It’s hard to believe that the Harley Quinn character has been around nearly thirty years already. Since her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, her impact in comics, film, TV, and pop culture has been timeless. Eisner Award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and artist Steve Pugh (Animal Man) look to continue her legacy with a new coming-of-age tale called Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. It’s a compelling tale about making choices, dealing with consequences, and living on your own terms.
The plot reimagines the classic outspoken mallet swinging anti-heroine Harley as a teenage high schooler. Harley’s “psychiatrist falls in love with a demented clown” origin is replaced. Instead, in Tamaki’s story, Harley travels to Gotham with five bucks to her name to stay with her grandmother for a year while her mom works on a cruise ship for a company called Cherry Cruises. Unfortunately, to Harley’s dismay, she arrives only to discover her grandmother has passed away a month before her arrival.
She befriends the building manager, a drag queen named Mama, who tells her granny’s fate. With nowhere else to go, Mama allows Harley to stay in the apartment on one condition — follow three rules: go to school, stay cute and stay out of trouble. Enrolled back in school, Harley meets a revamped version of Poison Ivy and the two battle an obnoxious sexist film club president named John Kane. What comes next is a gripping tale that redefines Harley Quinn and catapults her image into the 21st century.
First and foremost, this story is written brilliantly by Tamaki. It’s actually three stories intertwined into one. The first is Harley coming to Gotham and trying to sort of figure out who she is and her newfound home life. Second, Mama is a gay man dealing with rent increases and hate crimes from a corporation called Millennium Enterprises who threatens to take away her home and business. And third is a woman of color spin on the Poison Ivy character who deals with social injustice issues like racism and sexism at Gotham high school.
Tamaki does a fantastic job of taking a swing at her own Harley origin and loading it with relevant real-world topics like racism, sexism, class, and gentrification. Tamaki takes Harley and the reader into Gotham City with the storyline tightly tucked and kept focused on our main protagonist. The book manages to give a fresh new perspective while retaining the heart, mannerisms, humor, and dialogue that has made Harley one of the best DC characters in comic history.
Steve Pugh’s illustrations add a picture-perfect visualization to the story that Tamaki is trying to tell. For the majority of the book, he uses a black, white, and pigeon blue color scheme that meshes well with his realistic strong pencil work. Most of the backstories are told through bright solid colors, easily distinguishing them from the present day events. In addition, his facial expressions, character designs, and panel positions are pretty much on point. He would work great as a film director.
That’s Enough Chit-Chat
Overall, Breaking Glass is a great addition to DC Ink’s young adult readers imprint. The artwork is visually stunning, the storyline is interesting, and the dialogue is solid. The book lends a refreshing change from the Harley Quinn dynamic we’ve seen a million times in the past. If you love Batman villains, you’ll love this incredible story about Harley Quinn.
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