It seems like there is a new Harley Quinn book being announced every other day. Stjepan Šejić’s Harleen was recently released, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner are getting a DC Black Label Harley book in February, and today Kami Garcia is bringing a hyper realistic focus on a different kind of Harley who is a forensic psychiatrist and profiler. She’s the best at her job which is good because the Joker is the best at killing and getting away with it. This 9 part DC Black Label series aims to send a shiver down your spine while delivering some of the best procedural crime drama to DC Comics.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
In Gotham City, where heinous acts of violence are a daily occurrence, the GCPD relies on Harley Quinn, a young forensic psychiatrist and profiler, to consult on their toughest cases. But Harley is haunted by one unsolved case-the night she discovered her roommate’s body marked with the signature of a notorious serial killer known as The Joker. Five years later, the case remains unsolved and a new series of horrific murders occur throughout the city. As the murders escalate, Harley’s obsession with finding the depraved psychopath responsible leads her down a dangerous path. When the past and the present finally collide, Harley has to decide how far she is willing to go-and how many lines she is willing to cross-to solve these cases once and for all. Written by #1 New York Times and international bestselling author Kami Garcia (co-author of Beautiful Creatures, author of Unbreakable and X-Files: Agents of Chaos) with art by Mico Suayan (Bloodshot: Reborn) and Mike Mayhew (The Star Wars), JOKER/HARLEY: CRIMINAL SANITY introduces readers to a Joker and Harley Quinn unlike any they’ve seen before, utilizing forensic psychiatry, behavior analysis (profiling) and psychological profiles to create a true-to-life take on these iconic characters that is more terrifying than any psychotic fantasy.
Why does this matter?
I highly recommend you check out the AiPT! Comics Podcast episode 39 as we have Kami Garcia on to talk about the series and go deep on serial killers and the process of writing this series. Believe me after speaking to Kami it’s quite clear she’s taking this series very seriously.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
I think most will be enamored by the art from the very start as it’s incredibly striking and vividly real. The art is split between Mike Mayhew and Mico Suayan with Mayhew taking on the scenes taking place now and Suayan rendering the flashbacks. Mayhew’s scenes are mostly rendered in blue with touches of color to making the criminal elements stand out. There’s a realism to the art, and a noir feel too, that’s unmistakable and it adds a layer of tension to the narrative. Suayan’s art uses color and it has a painterly quality that works well in a dream-like (or is that a nightmare) underwater scene and in a twisted scene from Harley’s past. It’s a fascinating design choice to render the colored flashbacks with the added realism of skin while the scenes happening now are limited on the colors.
Letters by Richard Starkings of Comicraft are clean and keep the dialogue rolling well. There are text heavy moments which flow nicely thanks to Starkings balanced and clean style. You get the sense you’re reading a report in itself thanks to the font used.
The book opens with Harley thinking about apex predators told via captions. Garcia draws you into Harley’s intensity and professional right out of the gate as she goes over a recent murder. The murder includes realistic looking photographs of the damage done to an innocent person and Harley doesn’t wince. This is her work and as the story progresses you’ll believe she’s the best at what she does. As Harley juggles cases and her job as a professor we learn she’s fascinated by the Joker. His incredible intelligence is what keeps him from being caught and you get a sense a game of cat and mouse may be in the works.
This book is quite a good opening salvo to a creepy and unnerving procedural drama. There are moments where Harley reviews classic serial killers, their motives, and their nature and in the final caption, it’s made quite clear killers like John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy likely live among us. They could be two cubicles down at your very work. That’s a frightening idea and it’s one told very well here.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The narrative is certainly holding its cards close to the vest with Joker, but it’s unfortunate he serves as a boogey man more than anything else here. Largely this is about Harley Quinn and serial killers in general which sets up the series very well, but the hanging conflict of Joker looming in Harley’s mind isn’t rendered well enough to gather his purpose in the narrative just yet. It might be an unfortunate element that Joker’s name is in the title and I could see some folks get frustrated as he’s not yet appearing in the book.
Is it good?
This is highly enjoyable and complex look at serial killers from the perspective of a young forensic psychiatrist and profiler. Frankly Harley Quinn wouldn’t need to be the lead character for this to work as well as it does. Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity is an absorbing and at times horrifying dark psychological thriller. Don’t miss it.