Comic Corner- Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #5

Previously- Criminal Sanity #4|Coming soon- Criminal Sanity #6

Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity was written by Kami Garcia, with art by Mico Suayan and Jason Badower, colours by Annette Kwok, and letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Tyler Smith. 

What do you need to have read?

It’s a stand-alone series, as it’s part of DC Black Label, so feel free to jump into #1. That said it is a retelling of the Mad Love story, you can read this in comic form, novelisation, or the Batman: The Animated Series Episode. 

What do you need to know?

Harley Quinn, criminal profiler, is working with the Gotham City PD to hunt down a serial killer after her wife was murdered by a serial killer. While that trail has gone cold, she’s helping out with a particularly creative, but gruesome killer, who is modelling the corpses of his victims on famous works of art. We also follow the evolution of this version of a serial killer Joker. 

Cover of Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #5 shows Joker and Harley facing one another seemingly underwater.

The issue begins with Harleen arriving home to find the Joker himself in her apartment. This section is from her perspective, so we get an insight into her methodical style of thinking as she tries to process what is happening. She repeatedly tells herself to stay calm and walks herself though what she should be doing, and what will be important information to remember to identify him later. Apart from her background, it is interesting that this scene, where our two protagonists finally meet, is the first time I feel that we’re getting to know Harleen as a person. It’s also notable that she endeavours to eliminate too much of an emotional response to what any other person would consider a traumatic event. She goes so far as to talk herself out of an action that she considers to be an emotional response, and therefore impractical. 

In this conversation between the two of them establishes boundaries within this bizarre relationship that they share. However, by setting boundaries the Joker, in particular, is, revealing more than he would perhaps want to. By admitting that he wants ‘personal residences’ off-limits to Harleen he is doing two things. The first is that he has already proved that he can gain access to her residence by being there and that he can choose never to encroach upon her in this way again. It also suggests that there is something connected to his residence that he does not want her to find. There’s also the underlying threat implied that if she decides to break this agreement, he may not be so chatty when he returns.  

Joker also confesses to the art murders. This was not surprising as the book does not appear to be setting up a mystery per se, but rather the collision course of these two characters. We know form some brief introspection that he finds Harleen interesting, and this is backed up by the fact that he is willing to allow her to live. He seems to enjoy her insight into the case, especially the fact that she does not misread the murders as something they are not, i.e., connected to his sexual gratification. Most importantly he thinks that he needs Harleen because she is the chronicler of his work. This shows that at his core he is a narcissist because he is solely thinking of himself, and the way he is perceived by others. It also shows that he, like Harleen, is not a victim to his own emotions. In this case, his desire to kill is not stronger than his desire to create, in his own words ‘something exceptional’ through his murders. 

After Joker leaves, we visit Joker’s past and see him murder the man he believed to be his father. The flashbacks are in a different style of art, one that is more realistic than the present-day black and white art. This makes the past feel more real and more tangible than the present, which is an interesting choice to make. 

Notably, this murder is very much an intentional choice on the part of this proto-Joker. As is his desecration of the body through forcing a bent coat hanger into the mouth to force a grin on his victim’s face. Visually he is already stained with white paint from the previous flashback in the art classroom. After the murder, he smears the blood of his victim across his mouth to form the signature red smile of the Joker. Due to the composition of the panels, it is unclear whether he wipes the blood onto his face or smears blood that is already there. You may wonder whether there is a difference between the two actions. I would argue that there is a high different. If he were to place the blood on his face it suggests that he is paining a bloody smile intentionally. He has thought about this and believes it to be a good idea. If the blood was already there, and he wipes it creating a bloody smile then it is an accidental action. His final Joker mask is the result of a happy accident. From a panel on the following page where we see his from a distance front-facing, it seems that the smile intends on one side more than the other which would make me lean towards the accidental smile. 

Comic book panel shows photo-Joker staring at his own reflection in a window pane. The image staring back at him is a more monstrous version of the Joker
When will my reflection show who I am inside…

This scene also shows him silhouetted of the balcony of his apartment and laughing to himself. It is not a full-bodied Joker laugh, a “Hm Hm Hm” rather than a “Ha Ha Ha” but the addition of musical notes around the speak bubble suggests an exuberance to the noise not dissimilar to laughter.  It is also notable that in this image the only real colour on his silhouette is a lopsided red smile; an exceptionally striking visual to leave the reader with. 

We return to Harleen who has already made the decision not to tell Gordon about her visitor and is working obsessively on uncovering the Joker’s name. She also realises that her girlfriend’s murderer and the Joker are the same which understandably causes her a lot of frustration. It also shows that her path and the Joker’s have been converging for longer than she may have initially thought. It remains to be seen whether the Joker was aware of this fact. 

She receives an email with a link to a live video feed of a suspended upside down in a tank of water. He is wearing an oxygen mask, but a countdown clock shows that his oxygen is limited. The fact that Harleen has received this email shows the Joker involving her early and suggests that he wants her to see this. However, she doesn’t know where the soon-to-be victim is, and so her and Gordon are on a bit of a wild goose chase. 

While this is happening, we go to Gotham Aquarium, where a tank is covered with a black cloth. Despite being in the present-day timeline the art is of the full-colour variety which is an interesting choice. Perhaps this is suggesting that Harleen/Joker’s present-day psyches are responsible for the black and white artistry. The cloth is removed by an unsuspecting employee, and the victim is found dead in the tank. What wasn’t visible in the video is that there was an additional timer, this one for a bomb which causes the glass to shatter and traumatising the visitors of Gotham Aquarium.

The issue concludes with Joker watching the proceedings of a multitude of screens. The final panel shows him looking directly at Harleen. This shows that Joker has taken a personal interest in Harleen, though ether this will be murderous or not remains to be seen.  

Criminal Sanity #5 is available from Comixology, or you can grab the trade from Forbidden Planet, or your local comic book store. 

Coming Soon… Criminal Sanity #6

In the meantime, why not check out… Criminal Sanity #1, Mad Love novelisation by Pat Cardigan, or Mad Love comic by Paul Dini and Bruce Tim.

2 thoughts on “Comic Corner- Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #5

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