“The drag show must go on!” (Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass Review)

Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Steve Pugh
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Design Director: Steve Cook
Publication Design: Amie Brockway-Metcalf

Senior VP – Editor-in-Chief, DC Comics: Bob Harras
Executive Editor, Young Reader: Michelle R. Wells

Harley Quinn created by PAUL DINI and BRUCE TIMM

Harley Quinn, Breaking Glass was written by Mariko Tamaki, features art from Steve Pugh, and follows a teenage Harleen Quinzel as she settles down in Gotham and learns to fight for what she believes in.

Summary:

Harleen Quinzel is off to Gotham to live with her grandmother while her mother takes a better-paying job on a cruise ship to provide for her daughter. There are a few hiccups along the way—like the fact that Harley’s grandmother has recently passed away—but ever the optimist, Harley makes the most of her situation and settles into a new routine.

Her grandmother’s former landlord turns out to be a drag queen named Benny (though everyone just calls him Mama). Lucky for Harley, Mama lives up to his name and allows her to stay, provided she go to school and stay out of trouble.

Harley does her best to keep these promises, enrolling in Gotham High, where she meets her new best friend—Ivy. In this telling of Harley’s story, Ivy is an outspoken, well-rounded, and confident young Black woman who believes in standing up for what’s right and isn’t afraid to host a protest (or two, or five). Inspired and intrigued by Ivy’s passion, Harley starts looking more into these philosophies, interpreting them as only Harley can.

Overall, Harley is incredibly happy…until the gentrification of her neighborhood starts to cause problems for her new-found family. When a big corporation—run by one of the wealthiest families in town, the Kanes—starts buying up properties in her neighborhood, raising the rent and condemning buildings to force evictions, Harley’s happy new life is thrown into chaos. And when vandals strike Mama’s drag show one night, Harley sets out to find the person responsible and make them pay.

But she doesn’t find the vandal—instead, she finds another young vandal who goes by The Joker and helps her avoid the police when she takes her anger out on another Kane business. He proves to be even more chaotic than Harley, and draws out this tendency in her.

Both Ivy and The Joker (though in opposite ways) fan the flame that burns in Harley’s heart, driving her to fight back as the Kane family attacks her from all sides; the parents and their company, by buying up properties and kicking her and her family out of their home, and their son John by being the biggest bully and foil at school. As it all becomes too much—and all seems to have one origin, the Kane family—Harley makes some questionable choices and takes action in a particularly Harley-Quinn manner.

But as we all know, when you fight something bigger and more powerful than you, even when you win, you tend to lose.

Not that that’s ever been enough to deter Harley.

Thoughts:

I really loved this comic. I’m a big Harley Quinn fan, and part of this is Harley’s sunny personality and take-no-shit attitude. Her default mode is kind, compassionate, accepting, friendly, open, honest, and happy. She has no problem fighting back when push comes to shove, though. It’s a fun combination that I don’t see enough of—I love my brooding dark types, and my quiet reserved types, but man if there isn’t something delightful about Harley Quinn.

And she’s fantastically portrayed here. I’ve been doing the reviews for the current run of Harley Quinn comics, and I love those, but they always go by so fast. It was nice to spend a couple hundred pages with Harley, and to get to watch her as a teenager, finding herself, and dealing with things in a slightly more realistic setting.

This Harley is still figuring out so much, and has the classic foil of being one of those teenagers who’s so adept at taking care of herself and being on her own that she sometimes forgets that she’s still young, and still naïve, and this gets her into some hot water.

This graphic novel also carries with it some important messages and perspectives, including how gentrification can harm lower-income communities, the damage that lack of diversity and representation in schools can cause, bullying, privilege, and just a touch of domestic terrorism.

I liked the messages here, and see them as important, but one of my (very few) complaints—and this is just a personal preference, not a criticism—is that the message of this graphic novel is very clearly spelled out. And this doesn’t seem to be for lack of writing talent; rather, it reads like a choice. Like the writers wanted to knock readers over the head with it. I understand the desire to do so, and can even see the benefit, but personally, I find stories like this more impactful when I’m left to unravel the messages and subtler issues on my own.

Then again, some people need to be smacked in the face with a story’s message, so perhaps I should be upset that some people don’t care to pick up on nuances and leave writers to practically scream at their audiences.

Another complaint is that, honestly, I didn’t love the direction they went with the Joker. I understand the decisions that were made, and I get why thematically and within this contained story it was—technically—a good move, but for those of us who have been fans of him as a villain for a long time, he’s a less than satisfying villain. It felt a bit too easy. Too neat and tidy, especially for the Clown Prince.

But overall, this is a fun, moving, beautifully written and illustrated story of how our favorite Harlequin finds her style and her voice. It’s full of twists and turns, quiet moments of self-discovery, big choices about who we want to be, and explosions. What more could you want?

I definitely recommend this graphic novel, both to long-time Harley fans and to those who are new to the character. If this is the first Harley story you read, it will be a great introduction to her. And if this is the hundredth Harley story you read, you’ll find it’s an enjoyable addition to the collection.

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E.V. Jacob
E.V. Jacob is an artist some days, a scientist others, and a writer always. By day, she's a not-so-mild-mannered business woman, and by night, she works on her novels, because sleep is for the weak. She is a fan of tea, a hopeless geek, and an Oxford comma enthusiast. Pick up her book, THE SHADOWS, on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/y5gkjfx6.
Summary
Teenage Harleen Quinzel is supposed to live with her grandmother for a year while he mom is away for work. Of course, things don’t go at all according to plan, and Harley ends up with some loveable drag queens, helping her new BFF Ivy and getting into vigilante shenanigans when the sun goes down.
Good
  • Harley is at her best here; loveable, kind, fierce, loyal, kind, optimistic, and determined
  • We get a rich, beautiful, diverse, and immediately loveable cast of characters to round out the story
  • The artwork is absolutely stunning, and there is a lot of gorgeous framing
  • Seeing so many of our favorite DC characters in this alternate telling is great—it’s always fun to mix things up
Bad
  • The story really slaps us in the face with its message, which isn’t to say the message is bad, but simply that I prefer stories that let me unwrap the message and meaning on my own, rather than spelling it out for me
  • The Joker presented here is going to feel dissatisfying for Joker fans
8
Great
STORY - 7
CHARACTERS - 8
ART - 9
WRITING - 8
Written by
E.V. Jacob is an artist some days, a scientist others, and a writer always. By day, she's a not-so-mild-mannered business woman, and by night, she works on her novels, because sleep is for the weak. She is a fan of tea, a hopeless geek, and an Oxford comma enthusiast. Pick up her book, THE SHADOWS, on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/y5gkjfx6.

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