Writer/Artist/Cover Art: Stjepan Sejic, Letterer: Gabriela Downie.
“My story’s the one where the girl dances with the devil, and he takes her with him on a long road to hell.”
DC’s latest Black Label series (mature stories taking place outside of continuity, i.e.: Imaginary or Elseworlds type tales) stars everyone’s favorite nutjob sidekick, Harley Quinn, whose real name is Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Book One begins before criminal psychologist Dr. Quinzel becomes her wacky alter ego, and explores her career trying to help violent and disturbed killers. Her premise presented at a scientific symposium is that killers often suffer from “an autoimmune disease of the mind” caused by a person being trapped in a constant state of Fight or Flight response, which overrides their ability to be reasonable and feel empathy. The author is already sowing the seeds for Harleen to be sympathetic to someone like the Joker, and to see him as a victim instead of a criminal.
Sejic’s art style is very loose and sketchy, and his colors likewise have a very loose, watercolor approach. His Joker isn’t the disfigured version we are used to seeing, but still a guy who’s into white skin tones, green hair, and a bit of mauve lipstick. We do get to see Sejic’s take on Batman and it’s an impressive one, instantly one of my favorite depictions, even though it appears his black briefs are very brief, almost cheeky.
Sejic cleverly drops design easter eggs here and there, Harley Quinn’s signature harlequin diamond pattern shows up next to Harleen’s narration, in a necklace, or light shining through window panes onto the wall. See how many more you can spot!
As for Sejic’s plot and dialogue, it’s pretty solid and entertaining, he even drops in an homage to Joker dialogue from the first Batman movie. In this alt-version of Harleen’s life, her career boost and access to high-profile criminals at Arkham comes from a new and unexpected source. It makes her eventual turn into Harley even more ironic.
Harleen’s first encounter with the Joker is on the streets, just before Batman shows up to beat the snot out of him. Seeing the deadly Joker face-to-face makes her life flash before her eyes, including a painful memory revealing how she got “Harley” as her nickname/future crime handle. She finds herself attracted to the madness and the danger, and immediately subconsciously sympathizes with the murderer dangling helplessly in Batman’s grasp. The Joker haunts her dreams so much, she fears going to sleep.
What’s Black Label about this story? Well, other than some adult language and the not-so-risque-anymore sleeping with your college professor, I didn’t see much to qualify it as adult or mature. I think the alt-take on Harleen’s history and new, reluctant relationship with her new patient the Joker has more bearing on it being classified Black Label.
Harleen, Book One, is on sale September 25, 2019 and sells for $7.99.