Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity was written by Kami Garcia, with art by Mico Suayan and Jason Badower. The colours are by Annette Kwok, and letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Tyler Smith.
What do you need to have read?
It is a stand-alone series, as it’s part of DC Black Label, so you can read this series on its own. That said it is a retelling of the Mad Love story, you can read this in comic form, novelisation, or the Batman: The Aminated Series Episode.
What do you need to know?
Harleen has been visited by the serial killer responsible for the “art murders”. She’s also realised that he is the same killer responsible for the murder of her girlfriend/ roommate.
We begin with a page from the Joker’s perspective. It’s a brief page with only two panels and one single speech bubble but as the issue develops it becomes a really interesting place to begin. Alone, the panel shows Joker preparing what we can assume to be the next in his series of murders. His speech bubble reads “Dr Quinn will be impressed with her gift.” This shows us that he is actively thinking of Harleen and that this new murder is for her specifically. The certainty in his statement, ‘will be’ rather ‘I hope she will”, suggest the confidence that goes hand in hand with the narcissism I mention in my previous review. Similarly, the use of the word impress implies that his end goal is to change the way that she thinks about him. He wants to impress her, to make her respect and admire him, not simply to make her happy. Alternately the ‘impress’ can also be used as a noun to describe the act of making an impression or mark, which often involves a use of force. In this reading, you could argue that Joker wishes to force himself onto Harleen, into order to mark her. Her transformation into Harley Quinn, as per the Mad Love storyline, would certainly prove this theory. Joker’s use of the word ‘gift’ to describe what will be revealed to be another corpse is an interesting choice of word, to say the least. It shows the reader just how twisted his world view is, while also alluding to the tradition of gift-giving. This blends the horror of death with the romantic tradition of gift-giving which is usually associated with pleasure. This may be the first hint towards that traditional ‘romantic’ relationship between the two in Arkham, where Joker is perhaps at his most romantic, but manipulatively so.
The use of the word gift is echoed by Harleen when she arrives at the scene of the murder with the police. This time it comes from her perspective with works to connect the two characters in the reader’s mind. The connection of language echoed in each other’s psyche is a great way of slowly building up that relationship. One of the often-used tropes for Harleen is that she has a darker side and the Joker simply gives her permission to embrace it. This is also shown to us when she unleashes her frustration and anger out on the chair after visiting Edie’s parents. Thus far we had seen Harley kickboxing which hints to her physical power, but the chair incident shows the full force of her emotion and how it can easily become a destructive force. I am confident that we will see more outburst for Harleen as the story develops.
The visit to Edie’s parents is brief but does two things. Initially, it shows both Harleen and Edie’s parents to have a violent streak. The father expresses his desire to see the murderer dead, despite the art painting a perfect picture of suburbia. This hints towards the idea of everyone having some inner darkness, though not everyone acts on it. However, this visit also provides a foil for Harleen’s poor relationship with her mother. It brings up the idea of nature vs. nurture, and how the family we choose is sometimes even more important to the one we are born into.
We move onto a flashback of the Joker’s past showing him murdering more men which mimic the first murder, down to the fact that these men are abusive towards their sons. The method is the same as is the use of the coat hanger. This leads the press to compare him to Batman which infuriates him, suggesting he has no desire to be the hero despite potentially saving these young boys. However, what is most noticeable about this is that Joker’s make up is not typically Joker. Instead of the clown imagery that we are familiar with the way he paints his fact is more akin to a skull. It is the press who dub him the Joker due to the coat-hanger smiles. This may be suggesting that the press invented the Joker as we see him now as the clown make-up might be his way of leaning into the bogeyman that they have created. Subsequent issues, I’m sure, will explore how or why he went from the monochrome skull to the clown face make-up.
The murder itself is a man who has electric current forced through him by two unsuspecting children and Gotham’s Science Museum. While both this murder and the previous one at the Gotham Aquarium seems to move away from the initial ‘art murders’ Harley points out that Joker is moving towards performance art. The drowned man in this instance references Houdini. While I’m not completely sold on the idea of the murder’s as performance art, since no one sees the act of murder with the victims hidden from sight until they are dead, I do think that this has something interesting to say about responsibility. In both instances, the Joker is giving the victim a chance to be rescued. He sent that email to Harleen showing the drowning man, giving her a small chance to save him. Similarly, he couldn’t know if or when the children would ‘light up sparky’. This shows an enormous amount of confidence on his behalf, along with a relinquishment of control.
The issue ends with an interesting turn of events as the Joker is apprehended by an informant from whom Joker was attempting to buy chemicals. Harley points out that Joker is only there because he wants to be which is something, we can all agree upon. After another emotional outburst in the bathroom (this supports the idea of her emotions become more unhinged) she interviews him on her own. The interview format references Mad Love, where Harleen falls in love with Joker throughout interviews at Arkham. Their brief dialogue exchange sees Joker asking is he can call Harleen Harley. In the Mad Love story he gives her the name Harley Quinn, so I wonder if will see more of this in the following issue. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the point of view the Joker manages to orchestrate a power cut leaving them in total privacy.
After some slower issues, this ending is making me excited about this series all over again. I am glad that we’re getting back on the Mad Love train tracks and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Coming Soon… Criminal Sanity #7