Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh
|Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: How Harleen Quinzel might become the Joker's hyperactive partner in crime Harley Quinn, seen through a very, very PC lens.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: September 2019|
|Publisher: DC Ink|
Harleen Quinzel is new in town. She always, to me, seems new in town, even if she's been around a long time, for she always has a very fresh attitude, and seems to look out of those large eyes at everything anew each time. But here she is new in town, and the town is Gotham City. Expecting a year-long furlough from life with her mother, she finds her gran dead and herself with no option but to stay with a bunch of drag queens. She also finds school is a drag, she also finds the whole neighbourhood is being redeveloped by a large and uncaring corporation – but she also finds two characters that will have a big impact on her life. One is a civil-minded lass called Ivy, the other someone she only meets at night – a lad with a singular graffiti tag and a mind for violence and chaos, who calls himself The Joker…
Yes, this is the fourth entry to the new teen-friendly DC Ink series, and as such spins new looks on their famous characters for a fresh and modern audience. And some of those spins really do result in different approaches – Ivy being a person of colour perhaps the biggest, but also the slightest. For this does things with the relationship between The Joker and Harleen that I didn't expect. For if you don't know, Harleen Quinzel becomes Harley Quinn, and there's a good reason for the transformation here, even if it's one that also raises many problems with the book.
This imprint before now has engaged with a self-imposed edginess in quite awkward ways – Catwoman became a whiny self-harmer, and the opener to the Teen Titans series tried its best to remove all males from the page as a way of redressing some perceived slight. Here too everything is 'woke' – Ivy, who we know will somewhen turn into Poison Ivy, is big on community gardening and social democracy, and hates the school's film club for never representing female voices. Here, the clownish Harlequin costume and character come from the pair being activists with some kind of fictionalised Pussy Riot equivalent in mind.
What's more, the design highlights this. The main core of the story is played out in shades of green (until it becomes more blueish for no reason), but the scenes of drag-actery gain reds and purples, Ivy's garden adds, obviously, a more life-giving sepia, and the scenes featuring The Joker gain a blood-red sky and more colour. So whether we're belting out drag show tunes, being politically inclusive or being with the edgy Joker, we gain extra colours to our life.
Which I guess is a little like real life, if you insist. But there is a case to be had for letting the modern PC-ness drop and just getting on with the story, and this book only came to life when it did get in touch with that. There is an obvious comparison to be had with becoming a comic character (finding your strengths, sidekicks, motivations for life – even costume) with becoming an adult, and this book isn't the first to make that comparison, yet does it well. And what else it does with the plot is, as alluded to earlier, something I can't really say – suffice it to say that this Joker and this Harley end up in different places than the norm.
Finally, a comment that comes from a very different place to all the politically aware attitude of the book itself. I always prefer my Harley Quinn books when she's more attractive. To me, lookist generalisation or no, she always needs to have the edge of looking supremely dateable, but acting like a terror – a case in point is how the movies have failed at this. And this iteration, at the hand of veteran artist Steve Pugh, gets it spot on. She's both yummy and someone your parents would hate. The DC Ink is at an awkward stage at the moment – I am sure the launch of their first titles was slowed and made more staggered after the initial hoo-hah, and we're still a long way to go before any Book Twos ever arrive. It will take me til then or beyond to know whether I really love this Harley, but there is just about enough at this stage to say there is a liking for more.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The best in this fledgeling portfolio remains Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne. This author has form with the teenage existence, as shown in Skim.
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