Spoiler Warning for Harleen #3, Trigger Warnings for violence, death, emotional trauma, and abuse.
Well, there was a delay of a few weeks, but the third and final issue of Harleen has finally dropped! It’s been quite a ride friends, but we’re at the end of this all too brief journey into the history of our favorite Queen of Gotham.
Not much point in summarizing I suppose, given that my previous two articles are readily available on the site, but for those who don’t feel like clicking multiple links or using the search bar, but who did feel like reading a review of the third issue of something without having read the previous reviews, I’ll be fair. Harleen is a three-issue mini-series published by DC under their Black Label, meaning that it’s more adult than their usual fare and not technically canon, written and drawn by Croatian artist Stjepan Šejić. It details Harley Quinn’s backstory, going into depth about how noted doctor Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn, the Joker’s mad plaything. The previous issue ended with Harleen, in a moment of profound weakness, turning off the camera, undoing the Joker’s straitjacket, and allowing him to hug her. So now, let’s pick up where we left off!
We open five days after Harleen allowed the Joker to hug her, with her upset and frustrated and in a bad emotional state in bed. She begins attempting to diagnosis herself, as she just had a sexual dream about the Joker (mixed with a Wonderland aesthetic due to her reading the Mad Hatter’s file before bed. It’s not important, just interesting and a neat visual). She comes to certain conclusions about her behavior, that given her past and current lack of a social circle (her friend from the first issue hasn’t come up again since, something I’m only just now registering) it makes sense that she’d gravitate towards someone who needed her. Who twice held her life in his hands. Still, she’s not happy, screaming into a pillow and wondering what the hell was wrong with her.
This is a sentiment reiterated by Doctor Strange (no relation to the Marvel character) who demands to know what she was thinking in turning off the camera while in a room with the Joker. She tells him that it got the Joker to relax, to at least appear to be more open than usual, and while Strange is highly skeptical of her claims, he reluctantly agrees to let her continue this procedure on the condition that she signs a waiver so she won’t sue Arkham if Joker attacks her. We see a bit of the next session, complete with a comedic turn when the security chief barges in to make sure Harleen is okay and forces her to hurriedly put the straitjacket back on, but not much of overall note happens beyond that.
After that we cut to Harvey Dent, beginning his descent into becoming Two-Face as he hallucinates a former colleague calling him. He’s then visited by three police officers, who pull out masks to reveal that they are part of the Executioners, the vigilante gang introduced in the previous issue. They want him to prosecute, to point them at the guilty parties that need execution. He ultimately decides that he should go along with them, and unveils a thought he once had, a plan. To force the city into using the death penalty but busting open one of Gotham’s two main prisons and letting its prisoners out onto the streets, to unleash the greatest carnage the city has ever seen and force the politicians to act. And so he flips his soon to be iconic coin. Heads they bust open Blackgate (where the non-insane criminals, mainly henchmen, go) and tails…well, the scene cuts away before we get there, but it’s pretty obvious what the other side represents.
Back with Harleen, we see her playing with Joker, who at the very least claims that the chemicals that gave him his unique appearance made him much more numb to physical sensations than normal. It would track with his ability to stand up to Batman, but it’s hard to say for certain if he’s faking or not. Regardless, Harleen gives us an internal monologue, explaining that her life began to improve drastically at that point, and while she felt she was making the most progress with Joker, she also made some with Ivy, though Killer Croc finds her distinctly annoying.
Things take a slight change when Batman arrives to interrogate Joker, and Harleen chases him away angrily, declaring him her patient in a real-world version of her dream from the first issue. Once he’s gone, Joker compliments her and then declares that he wants a therapy session. Harleen agrees, and we cut to her getting dolled up, doing her makeup. As she’s applying lipstick she stops, staring at herself in dismay and wondering what she’s doing. Unfortunately for her, she manages to rationalize her behavior as a desire to save the Joker, something helped by the fact that that is an underlying issue, it’s just stopped being her main one. Something emphasized when she goes in and… proceeds to have sex with Joker. It’s quick and tasteful as a sex scene involving the Joker can be, but let’s just move on.
Harleen is thrilled at the time, but, as she points out in narration, she said in the first issue that both she and Harvey Dent would become murderers in five months from their conversation and, well, it’s been five months. And so we cut to outside Arkham, as Harvey whips up the Executioners into a bit of a frenzy, then sends them into Arkham. Things go relatively well at first, with the gang managing to free and arm Ivy, Mister Freeze, and Penguin without incident, but then they let Joker free and he immediately incites the inmates into attacking the Executioners, turning things messy fast.
