I’ve touched on this in prior posts about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn — as I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn — but I refuse to read or watch or listen to works that involve her in a relationship with the Joker.
It’s a coercion/abuse thing. My Harley — because there are many different Harleys because she is nothing but mercurial and has had many writers — has (mostly) moved beyond that. Read into that as you will.
As usual, I picked up HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS — penned by Mariko Tamaki (SKIM, THIS ONE SUMMER) with art by Steve Pugh (ANIMAL MAN, HELLBLAZER) — without knowing jackshit about it. It was about Harley and it looked like fun.
I didn’t realize it was considered part of DC’s non-canon young adults imprint which, uh, is boringly named ‘DC: Graphic Novels for Young Adults’. That said, it’s more adult than a number of ‘mature’ comics I’ve read. Also, probably something that if it were on more garbage folks radars, it would probably be banned due to Harleen/Harley being part of a queer found family.
BREAKING GLASS is a twisted fairy tale-ish take an alternate Harleen/Harley’s teen years (hence the YA label). She was sent by her mother to Gotham City to live with her grandmother because, well Harleen doesn’t take shit and we’ll leave it at that.
(Not-so-brief note: I will be switching between Harleen/Harley to match the use in the book as the best that I can. As someone who did draw a line in the sand at a certain point in my life as to which name I would utilize, most Harley-centric works don’t have to juggle that, so I appreciate that Tamaki respects that and I will as well.)
Harleen found her way to the address of her grandmother’s house, only to discover that her grandmother had died, but had been overseen by the minder of the building called Mama, an older queer who oversees a number of misfits. Gotham City’s YA take on TALES OF THE CITY, if you will.
“And yes indeed, our happy heroine Harleen was happy as a kitten on a radiator.
“She had everything she needed.”
Mama takes Harleen in and Harleen starts attending high school with a bunch of — to use her phrase — boogers, boogers that disgust her because “boogers will always act like boogers.” As Harleen is prone to do here, she acts out, and gets punished for pushing against the bullies and jerks— I mean boogers — of her high school.
However, she does find solace in Mama’s queer community, as well as one fellow student: Ivy, a vegan, anti-establishment activist, and the two form a fast, if somewhat combative bond. Harley learns from her, she grows, she tries to do better and to do more and to be more supportive. (There’s nothing more Harley than her trying to grow from terrible situations, even if she consistently fucks up.)
Eventually, due to her urban reactionary behavior, she’s eventually spotted by ‘The Joker’, basically a similarly ostracized youth who has managed to wrangle a bunch of other youths to do slight terrorist actions to Gotham.
(I will note: his face is not physically altered like in the canon. He wears a mask that exaggerates the already exaggerated canonical Joker look.)
Matters escalate in the way that teen dramas do, and it’s quite fulfilling. This is a fully realized work, from the framing device of Harleen’s scattered fairy tale rendition to the exacting dialogue, to Pugh’s amazing command of color depending on Harleen/Harley’s situation, often only utilizing primary colors, and explode into vibrancy when her emotions rise.
Like all of the best young adult works it transcends ages. If I had nieces? I would totally hand a copy to them. (Not that I wouldn’t hand it off to nephews, but I know my nephews and haven’t handed off a copy.) Harley isn’t exactly the best role model but Ivy is and Harleen is improved by being in her orbit and simply listening to her.
While this isn’t the cavalier Harley of Conner/Palmiotti, it is a great take on the character and an extraordinarily well-executed and well-plotted and well-penned and dynamically illustrated and vividly colored work that deserves all of the eyeballs.
You can purchase HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS via bookshop.org!