I have been on a bit of a Harley Quinn reading kick. You can blame Birds of Prey and then the binging of the animated Harley Quinn series for that. During this I was gifted a copy of Mad Love by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan, which not only had me smiling because Dini writes exceptional Harley, but because just the cover of this book is a delight. I wanted to share my thoughts, especially since I think fans of Harley in her various incarnations in media will all enjoy this book that examines how Harley Quinn came to be.
This story drops us all the way back into Harley’s childhood and shows us a particularly frightening moment where she has to try and survive. Her father is associated with some not so great people and when they blame him for a botched robbery Harleeen is used as a pawn to get their money. After meeting a waitress with a Brooklyn accent she crafts a coping mechanism, a tough cookie accent and speech pattern that allows her to survive through humor and a bit of sneaky behavior. As she gets older she periodically using this character to make people laugh or to push through difficult moments. We also learn a bit about her gymnastics background and growing up without her father being consistently in her life.
We then get to see Harleen become the doctor that we know and love her as. As Dr. Quinzel she manages to get hired at Arkham Asylum, which admittedly is a location with some pretty high employee turnover. Her very first day she fends off Killer Croc with a fire extinguisher and this is what leads The Joker to be interested in her. In her role as a psychiatrist we see her with other patients, in particular I will say Poison Ivy is one of her patients and other characters note that she actually doesn’t seem to mind Harley. This says a lot because they note she typically detests the people who work at Arkham. This doesn’t mean romance is in the air, but since they have been a couple in other Harley and Ivy stories I am just pretending this is a prelude to that.
When Dr. Quinzel begins working with The Joker the relationship between them is immediately a bit off. Harleen is trying to maintain a professional demeanor, but The Joker is working a game that she hasn’t caught onto. Readers benefit from interludes with The Clown Prince of Crime where he reveals what he is doing and how he is working to get Harleen to become his. When he later calls her Harley Quinn this seems to be the point where things change. The two begin acting less like a doctor and patient and more like a couple. She gives him things he is not allowed to have including a phone and after hearing her tough cookie voice, which she reveals on accident, it seems like that personality pulls into the idea of Harley Quinn. We see her descent into obsession with Mistah J and how she stopped being the doctor she was hired to be and instead the partner of a truly dangerous man.
If you enjoyed Birds of Prey I think this acts as something that feels like it could explain the actions of Margot Robbie’s Harley. Now that is just my opinion, but I did keep imagining Robbie while reading this book. If you also enjoy Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s Harley this story works well with their narrative for her as well. Paul Dini is someone that always does a pitch perfect Harley story, which makes sense since he was involved with the Animated Series, which was where Harley first appeared. Whether you read comics or not, this book is something all Harley lovers will like. You can get your copy of Mad Love today.