The making of a villain: What turns a person? Innate evil, the creep of greed, or the slights of the system, the slow burn of an oppressive bureaucracy that no one individual can rally against… but it’s even easier when the catalyst is The Joker.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Harleen Quinnzel is almost forgotten amongst the diapers of her three younger brothers. With a father in jail and a mother working two jobs to make ends meet, Harley keeps to school and gymnastics to stay on the straight and narrow. She learns from a young age to not trust criminals nor the police. Harleen drifts towards psychiatry in college and then it is her emphasis in medical school. Intelligent and eager to help others wronged by the system, she is hired on at Arkham Asylum and starts her rounds with some of the most famous criminals from the Gotham underworld.
Mad Love is an origin story that starts at the beginning and exposes the transformation of Harley’s character from Brooklyn upstart to the Joker’s exclusive therapist to Mr. J’s jester-sidekick. Most of the story is told through her point of view, yet when the camera shifts to The Joker and Batman, we see what she truly becomes. The metamorphosis occurs gradually through psychological manipulation: The Joker’s two pronged attack of guilt and flattery. And I absolutely loved how the changing of her name was subtly used to indicate the rebirth of her new character.
Although there is action, great action and yes, Batman does make an appearance… the greatness of this book lies in its dedication to the vile twist of a character’s soul. So many calculating threads are laid at the beginning of the book that can be seen making their way through the entire narrative. Great nostalgia and a well-developed voice make Mad Love a must-read for fans of Harley Quinn and Batman.
Personal Note: I have great memories of running home from school to watch Batman: The Animated series when I was a kid. Arleen Sorkin’s voice is fried into my brain with those indelible lines, and I heard it every time Harley opened her mouth in this book. Much love!