Criminal Sanity Feature

October is the ideal month for people to get into the darker side of things. Monsters, ghosts, and especially serial killers flood the TV and movie screens for 31 days of gory enjoyment. Fitting right in is DC Black Label’s newest release JOKER/HARLEY: CRIMINAL SANITY. Writer Kami Garcia and artists Mico Suayan and Mike Mayhew paint us a picture of an entirely new Dr. Harley Quinn. After her roommate’s vicious murder at the hands of the Joker, criminal pathologist Harley Quinn joins the GCPD in tracking him down. Working alongside Commissioner Gordon, they visit increasingly more disturbing crime scenes. With each one, Harley falls further down a rabbit hole of revenge and horror.

“Psychopaths Are the Tigers of Society”

The CRIMINAL SANITY universe’s Harley Quinn is all business. When she’s not being asked to help track down murderers, she’s lecturing on pathology at Gotham University name dropping real world serial killers from Ed Gein to John Wayne Gacy. It’s an interesting take, and shows us what she could have likely been without the Joker. She has a life, a roommate — or, potentially, something more romantic — and a steady job. Even her trademark Arkham job is pushed aside, opting instead for her to moonlight as a nurse at Bludhaven City. After her roommate’s murder, she goes all in on criminal psychology and ends up an indispensable asset to the GCPD. She also becomes a True Detective style noir investigator. Badass.

Criminal Insanity: Nameplate
Only the best in nameplate tech for Dr. Quinzel. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Like a good noir-style detective, she also monologues. A lot. We get her thoughts on almost everything in a way that’s similar to HARLEEN #1 but different enough tonally to not be too samey. Her leather jacket, boots, and many piercings give off a Lisbeth Salander vibe. Even her trademark accent is gone.

It’s cool to see her in a professional light for once, though her presentations can sometimes feel like the reader is literally reading a lecture transcription. Given that CRIMINAL SANITY #1 is definitely more Se7en than Silence of the Lambs, it makes for an odd fit. Ultimately, I do hope it was to get the series’ thesis out of the way and won’t bog down the remainder.

CRIMINAL SANITY and A Taste For The Real

As noted above, Harley’s lectures reference several actual serial killers, grounding the proceedings. It places us in a Gotham that seems very much like it exists within our own world. Moreover, the killers namechecked point to a potential timeline for this series.

This interest in the reality of serial killers also seems to be suggested in some of the murders. For example, Edie’s murder looks very Black Dahlia-esque with her flowing hair and split open grin. Though to be fair, the slit throats on the other victims look very Glasgow smile as well.

Criminal Sanity: Poison Ivy Black Dahlia
DC’s Black Dahlia. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Modern media is full of serial killers, even comics, and it could be very easy to get lost in the shuffle. It’ll be interesting to see how the future issues of CRIMINAL SANITY set Joker apart.

CRIMINAL SANITY’s High-Contrast Horror

The combined art styles of Suayan and Mayhew do a lot of heavy lifting in CRIMINAL SANITY #1. On one end, you have grainy, gritty, film noir style black and white. On the other. you have vibrant color and an almost photo real art style. They also serve as transitions to each other. The black and white keeps us in the grim present. The color shows us the shiny, bright flashbacks to the victims’ pasts.

Additionally, while the black and white is more subdued emotionally, the full color focuses a lot on the eyes and mouths. This brings so much warmth and humanity to the victims of Joker’s cruelty through their expressions and their changes in mood. In this sense, the hyper realism shines.

It’s also used to interesting effect later as we watch the GCPD, in black and white, investigate another crime scene. Within these panels small cutaways, marked by full color, show us the events just prior to their arrival. The Joker is right there on the page with them, but just out of reach in the past.

Criminal Sanity: The Vitruvian Man
Even The Vitruvian Man gets creepy in Gotham. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

On rare occasion the color bleeds into the black and white in other ways. In the Joker’s most disturbing crime scenes, as well as in Harley’s lecture on serial killers, there are pops of color. Red blood and grimy orange tendons burst forth on the page in their gory glory, ensuring we can’t miss them. In this way, we are also witnesses to the Joker’s increased depravity and deranged physical artistry. We’re complicit, and ideally this pushes the reader to want the crimes solved as much as Harley and Gordon do.

What Evil Lurks in the Heart of Gotham?

Overall, though overly academic and college lecture style as Harley’s narration can be, I very much enjoyed the read. We’ve seen Batman play with his tech and toys for decades, and it’s fascinating to watch Harley do her thing with just cold case files and a finely tuned mind. The contrasting art styles give a real sense of loss every time we’re thrown back into the monochromatic world of modern Gotham from the calm and friendly colorful realism, and the occasional splashes of color draw attention to the details of Joker’s crimes. JOKER/HARLEY: CRIMINAL SANITY #1 gives a slow, thoughtful ascent to what should be one hell of a ride over the next 8 issues.

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!