Pullbox Reviews: Harleen, Or One Woman’s Descent Into Madness…

Writer:  Stjepan Sejic

Art:  Stjepan Sejic

Covers:  Stjepan Sejic (picking up on a theme, here?)

Letters:  Gabriela Downie (the guy can’t be responsible for everything, can he?)

Publisher:  DC Black Label

Available:  Now, from the usual sources

Ok, so a big mea culpa before we get going on this one.  First, DC Black isn’t exactly the kind of independent publisher we typically promote here on the ‘Box, but it feels sorta like an independent line (I particularly love the oversized format), and Stjepan Sejic is definitely an independent soul as an artist and writer, so I’m standing by Harleen’s inclusion in our happy little longbox.  Second, the books have been out for a little bit now, so I’m a wee late to the game; best I can say is that a laconic eBay vendor I won’t be shopping from again and the holidays made for a bit of a delay at casa de Andy.  My bad.

That having been said…

You need to read—nay, you need to experienceHarleen, in its entirety (which will include two more arcs, if the author/artist’s Twitter feed can be believed).  After having done so, you’ll probably will want to do so again.  And maybe a third time.

Yup, it’s that good.

Paul and I (you can read Paul’s review of issue one of the three issue arc here) had been longing for Stjepan Sejic’s take on the Harley Quinn origin story to be committed to print literally for years—since he started posting his “doodles” (Sejic’s word, though it is abundantly clear to me his understanding of the word is leagues different than mine) on social media.  You see, Sejic doesn’t really ever stop thinking, or creating—and he enjoys posting his current ideas on his Twitter feed, @stjepansejic (which you should really follow, if you aren’t; it’s seriously worth opening a Twitter account just for that—though while you’re at it, you might consider also following his similarly-ridiculously-talented wife Linda at @lindasejic).

For a while, he’d been toying around with an alternative, and much more fleshed-out origin story for Harley Quinn.  A dark, wicked tale of psychological manipulation and domination, capturing a young psychiatrist’s descent into subservience to the subject she’d meant to cure, and ultimately homicidal madness.  In this take, Harleen Quinzel was the nascent, world-saving but emotionally scarred doctor eager to try her new theories out in practice, and the Joker the sadistically beguiling trickster and sociopath, with a new toy to play with.  Sejic would post a panel or three whenever he had time enough to do them, and they were amazing.  The art, as all of his work is, was spectacular: his lines and color capture human expression like none other, save maybe Adam Hughes.  And his story…wow.

But unfortunately, it was all just that…a fun spare-time project for a creator who had precious little time to spare.  A creator who’d worked a smattering of big-two projects, but grounded himself primarily in the indie and small publisher realms (see, I told you he fits the Pullbox!).  A fantastic idea that seemed destined to stay exactly that.

Enter DC Black Label.  And the rest, as they say, is…well, not so much history as much as a gorgeous comic.

Anyway, the book captures all of the depth and darkness of Sejic’s “doodles” in a fully (and beautifully) rendered hard product.  The books are printed in an ad-free, enlarged format, the size reflective of the old pulp comic mag’s of the ‘70’s.  The material?  Dark.  Like, really dark.  Narrated by Quinzel after the fact in some future retrospective we’ve yet to be exposed to, the reader witnesses the gradual descent of the character—and sudden birth of Harley Quinn—from her mind’s perspective, as issues in the (DC) world around interact with the young doctor’s experience at Arkham Asylum.  The psychology Sejic presents is fascinating, and horridly logical.  The birth of Harley Quinn is less a tragic happenstance or star-crossed love story than a cold, malignant evolution.  And “Jay” and Harleen’s relationship?  Much less a fun Natural Born Killers-esque love story and much more an exploration of psychological abuse and control.

And I know I mentioned Sejic’s art, but it bears repeating: he is an absolute master, especially of the human figure and facial expression.  He has an extraordinary ability to capture the full realm of human feeling with his line and color, and can convey pages of emotional material in a single panel of art.  Though it’s not as though he even needs to—his writing is similarly powerful.  Like Frank Cho and Terry Moore, he’s one of very few creators in the industry equally and fully capable as both writer and artist.  Frankly, given these dual strengths, if I were him, there are very few writers I’d trust with my art—a particular exception to be identified in just a moment.

Long and short?  It’s an outstanding book.  And with two more three-issue arcs to come, I can’t wait to see where Sejic takes us next.

And now there’s rumor (via the aforementioned Twitter feed, as well as that of Ms. Simone) of a team-up with Gail Simone on a Lara Croft/Wonder Woman mashup…and once again, Paul and I wait on bated breath…

Anyway, pick up Harleen at your local comic store, on comiXology or via Amazon, in either single issue or collected volume format (the collected hardcover is set for a February 11 release, just in time for Valentine’s Day!), and spend your New Year reading some awesome comics!

Score: 13 (of 13)

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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