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REVIEW: Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass Breaks New Ground For the Antihero

Story by
Art by
Steve Pugh
Letters by
Carlos M. Mangual
Publisher
DC Comics

The latest original graphic novel from DC's young adult-oriented imprint, DC Ink, focuses on the popular antihero Harley Quinn in a tale by Mariko Tamaki (Supergirl: Being Super) and Steve Pugh (Animal Man) that reimagines the character's origin. Set in an alternate continuity that places its protagonist in high school, Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass provides a fresh take that excels when its lead finds her own voice amid the expected high school drama and Gotham City high jinks.

Like the other DC Ink titles, Breaking Glass is not directly linked to the main DC Universe, despite the presence of familiar characters and its Gotham setting. The graphic novel has the wayward Harleen Quinzel arrive in the city and begin high school, where she quickly befriends a teenage Pamela Isley and crosses paths with the wealthy Kane family. As Harleen begins to discover her true self through her foster parent's connection to the local drag scene, she learns of the Kanes' nefarious plans to take control of her neighborhood, leading her to take action as Harley Quinn.

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It's clear from the outset that Tamaki loves the characters, and that the story comes from a personal place. This incarnation of Harley is immediately recognizable, but, as a teenager still trying to find herself, she's still rough around the edges. The usual hyper-verbal approach to the character is there, and come off as grating at times (this Harley reaaaaally likes to refer to people she doesn't like as "boogers"). However, as Harley grows into herself and builds self-confidence, her dialogue similarly evens out; the motor-mouthed aspect is reframed as a defense mechanism, and perhaps it has been there all along.

Tamaki has received well-deserved critical acclaim and a strong fan following because of her coming-of-age stories, so she captures the daily emotional roller coaster that is high school particularly well here. The supporting cast is largely likable, with each character possessing a distinct voice; the story repositions Harley as more of a hero for the people as the have-nots take on Gotham's 1 percent, who lord themselves over the common people while a mysterious, masked anarchist figure rises from the shadows.

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Pugh proves himself as an especially versatile artist here, having previously illustrated supernatural horror for Animal Man and Hellblazer as well as gritty street-level action for various titles published by 2000 A.D. Pugh delivers career-defining work her finding the teenage energy and youthful, reckless abandon permeating under the ennui of high school along with the vibrant drag sequences.

When the action does inevitably kick in, Pugh's background in action and superhero comics makes the visual set pieces particularly kinetic and engaging here. While much of the graphic novel is in black and white, Pugh also wisely knows when to accentuate the scene with strategic use of color, both in subtle and intense moments throughout the story.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is another strong addition to DC Ink's growing line of original graphic novels for younger readers.

Pugh continues to show off his range with truly gorgeous artwork, from the reimagined Harley to the fast-moving environment and the characters that occupy it. With plenty of loose ends and potential avenues to take the story next, the creative team has established an alternate vision of Gotham that could serve as a foundation for even greater things to come.

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