Pullbox Reviews: Harleen #1- The Psychological Deconstruction of a Pop Culture Icon

Dr. Harleen Quinzel has discovered a revolutionary cure for the madness of Gotham City-she just needs to prove it actually works. But with the criminal justice and mental health establishments united against her, the brilliant young psychologist must take drastic measures to save Gotham from itself. Witness Harleen’s first steps on a doomed quest that will give birth to the legendary super-villain Harley Quinn in this stunning reimagining of Harley and The Joker’s twisted and tragic love affair by visionary storyteller Stjepan Šejic (AQUAMAN: UNDERWORLD, SUICIDE SQUAD, Sunstone).

“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. On that road I saw a pale man, and he smiled at me…”

So on a website that tries to spotlight the smaller independent comics, here we are putting up a review for one of the Big Two. What gives? I’m kinda glad you asked that question. I don’t know that I’m reviewing Harleen– which is outstanding, by the way- so much as I’m covering writer & artist Stjepan Šejić .

I’ve been a fan of Šejić since I spent some time catching up on the older Top Cow stuff: Witchblade, Cyberforce, & Aphrodite X in particular. As an artist, this is a guy who can put more character depth and development into a single facial expression as some can with a whole page of dialogue. The master of the lip bite, Šejić has made his bones in some unexpected places and he’s always burned brightest when he’s able to tell a whole story as opposed to just drawing it. Alongside the likes of Frank Cho and Terry Moore, Stjepan Šejić excels when he’s putting the pictures to his own words.

It seems like Harleen has its origins in an unlikely place. A while back, Šejić was “doodling” (I use the sarcastic quotes because the man’s doodles are ridiculously amazing) and came up with a series of panels depicting the rise and fall of Harley Quinn. Over the course of these idle scratchings, he told a version of the Joker/Harley story that has rarely been touched on… and it destroyed the internet. Šejić showed internet browsers a relationship born of abuse in the extreme, not the star crossed love story that seems to have been the prevailing attitude in most cases. Over the course of a series of panels that wouldn’t have even filled an average comicbook issue, Šejić had deconstructed one of the most popular and often misunderstood characters in comics.

Out of that exercise in storytelling, a miniseries is born and we get to see what Šejić can do when given a little more room to stretch his creative legs. For those of you coming into this expecting an action-packed Batman story hidden within the pages, you’re gonna be disappointed. Ol’ Bats pops in for a bare handful of pages, and as more background fluff than anything else. For that matter, this isn’t a Joker story either, although Mister J does feature prominently. Finally, this opening issue isn’t even about the infamous femme fatale, the chaotic & unpredictable Harley Quinn. As suggested by the title, this book is all about Doctor Harleen Quinzel, where she got her start as a highly intelligent but somewhat left of center psychiatrist with theories of pinpointing the cause and treatability of sociopathic behavior. Harleen is more of a personality study, with Sejic taking readers from Point A, in which Dr. Quinzel is a confident and idealistic young professional, to Point B where we start to see the cracks that would eventually split wide to reveal the psychological trauma within. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the series progresses, if Šejić is able to build on the work he started with those simple sketched panels.

I’m also looking forward to Stjepan Šejić receiving more widespread recognition as an outstanding storyteller. Where his previous successes hinged on his illustrations of other people’s work, he always seemed to just miss the mark when it came to his own original stories… and those stories are great, lemme tell ya. Ravine was a fantasy epic that should have been a total hit, but which didn’t make it beyond two installments. Death Vigil was a new look at the Grim Reaper which should have been embraced by readers and made Šejić a household name (although I was very happy to see that Šejić will be working on another story arc in that world). Interestingly, the man’s greatest independent success to date has been a title called Sunstone… dismissed by some as soft-core porn, it’s the story of an unlikely BDSM romance between two women (I’ve read the first trade volume, and while it’s not generally my kind of book, I can’t deny that it was extremely well written and populated with some great characters).

Stjepan Šejić is a comicbook creator deserving of your attention, whatever kind of comic you find yourself drawn to. With his recent work for DC, my hope is that we’ll be treated to another title he’s teased in a series of random sketches: Wonder Woman & Tomb Raider (Gail Simone commented on his Twitter posts that she’d love to write this team up with him). But that’s all future maybe stuff… For right now, let’s sit back and enjoy the hell out of this trip down the road to madness, and see what kind of bright future Šejić has in store for Miss Harley Quinn.

Can’t get to your local comic shop? Purchase Harleen #1 from Amazon by clicking the link.

Final Score: a resounding and woefully inadequate 10+

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