Harleen arrives an undetermined amount of time afterwards, having been given the night shift. Upon learning about the situation, she runs past the police barricade to try and find and protect Joker. She rather quickly stumbles across a couple of corpses, and then Killer Croc, who upon seeing her begins to give chase, declaring his intention to kill and eat her. She trips over the legs of another corpse, but before he can get her Ivy steps in, creating a wall of vines and ejecting Croc from the building, then telling Harleen to leave.
Then, after a brief aside of the Joker getting the angry officer who got him Harleen’s file killed, and another of Harvey killing two Arkham guards, Harleen winds up running into ol’ Two-Face. She gets him to go into a motive rant, and then points out that he keeps saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Harvey is done correcting that though, and decides that he might as well embrace his dual role. He pulls his coin out and flips it, only for it to land on heads, meaning that Harleen gets to live. In a rather darkly funny moment, he’s so unhappy with this that he declares ‘best out of three’. Before he can flip it a second time though, Joker steps in, chiding him for cheating and then bashing him with a brick, with Harleen barely managing to stop him from killing Dent.
Unfortunately for her, Harleen’s friend and the chief of Arkham’s security walks in, and not unreasonably assumes that Joker was the one who killed the two other guards. Harleen attempts to convince him it wasn’t Joker, but he doesn’t believe her and, in an act of desperation, she picks up the gun Two-Face dropped and shoots him in the head. She goes into a brief moment of shock, collapsing as she stares at what she’s done, then shakily begins to laugh in a desperate act of mental self-preservation.
Even Joker seems a bit confused by this, and asks her what’s funny. She uses some of the chief’s blood to draw out the names Harvey and Harley on the wall, one above the other, while talking about how terrible she and he actually are. It culminates in her wiping away all but the first two letters of their names and declaring that the ‘Ha Ha’ should have been a clue that their intentions were just a joke. This makes Joker laugh, and the two embrace and make out.
In an oddly abrupt shift, we then cut to the Batcave, where Bruce and Alfred review the footage, laying out Joker’s intentions for Harleen. Bruce blames himself because, well, that’s what he does. He was funding Harleen’s research, and is the reason she was in Arkham with Joker to begin with, so he blames himself. Alfred disagrees, putting the blame purely on Harleen, but admits that he can see why Bruce would see it that way and advises him to then act as a beacon for her if he truly believes her to be lost.
And finally, we cut to four years later, with Harley in full costume, staring up at the Bat Signal and crying. Her narration is a bit disjointed at this point, but she seems to believe that the Bat Signal is the moon, and that the fact that it’s ‘always full’ means that she’s just dreaming her current life. So she puts on a big, painfully fake, smile and strides back into the Joker’s lair, as the mirrors around her show a screaming and depressed Harleen trying to wake her up, and her narration hopes for her current dream to end.
That was a rather…bleak ending to be honest, and I don’t know how to feel about it. This, combined with the fact that, well, there’s not a lot to actually talk about with regards to the plot of this issue in terms of recapping events (you’ll note that it’s shorter than the previous two issues’ recaps) leaves me with some concerns about what the reasons for the delay were. It certainly feels like there were some hasty rewrites, and I didn’t expect it to end on a downer note, but I’m just speculating.
Ultimately Harleen #3 is a good comic, and a well-written conclusion to the trilogy. The art is, frankly, at its best here in my opinion, with good colors, good designs, good… everything. The writing is good as well, delving into Harleen’s rapidly deteriorating mental state so well that you don’t notice how quickly things got out of hand until after you’ve finished. That is the issue’s big flaw, that a lot happens but in a way that leaves me unable to talk about much of it. Stuff happens, and then a lot of time is spent dealing with the thoughts and ramifications that it inspires. Which is good, the comic is trying to be smart and thoughtful, but it does leave the climax of all things feeling like the least eventful of the three issues.
Still, I do recommend reading this, and not just because it means that there’s less of a cliffhanger. It’s not a perfect ending, but it doesn’t feel disappointing either. Was it what I wanted? No, I confess not. Was kinda hoping for a more happy ending, with it being an independent and free Harley telling this story to Ivy or Batgirl or some such, but oh well. I should have seen the tragedy coming, and ultimately it makes sense.
So read it and see for yourself! Thank you for reading this somewhat meandering review!
STORY: Stjepan Šejić
ART: Stjepan Šejić
COLORS: Stjepan Šejić
LETTERS: Gabriela Downie