WARNING: The following contains spoilers for DC's Harleen #1, by Stefan Šejić.
Stefan Šejić's Harleen is every fan artist's dream come true. The concept first came to life as a roughly (but skillfully) drawn grayscale fan comic on DeviantArt that told Harley Quinn's story from her perspective. She relates to Poison Ivy how her interest in the Joker went from professional to fearful, and very quickly, to romantically obsessed. Harleen finds solace and comfort in the arms of Ivy as she emotionally recalls her deeply traumatic journey.
Šejić's sumptuously illustrated and introspective take on Harley Quinn caught the eyes of fans and eventually DC brass, who gave the green light on Harleen - a fleshed-out version of the webcomic for DC's Black Label imprint.
Šejić explained when asked by CBR last year, that he imagined Harleen Quinzel as a girl on a runaway train she simply had no control over, because as a psychiatric professional, she is aware of her own psychosis, and just can't do anything about it.
He says of his webcomic, "She could literally recognize her own pathology while being unable to stop it. Harley here is a tunnel-visioned psychiatrist who sees the Joker as both a challenge and a potential solution to her theory of mental disorder as a survival mechanism."
The premise in Harleen #1 remains the same, but there are some striking differences in the final execution. Dr. Harleen Quinzel's character is fleshed out beyond her roots in the webcomic, becoming more human than she's ever been to date. The epic opening nightmare sequence reveals the part of Harley's psyche that sees herself as the Joker's protector against a monstrous Batman. From the outset, in both the webcomic and DC Black Label version, it's clear that this Harley has far transcended her two-dimensional incarnation on Batman: The Animated Series.
Harleen is an insecure young woman in her early thirties who's just trying to carve out a career for herself in the psychiatric profession. She hints to the reader as the tale begins that her story starts with "a good intention", but she "danced with the Devil," who took her on a long road to hell.
Here's a minor digression. Fans of the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie may recognize part of that quote as derivative of Jack Nicholson's, "Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?" line. And there's another nod to Batman '89 later when Joker kills one henchman and names another - Bob - as his "Number One Guy."
Back to the story -- the first issue of Harleen seems to serve as a prelude to a focused dissection of Harley Quinn's abusive relationship with the Joker in its entirety. Whereas the webcomic additionally gave readers insight into one of Harley's other important relationships early on as well: the one with Pamela Isley aka Poison Ivy.
It's possible, however, that bringing Ivy into this incarnation of Harleen might water down its core focus - the destructive dynamic between two mentally unstable people. On the other hand, the webcomic featured Poison Ivy prominently throughout.
Ivy is clearly a major support to Harley as she relates her tale. But in Harleen #1 there's no sign of the fauna-obsessed Pamela Isley yet, so we don't know whether Harley is simply relating the story to the reader or if she's sharing it with her friend (and sometime romantic partner post-Joker), Ivy.
Could the webcomic provide a clue as to what's to come in upcoming issues of Harleen, or will this series take a slightly different turn? Harley and Ivy's relationship is already being unpacked in Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. And Harleen is clearly a detailed post-mortem of the Harley/Joker relationship. So, it remains to be seen whether the Harley/Ivy dynamic will come into play here.
Harleen's theory is that the "deterioration of empathy" is an "autoimmune disease of the mind," designed to ensure the sufferer's survival. And as she slowly begins to unravel, it becomes more and more apparent, through her insecurity and eventual submission to the Joker's will, that she is beginning to protect herself this very way. By the same token, this also explains her desire to protect the Joker as she does in the opening sequence. Will that protective instinct play a more prominent role later?
The closing line in #1 is a chilling signal that Harleen Quinzel has become Harley Quinn and it begs the question, what comes after "Very well, Mr. Jay?" With many unanswered questions left hanging in the air, the second issue is likely to be an insightful read.
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