HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 by Paul Dini, Bret Belvins, Alex Sinclair, David Sharpe
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Paul Dini sends his creation back to her roots and adds a few layers while he's at it. With classic art and a twisted plot, this book reminds us what was so charming about Harley in the beginning and why we love her now.
95 %
A Classic

While the title of HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 is divisive, the book itself should not be. Fans are used to seeing this absolutely atrocious, abusive relationship in comics, shows, and movies, but we rarely see them in their honeymoon phase anymore. And thank goodness, we hardly see them together at all in this comic. This story is more about Harley’s development and her journey to find her place in Gotham.

Following a backup with the same title in the main HARLEY QUINN comic, HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 takes us way back to unitards and hyenas, and it’s absolutely delightful.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 Takes Us Back

This story begins with Harley and Joker sleeping in their brand new hideout. After Harley made a mistake and tipped Batman off to their whereabouts, she contracted The Carpenter to build a new one. From her blissful sleep in her new dream home, Harley remembers that she owes $3 million for the hideout and that if she doesn’t pay up in five days it’ll be blown to smithereens.

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Harley takes off, leaving Joker and her hyena babies behind. But while she’s swiping an expensive painting, she has a run-in with the Wonderland Gang, including The Carpenter. She admits that Harley’s find would pay off the debt, but also points out that because the Gang had tracked the place down they would have come across the painting anyway. So they take the painting, throw Harley out, and carry on with their business. Defeated, Harley heads home.

The Return of an Old Frenemy

After her foiled robbery, Harley joins the Joker in another plot. This time, it’s to catch the Grison — a new villain who has been stealing the Joker’s thunder. Wherever Harley and Joker were planning on unleashing hell, Grison got there first. They plan to end that with a trap.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 page 1. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Harley knows it before anyone else, but Grison is way ahead of them. She swoops in to steal the bait but knows full-well what’s going on. She has the advantage. Except that Harley knows who she is — Gabriela Matias, an old colleague of hers. She and Grison fight it out, but Matias overpowers and kidnaps Harley.

Once Harley comes to, tied up in a chair, she reveals Grison’s backstory. The two worked together in S.T.A.R. Labs, working on animal research. Harley discovered that Matias was harming the ferrets in an attempt to fuse human DNA with theirs, much like Kirk Langstrom (aka Man-Bat).

Harley realizes that she’s being held captive in her own hideout, and shortly after, the Joker arrives. Grison presents him with everything she’s stolen while copying him, hoping it’ll be enough to join forces with him. And to Harley’s dismay, it totally works.

Adding to a Rich Backstory

Writer Paul Dini is one of Harley’s creators, so he is the perfect person to pen HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1. Dini has naturally had a spectacular handle on the voices of Harley and Joker. He’s written them on Batman: The Animated Series and many other projects since. For those loyal to the show, you can nearly hear Arleen Sorkin and Mark Hamill’s voices (the actors who portrayed Harley and Joker on BTAS, respectively) while reading the dialogue.

But more amazing is Dini’s robust understanding and portrayal of Harley’s life before the Joker. No one has more of a right to reveal more of Harley’s history than her originator. He takes the opportunity here to develop it a little more. We’ve always known that Harley is good at gymnastics, but the fact that it was her bridge to an education is new information.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 page 3. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

We also learn that Harley had an internship at S.T.A.R. Labs and that this was how she met Bud and Lou, her lovable hyenas. These may seem like small details, but for Harley loyalists like me, they are just vivid puzzle pieces that make our favorite character even more real.

Harley’s story doesn’t start with the Joker. And even though his name is in the title, this book has almost nothing to do with him. Instead, we see how that relationship affects her — and not in an idealistic way. By focusing on her past and how that affects her present, we can understand how she frames her relationship with the Joker and why she makes the decisions that she does while in it. We’ve rarely seen this time in her life from her perspective. That’s why this book is so incredibly effective from a character standpoint.

A Beautiful Depiction

On top of incredible character work and a fascinating plot, HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 is bringing a gorgeous take on the classic art style. The pencils and inks of Bret Belvins are reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s original designs for Harley and Joker, but they’re also new and exciting.

That tone and that inspiration are clear and impossible to miss, but Belvins has introduced his own little flourishes that make the designs his. His lines are a little sharper, adding just a touch of realism to the cartoon look. But he also does not mess with a good thing. He’s taken the best of the BTAS style and modernized it. It’s certainly an homage and not a duplicate.

The character design of The Grison is also commendable. She fits with the world but is unlike any villain we’ve seen in the Rogue’s Gallery. The only thing that comes close is Wonder Woman’s sometimes-enemy, Cheetah, but that’s just because of the choice to put fur all over Grison’s body. It definitely works, especially in her extremely expressive eyes.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 page 4. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Colorist Alex Sinclair’s work on the Grison and the book as a whole is also worth praising. The amber color of her eyes and silver-blue of her fur really makes her pop against Harley’s signature red and black. His contrast of warm and cool colors really heightens the opposition between these two characters. It’s a simple notion, but a brilliant effect.

Letterer David Sharpe also adds a phenomenal tone to Harley’s voice. Her monologue comes across as perfectly hers, and her dialogue matches that. A highlight is when Harley gets her “Brilliant Idea.” Sharpe’s depiction of that inner thought is right on target and creates a goofy, very on-brand moment.

What a Set-Up

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 is a phenomenal glimpse into this lovable character’s past. We know it’s rife with suffering and pain that has made her the admirable survivor that she is now. But it’s nice to see the parts of it we missed that made her stronger and which don’t involve abuse.

Though we’re not sure why on earth Joker would let the Grison into their gang. It’s possible that his motivations are not malicious? That may be unlikely, but it is possible. But either way, we’re dying to know the answer and see how Harley gets through it.

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Although recent versions of Harley Quinn have been incredible (shout out to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti), it’s nice to see Dini work with the character and bring her back to her roots. Though it’s a shame that it’ll only be for one more issue, HARLEY LOVES JOKER #1 sets its sequel up for some amazing things.

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