Writer(s): Stjepan Šejić.
Artist(s): Stjepan Šejić.
Letterer(s): Gabriela Downie.
Publisher: DC Black Label.
Release Date: February 11th, 2020.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★★.
Love is madness. Untamable, unexpected, uninvited. It whirls into your life and sweeps you off your feet. Blinded by it, driven by it, excused by it, nothing is ever the same. For one Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Love struck her with a mallet and left her with a vision of life that shackled her to a life of criminality. And that with none other than the Joker, a wild and unpredictable psychopath who happens to think thousands of steps ahead of the most reasonable individuals. But how did the young and stunning Ms. Quinzel get caught off guard as she slowly but surely became the insane Harley Quinn? Written and illustrated by renowned comics storyteller Stjepan Šejić comes a tale to remember exposed through the point of view of one Harley Quinn as she reflects on her transformation following her encounter with the legendary Joker.
What is Harleen about? The story follows the young and ambitious Dr. Harleen Quinzel in her exposition of a theory that could revolutionize the chaotic ecosystem of Gotham City: mental illness as a survival mechanism. Unfortunately for her, the establishments of mental health and justice are skeptical of her ideas. Struggling to grasp onto any hope for her theory to take form, she’s finally given an opportunity to prove her case. With the chance to get a hands-on sample of criminally insane criminals right in the heart of Arkham Asylum, she believes that there’s still hope for her to find answers to all the questions. What she doesn’t see coming is that her time in this hell hole will pull her further away from reality and sanity. Collecting the 3-issue limited series, the latest graphic novel within DC’s Black Label imprint is an unequivocally exquisite and thought-provoking tale of obsession, madness, and hope.
Creator Stjepan Šejić achieves an astounding feat in delivering this wicked psychological tale in such a sharp and confident fashion. His depiction of Dr. Harleen Quinzel is perfectly flawed, evenly conceived, and beautifully layered as she progresses through her experiment in Arkham Asylum. The characterization is beyond the predictable as he constructs her personality and establishes an agency around her that allows her to feel independent and genuine within the shifting social and political events evolving around her. Stjepan Šejić’s meticulous and conscientious story-telling abilities also bring him to delicately illustrate the complex and controversial relationship developed between Dr. Harleen Quinzel and the Joker. It isn’t an obvious and blatant depiction of an abusive relationship anymore. It’s a far more intricate bond where both of their personalities symbiotically merge and form an unbreakable and corrupted understanding of each other. Think of a disturbing blend of a messiah complex coming from Ms. Quinzel and a manipulative and psychopathic penchant oozing from the Joker. Quite insane, right?
The narrative doesn’t, however, strictly focus on Dr. Harleen Quinzel and the Joker as it also analogeously explore other characters, notably including a retelling of Harvey Dent’s origin. Irrefutably multilevel, the narrative is brilliantly thought-out and attests to Stjepan Šejić’s story-telling talents. With incredible artwork that will have your jaw dragging on the ground in amazement, he also depicts an intelligent and figurative facet of the Stockholm syndrome through the relationship between the Clown Prince of Gotham and the Cupid of Crime. Although the former is the one behind bars, he cunningly encages Dr. Harleen Quinzel in a mental prison of his own, as he maneuvers her feelings to his whim and collaterally obtains what he has always sought. Stjepan Šejić’s artwork also thoroughly translates these powerplays and captures the raw emotions with unprecedented precision through intimate visual designs, surreal and introspective elements drawn from thoughts and dreams, as well as vivid colouring accentuating the story’s qualities. It would simply be an understatement to not call this a chef d’oeuvre.
Harleen is a refreshingly terrifying origin story—bound to be baptized a masterpiece—for the Joker’s intimate partner in crime with the descent into insanity at the heart of this tale.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!