Harleen 2 Featured

Even if Halloween has passed, writer and artist Stjepan Sejic keeps the disturbing content coming in HARLEEN #2. Whereas HARLEEN #1 was a window into the circumstances in the life of Harleen Quinzel that led her slowly but surely towards Arkham and the Joker, HARLEEN #2 shines a light on the personal flaws, weaknesses, and demons that seal her fated transformation into Gotham’s clown princess of crime.

Harleen the Alcoholic

Harleen Quinzel has major character flaws. The most egregious of these — her tendency towards self-destructive behavior — seems to inform and fuel the others. In HARLEEN #1 this manifested in her slew of toxic relationships with older men. In HARLEEN #2 she adds on an increasingly dominant addiction to alcohol.

HARLEEN: Harley the alcoholic
Courtesy of DC Comics

Harley needs alcohol to sleep, to work. Honestly, it appears she needs it to function at all. When the workplace heavy drinker tells you you’ve gone too far into using booze as a crutch — as Quinzel experiences — imagine how much of an addict you’ve become. Between that and her potential former sex addiction, Harley is someone who fixates on attractive escape. She escaped her insecurities with sex, her fear with alcohol. Now, she’s trying to escape spiraling mental state with Gotham’s platonic ideal of a madman. He clearly knows about her issues through the files he pays a security guard to smuggle into his cell.

However, a far deeper flaw looks poised to be her undoing. Even with her minefield of addictive behavior and Joker’s expertise at grooming, she might still be safe. However, a final element ensures she will not seek help, she will not stop despite the screaming warning sides. She is incredibly, dangerously arrogant.

HARLEEN: Harley's Arrogance
Courtesy of DC Comics

The Downfall of Pride

Harleen earned her ego. She’s an academic superstar, with all the balls a researcher would need to come up with a thesis like hers. Lucius Fox and Wayne Enterprise weren’t interested in her potential key to psychopathy because it sounded fun; she potentially saw something nobody ever had before. And before the age of 30? Who wouldn’t be a little haughty with that resume?

But pride can beget arrogance, arrogance foolishness, and foolishness abject disaster. Sejic’s Harleen is constantly shown doing things because she feels like she’s better than everyone else and therefore entitled to her behavior. Who cares how much she drinks, she’s still doing the work right? Why can’t I just casually talk to Batman, he’s here anyway right? Six more experienced medical professionals are the ones who are wrong. Certainly not me. They got tricked into thinking he was evil. I, the prodigy, would never be tricked into thinking a serial murderer was “warm” and “honest.”

Oh honey…

Joker’s Manipulation Takes Hold

This slip into full on prideful narcissism is only intensified by Joker’s grooming. He appeals to her self image, a throwaway line of wanting to genuinely see her smile worms her way into her head like a time bomb. Eventually, she finds herself staring into a mirror convincing herself Joker could never kill her, she was too beautiful to die.

She snaps out of it in the moment, but her confidence that she has the upper hand remains. She does not stop thinking the Joker is putty to her. As a result, professionalism and tact erode as her “interviews” with the Clown Prince continue. Joker feeds her ego, physically and professionally. She’s the one woman so beautiful he couldn’t put a bullet in her head. She’s the one doctor he trusts enough to tell her his secrets and his insights. He dangles the bait, she bites immediately. Then Harleen dies, and Harley Quinn is born.

HARLEEN: Joker begins grooming Harley
Courtesy of DC Comics

Sejic’s Visual Cat and Mouse in HARLEEN #2

Sejic’s art continues to be wonderfully simple and subtle. The black and red motifs from HARLEEN #1 carry over in her clothes, her umbrella, and the rooms around her. He also brings us a foil through Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two Face. Through the grotesque, jarringly realistic artwork of his burned skin we get the man physically made into a monster. Through the diamond patterns and the shades of black and red, we get a woman made into a monster through slow, psychological manipulation.

Possibly the best use of this motif in HARLEEN #2 is the final splash panel. The pale white of Joker, his shirt, and the white diamonds have always been there. Now, with Harley named, her red and black messily bleeds in over the lines. The room isn’t clean anymore, neither is she. She has become part of the madhouse. Part of its very foundation. She contentedly allows the madness to embrace her and hold her in its grasp, likely forever.

HARLEEN: Harley Quinn is born
Courtesy of DC Comics

I Pronounce You Harley Quinn

HARLEEN #2 was just as insightful and thoughtfully crafted as its predecessor. Even as her uglier side becomes more and more visible, Harley is still likable. Right up until the final page I still hoped she would find a way out, even though everyone knows what happens in the end. If the quality holds steady, HARLEEN #3, out in November unless it’s further delayed, should be just as compelling. I’m both excitedly looking forward to the conclusion of this story, but also wish it could go on longer so I could just keep reading. HARLEEN is swiftly becoming my favorite limited run of 2019.

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