but also that his grasp on Gotham’s culture is firm.
Harley Quinn: Mad Love is a magnificent novelization that not only stays loyal to its source material, it visits the iconic character’s history with authenticity and brings every character to life with pure conviction.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada and Titan Books for sending me a copy for review!
This story arc was adapted from the comic book Batman: Mad Love into an episode on The New Batman Adventures (Season 2 Episode 11)! Check out the clip above for one of the best moments in this series!