Harley Loves Joker #2
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 by Paul Dini, Bret Blevins, Alex Sinclair, and Dave Sharpe
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
This story doesn't romanticize the relationship between Harley and Joker, instead shining a light on the abuse. Though it doesn't succeed all the time, it's an important and intriguing story. The art is superb, and the story takes some interesting turns. Ultimately, I wish it was longer than two issues.
89 %
I've Got Feelings

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 could throw you for a loop. Harley Quinn and the Joker have a problematic relationship, but Harley’s survival of her abusive ex helped make her the character she is today. That’s why fans both love and hate this pairing; Harley would have been better off having never met him, but we wouldn’t change her for the world.

The conclusion of HARLEY LOVES JOKER is just as conflicting. Warning, potential spoilers are below!

An Internal Struggle

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 picks up with Harley apparently in therapy. The doctor, however, is herself before she met the Joker, implying that this conversation is happening within her own mind. We rarely get that kind of a glimpse into Harley’s subconscious, so that makes for an interesting few pages.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Dr. Quinzel urges herself to leave the Joker, but Harley has doubts, just as many women in abusive relationships do. The Dr. Quinzel part of her mind seems to shame her other part for this decision, which is rather heartbreaking. It represents the stigma that women who have survived abusive relationships often face, sometimes even from within. Victim blaming is not okay in any form, and it’s sad that in this case, it comes from within Harley’s own mind.

Meanwhile, the Joker and Grison are plotting to steal some mood-altering tech from Wayne Enterprises. The plot — meant to give Gotham an uncontrollable laughing fit — doesn’t include Harley. Joker also tells Harley to lock up her beloved hyenas because they freak Grison out.

Enough is Enough

That’s the last straw for Harley. She seems to make the decision to leave and even tells Bruce Wayne (via Alfred) about the scheme. However, she finds a message from Joker explaining that his excessive abuse in front of Grison was only to trick their new partner into trusting him. So Harley takes it back and goes to help him.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

After Batman captures the Grison; Joker and Harley abandon the hideout just as the Carpenter blows it up, since Harley never paid her back for building it. The Joker and Harley escape just in time and continue off on their freaking weird adventures. There are some twists and turns in the plot that make it interesting, but I think it could have used more than two issues. It feels like there’s more to explore here, so perhaps there will be another HARLEY LOVES JOKER type of story in the future.

Harley Loves Joker?

At Harley’s backpedaling, the Dr. Quinzel side of her brain morphs into the modern-day version of Harley. She explains that she’s who Harley could be if she moved on, got through the abuse, and regained agency over her life. This is a pretty impactful moment. The only clear issue is the way modern-day Harley approaches her past self.

She doesn’t address herself with empathy and understanding, but with judgment and shame. Now, this is unfortunately how many people speak to themselves. I’m not doubting the accuracy and the authenticity of this moment. I more see it as a missed opportunity to have a genuine dialogue that could explain why women stay in these relationships — why they’re afraid to leave, why they’re convinced things can change, why they think it’s their fault, etc. Some of these notes are touched on briefly, and some of the internal banter is tough love, but there’s just an element of victim blaming and shaming that I can’t ignore.

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2
HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Obviously, writer Paul Dini means well with the story and with this moment. He created Harley, he has a love for her, and he’s one of the few people who have the authority to make complex additions to her backstory. While I accept what he’s done here, I can’t help but wish his approach was a little different in this scene. This story is enjoyable and brings a lot to the character, but those few moments where he stumbles slightly are still worth pointing out.

Still Staring At It

I love the art in this series. It’s so akin to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES but still stands on its own. Bret Blevins’ pencils and inks are extraordinary. The Joker’s boat is a highlight, adorned with his face (as was the custom in BTAS). His version of modern-day Harley is also a great design and expertly done.

Alex Sinclair’s colors are vivid and iconic. He doesn’t mess with a good thing, keeping the style of BTAS alive and thriving. The dark black background of Harley’s internal dialogue was a great choice, no matter whose it was. Keeping it basic so the characters could pop was a good move. He also does some wonderful lighting work in panels featuring explosions.

The Circus Comes To Town In HARLEY QUINN #39

Letterer Dave Sharpe also has some wonderful moments in this issue, particularly in the scenes with Harley’s internal dialogue. Sharpe makes an interesting choice to connect some of the speech bubbles between Harley and the different versions of herself. It’s not a constant thing, probably because that could get confusing, but a few times the bubbles are drawn as if only one person is speaking. Multiple tails tell you which version of Harley is delivering the line, which makes the scene understandable. Yet that really drives home the point that this is an internal struggle.

A Good Conclusion For HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2

HARLEY LOVES JOKER #2 doesn’t idealize the relationship between the two, which is an absolute relief. It deals with some very real and important issues. While it always attempts to do right by this character, it still gets it right more often than not. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s most definitely a worthwhile piece.

I personally want to see Dini play in this sandbox more often, whenever he wants to honestly. This team’s efforts were very fun to read, and I hope they reunite soon!

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