Antihero. Villain. Romantic.
Before there was Harley Quinn, there was Harleen Quinzel. A hard-working, intelligent psychiatrist originally from New York, Quinzel left her traumatic childhood behind her as she moved to Gotham. Taking a job at the infamous Arkham Asylum, her wide-eyed optimism is soon put to the test. Yet with her natural intelligence, determination and drive, Quinzel begins to leave her own mark on Gotham’s most insane criminals.
It doesn’t take long before Quinzel sets her sights on the most insane of all: the Joker. Their doctor/patient bond soon becomes something more, something destructive and dangerous… Mad Love. But which of them is truly crazy, and will Harley Quinn ever understand the tragic joke of their relationship?
For those unfamiliar with it, the original Batman animated episode Mad Love is one of the finest episodes they made. Likewise, the comic book adaptation of it was equally brilliant. Both focused on the newly-created character called Harley Quinn – a young woman trapped in the cycle of an abusive relationship. That tragic tale highlighted a serious topic, while helping Harley become one of the most popular and iconic characters in comic books on the planet today.
From the outset, it has to be said that if you’re looking for another direct adaptation of the original, then Harley Quinn: Mad Love isn’t it. Yes, the original story is covered, and you won’t be disappointed. But the original Mad Love tale only comprises about a third of this book, while the rest delves deeper into Harley’s childhood and her career as psychiatrist Dr Harleen Quinzel.
As such, it’s a mixed blessing – by showing more of her past the readers are allowed further insight into the character, yet at the same time there’s less direct focus on what made the original story so touching.
Harleen’s backstory is interesting and told in a straightforward way without any frills. Unfortunately, some of it comes across as unnecessary justification for why she becomes Harley Quinn at all. It re-opens the question as to whether she was truly a victim of the Joker’s manipulation, fell prey to her own psychological problems, a combination of both or if it was simply an irrational, emotional act. While that was also a thematic part of the original, in Harley Quinn: Mad Love there’s more evidence given and the most likely answer is somewhat distasteful.
One of the more fascinating new aspects presented in Harley Quinn: Mad Love is how she parallels with March Harriet, one of Batman’s lesser-known adversaries. Harriet, another woman whose sense of identity is shaped by the man in her life – in her case the Mad Hatter – is an early warning sign to Dr Quinzel, but one which is ignored.
After Quinzel’s transformation to Harley Quinn they meet again, no longer as patient and psychiatrist but now as equals suffering the same psychosis. It’s easily one of the most intriguing parts of the whole story and a chance for Harley to reflect on what she’s become… although sadly it isn’t played out further.
Beyond Harleen’s history, the elements from the original are as solid as ever. It’s still as much an entertaining instalment of the Batman/Joker/Harley mythos as ever, although the ending could have conveyed more in terms of Harley’s perspective of things. Likewise, the impact of the Joker’s abuse on her could have been covered in more detail, and some elements are barely glossed over. Still, it’s decently told even if it doesn’t quite live up to the high level as the source material.
More recent fans of Harley who only know her from the Suicide Squad film or other current representations of her would do well to read this, if only to gain a greater understanding of the character beyond the superficial. Meanwhile, for long-time fans, there’s a fair amount of new material that should prove of interest and it’s a well-told story.
There’s nothing romantic or glamorous about Harley’s complicated relationship with the Joker, and Harley Quinn: Mad Love lives up to its name and serves as a sharp reminder of that.
Harley Quinn: Mad Love
A solid novel adaptation of the classic Harley Quinn story.