I’ve never been a Harley Quinn fan. Not that I had any particular aversion to her — I liked her well enough in her appearances in Batma: The Animated Series and the Arkham games, but I never quite saw in her what her hordes of fans do. As a fan of Stjepan Šejić, I had some interest in Harleen and hoped it could help me see what makes her important to so many people. For those who aren’t familiar, Harleen is a story written and drawn by Stjepan Šejić with letters by Gabriella Downie in DC’s new creator-driven Black Label line. It follows Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s story before becoming Harley Quinn, getting a job at Arkham and entering a relationship with the Joker. As I read through these three oversized issues, I was left awestruck at Harleen’s sense of vision, and truly impressed by the passion for the character within its pages.
As the title suggests, Harleen is a character-focused story. We spend nearly all of the book in Harley’s head, witnessing her decisions and understanding her motivations. Šejić is clearly someone with a deep love of the character and makes this book such a comprehensive embodiment of her identity. The book has a consistently strong internal narration for Harley. This is a story that’s been told in many iterations, but none to my knowledge give so much agency to Harley and focus so much on her perspective. Much of the book highlights her ambitions as a psychologist. She’s someone who genuinely wants to help people, and her drive to do so makes her incredibly likeable. The attention paid to her skills and intelligence is also highlighted very well here. Despite this being a serious story, there are moments where Harleen manages to be really funny, though not in a way that undermines the tone. It more so hints at the comedic aspects of her personality that dominate many other interpretations.
In addition to characterization, Sejic does a stellar job with the plot of Harleen. While this story is about how Harleen fell in love with the Joker to become Harley Quinn, there’s a great sense of detail in how she reaches this point. From her past to her current decisions and state of mind, every aspect of Harleen’s fall is perfectly paced and makes sense. Such delicate care is taken in explaining how a person like Harleen gets to being in this abusive relationship, and its just so convincingly executed. There’s also a really strong running thread about redemption in this book. Harleen’s idealistic beliefs are put into conflict with opposing characters and it does a really great job lifting the book beyond just being a Harley Quinn character piece.
In addition to writing duties, Šejić also handles all the art. This was my initial draw to the book to be perfectly honest. I’ve loved Šejić’s art since Aquaman: Underworld with Dan Abnett, and he absolutely outdoes himself on Harleen. One of the major selling points of DC’s Black Label line is a larger paper stock that gives some extra width to the pages. This allows Šejić to draw such sweeping scenes. Whether it’s the real Gotham or fantastical vision sequences, Šejić is able to do some truly stunning stuff here. In addition to these larger scenes, he also does a fantastic job at the smaller stuff. One of my favorite aspects of Šejić’s art is how expressive he is, especially in faces. Harleen’s emotions are sold so well here by her body language and facial expressions, it really does so much more to sell what she’s going through.
As this is a review of the entire Harleen collection, I’d like to take some time to talk about the final collected edition itself. I’ve been dying to get my hands on one of these new Black Label hardcovers, and I was not at all disappointed. Steve Cook and the entire collected editions team truly made something special with this collection. As previously mentioned, Black Label is using a different paper stock than typical DC books. Not only do these larger pages look great in this edition, but the paper quality feels nicer as well. It’s glossy, but not too thin. The book is built with a sewn binding rather than glued binding, which is absolutely the way to go. I’m a big fan of the material they used for the cover under the dust jacket as well. Speaking of which, there are some really cool translucent parts on the acetate dust jacket that make some really neat effects. All in all, it’s a beautiful hardcover that feels premium, and it’ll look great on your shelf, coffee table, or wherever you put your comic collected editions.
Harleen is a masterpiece Harley Quinn story. It comes from a place of such passion and desire to realize her story. If you are someone who is a fan of the character or wants to get to know her better, this is simply a must read. Between Šejić’s writing and art, its three oversized issues of unrelenting creator vision, and will no doubt hold a place in DC’s evergreen catalogue for years to come. Harleen is an incredibly strong win for DC’s Black Label line, and I am eagerly hoping to see more books like it.