06th Sep2019

‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’ Graphic Novel Review (DC Ink)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Mariko Tamaki | Art by Steve Pugh | Published by DC Ink


Most reviews tend to start with a positive, so I’ll buck the trend. I don’t really Like Harley Quinn. There, I said it. Although currently the darling of some fans and a patron saint of female cosplayers, I find the character just a little bit irritating. Like a friend that tries to be fun and zany all the time. I would like to add that I did like the character when she first appeared, as created by Paul Dini as a foil for The Joker, but then DC turned her into 1970’s Debbie Harry. Clearly she appeals to a certain section of fans though, so more power to her.

When selecting characters for the Young Adults books, I’m sure Harley was the first name on the list. She definitely appeals to teenage girls with her attitude, sassiness, and fashion sense. Her madness, which was an aspect of her original character, is now downgraded to a zany, eccentric personality. Selina Kyle, Mera, and Raven were all pretty good Young Adult DC books, proving once again that very good characters can stand up to any reinterpretation, and Harley certainly fits in that company as a strong female character for DC. The ‘de-aging’ aspect of these reinterpretations works especially well with Harley, as she seems an eternally young character in many ways anyway. Raven remains the perfect choice for me still.

So, with Breaking Glass, writer Mariko Tamaki gives us a 15 year old Harleen Quinzel. As we find out in flashbacks throughout the 200 odd pages, she has had a pretty hard childhood, and her borderline madness is a sort of defence mechanism, a way she has found of coping with what life throws at her. She turns up in Gotham City, and manages to find a home with a group of of drag queens, I kid you not. Their sense of freedom, of being on the fringes of society, gives her a place she calls home, and she’s happy. She joins Gotham High, where she makes friends with a pretty militant feminist and community activist called Ivy. She’s full of the anger and indignation many teens feel, and I would imagine she is a character many teens would identify with reading this. She makes a good foil for Harley throughout.

All peachy keen so far, right? But of course this is a book about heroes and villains, so we need heroes, villains, and those inbetween. The villains seem to be corporate bigwigs Mr. and Mrs. Kane, whose corporation, Millennium, is seemingly everywhere and driving all local businesses out to build over everything. They clearly use both legal and illegal means. Harley sets out to take them on when her drag queen friends are threatened with eviction. She finds an ally in The Joker, a mysterious masked man that shows up. An anarchist, a free spirit, an urban guerrilla, a hater of The Man, his anarchic spirit certainly appeals to Harley. As do his explosions, as he blows up Kane buildings. Kaboom indeed. Harley’s anger increases as the Kane’s also look set to destroy the community gardens that Ivy’s family have put a lot of effort into. Ivy seems to have a strange affinity for plants. Hmmm….

Throughout, the book follows the twin strands of Harley being a young girl finding herself, both at school and in the wider world, and the larger than life stuff involving The Joker, though that is also kept reasonably grounded too. Obviously at times the strands overlap, but the writing is good enough to make it all feel organic and natural. Her relationship with Ivy as Harleen, and The Joker as Harley, define the book, and are especially apt given the split personality nature of her character. My one criticism with the writing is that I find Tamaki’s dialogue sometimes a little on the stodgy side, certain things are over-explained, and she really beats the reader over the head with the whole ‘corporations bad, local communities good’ thing. That should be pretty self explanatory, right?

Harley decides to help The Joker in destroying the Kane corporate headquarters, knowing that what she is doing will be a step above anything else she has done. Can The Joker be trusted? Is he who he seems? Well, he seems to like Harley, as he gives her a present. Without giving too much away, The Joker has his own ideas and they don’t involve Harley, who is being set up. Harley ends up in prison, though trying to do the right thing. Again, a perfect summary of her character right here. Ying and Yang. Good and Bad. The book ends on a positive note, and a nice little cameo from a young Bruce Wayne. Harley’s out. The Joker’s loose. Round Two looks set to happen soon.

On balance, this was a good read. I liked the overall tone and structure of Tamaki’s writing, though as I said some parts could have dialled back a little on the preaching as it started to overshadow the story. I did find Harley’s constant quipping and monologuing a little wearing by the end too. That being said, a better read than I expected. What exceeded my expectations was the art. The artwork, by Steve Pugh, was at times absolutely stunning. Fantastic breakdowns and layouts, very stylish in look and feel, and every character had personality and felt alive. Just gorgeous to look at, and equally superb in both action and talking scenes. At times very cinematic, which especially gave the big Joker/ Harley scene extra weight. Incredible artwork on a 200 page book. Take a bow Steve Pugh.

I nearly gave the book five stars, for art alone, but overall it’s a probably a very solid four star read. Not for everyone of course, being aimed at the Young Adult market, but always fun to see a fresh take on a character. This Harley I sort of had a sneaking affection for. There’s hope for me yet.

**** 4/5

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is out now from DC Ink.


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